Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Review of 'How Not to Write a Novel' by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

This book is seriously funny - meaning that it will help you write a better book, if you don't die laughing first.

How Not to Write a Novel has become my bedside Bible - not so much for its religious content, which, it has to be said, is minimal, but in the same way that Bridget Jones's Diary held that place for many years, and before that, Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole. Common factor - all are reliably and comfortingly funny, however many times you've already read them and especially if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Mittelmark is an editor of many years' standing and Newman is a well-respected author. Between them, they have put together some of the mistakes and gaffes that new (and maybe even older) writers make, both in their novels and in the process of submitting to them agents and publishers. But Newman and Mittelmark brilliantly turn the process on its head. As suggested by the title, this book, if you heed its advice, will make sure you never, ever get published.

Should you by any chance have come up with a good plot, Mittelmark and Newman are on hand to help you slow it down and mess it up. Just make sure, they advise, that nothing of any significance happens before Chapter 5. Stick your character in front of a mirror and let her describe herself as brown-haired, of medium height, with medium-sized breasts. Or, give your male protagonist eyes of cobalt blue. Before your hero's story begins, introduce us at length to every member of his extended family and all their cutely-named pets.

And if your hero gets stuck in an underwater cave, suddenly announce to your readers that it's OK - he trained as a pearl-diver in his youth. Begin your novel with philosophical musings on the nature of humanity and, just to make sure your reader gets the idea, reprise your thesis at the end.

And should you be brave enough to attempt a sex scene - well, the examples in this book will delight and inspire you to climactic heights.

And, er... never visit the same launderette twice. In your novel, that is, not in real life. (I fell foul of this myself.)

One word of caution - this book isn't really for completely novice writers. It could scare them off for life. But if you've been writing for a while, and especially if you've begun to engage in the submission game (no, not a form of bondage recommended for your prospective Mills and Boon...), then you'll understand what they're talking about and quite possibly end up having a good laugh at yourself. But you'll also learn a lot - I did - and next time you're tempted to write one of those unintelligible prologues, you'll just possibly give it a miss and cut to the chase.

My copy of How Not to Write a Novel is tattered, chocolate-spattered, wine-drenched and bubblebath-wrinkled. What greater recommendation can I make?

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published
Authors: Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark
Paperback: 272 pages
Penguin Books, 29th Jan 2009
ISBN-10: 0141038543
ISBN-13: 978-0141038544

Review by Rosalie Warren, 5/2/2012
Follow me on Twitter: @Ros_Warren
My website

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Hurray for National Libraries Day!

... and to everyone - readers, writers, librarians, teachers, parents, children, council workers... and all the others who took part.

From what I heard, there was enthusiastic support for events held all over the country. Which all backs up the case of how important our libraries are to us (anyone listening, Mr Cameron?)

I had a wonderful time on my two library visits yesterday. Bell Green and Tile Hill libraries in Coventry both made me and fellow author Ann Evans very welcome. They publicised our events, put up posters and displays of our books, gave us refreshments and made us feel at home. I love libraries!

In spite of temperatures of minus 3, a good number of people turned up. We spoke about our experiences, good and bad, of writing, submitting and getting published. There were some great questions and we shared a fair few laughs. As always at these events, I was impressed to see keen writers there, especially young ones.But what shone out from the audiences was their love of books.

Highlights of my day:

(1) The librarian who told me about the problem kid who had to be banned from the library for 18 months but is now back - and reading.

(2) The lovely woman who picked up the library's copy of my Low Tide, Lunan Bay and took it to the counter to borrow it, saying she couldn't wait to read it. (Hope she likes it!)

It was a tiring day and we somehow didn't get time to eat our lunch, but not to worry. It convinced me, if ever I needed convincing, that libraries are a vital part of our culture. The libraries we visited were in areas of the city where many people are currently struggling to get by. These libraries are oases of warmth, entertainment and sanity, in contrast to an outside world that's often harsh, competitive and unwelcoming.

We let libraries go at our peril. People in power, please take note.