Back from a rather protracted visit to Europe. A frustrating experience with the most expensive tests required at both ends of the journey and battles (for us older folk) with our mobile phones to find the relevant ‘carpet pattern’ symbol for our saved results of negative, negative, negative.

I thought that for my sake as well as whoever is out there, I’d list the books I read on holiday and why I read them. If you don’t know already, I’m re-drafting a novel set both in the mid-nineteen fifties in rural England and WWII 1942-1945, set mainly in Italy.

The first book I took with me was A Pacifist’s War by Frances Partridge which, inevitably, describes life at home in England during WWll. My novel makes use of letters between a mother stuck at home and her daughter, in the WAFF. I must admit that it was too dense a read for a lazy afternoon on the sofa, keeping out of the sun. Its now on my bedside table and will, no doubt, make me drop off to sleep.

A book I found on the bookshelves of the house was Graham Green’s The Quiet American. This novel opens with the death of one of its major characters. Green writes with minimum of words and his links leading from the end of one chapter to the following chapter, back in time, are masterfully simple; eg end of Ch 1 (narrator learns his friend is dead) : Am I the only one who really cared for Pyle to the opening of Ch 2 : The morning Pyle arrived in the square by the Continental … That sentence also demonstrating that Green does not explain location. The reader picks those details up as he reads the novel. A golden rule for writing a novel is Never Explain.

Whenever I go away for a length of time, I take with me John Mullan’s how novels work. I’ve written about this book before so I’ll just repeat it’s an undisputed must have for any novel writer. One quote which encourages me to use letters in my wip is: Above all, letters combine revelation with mystery. But do mine, always? One of those exercises to be done once the re-write is completed. I’ll talk about those next week.

Finally I took The artful edit by Susan Bell. The first time I read this how-to-do-it book, I thought it rather general and wasn’t sure it helped me. It also irritated me that most of the detailed editing advice was based on The Great Gatsby. Fine, I enjoyed the book but have never thought it one of the greatest pieces of fiction. Flipping through the pages, I see that I haven’t underlined once. As a child I was taught never to deface a book by scribbling in it. Now, if a book interests me, I deface constantly. The text of The artful edit is still pristine. A second, more careful read, with a pencil in my hand? Probably. On a very wet afternoon.    


Back to the re-write.

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