It's good to read, just like it's good to talk (according to BT).
Of course it's good to read, I hear you say. If your nose never graces a book, then realistically what hopes do you have of ever becoming an author?
Granted, you may have been a great speller at primary school and top in the creative writing competitions, but if you don’t read much, let alone stop to analyse a book, then halt your writing dreams now I say.
And this brings me onto what I deem a very valid question - what makes a good book? It’s a question which has been asked many times and one which has generated all manner of interesting replies.
Is is a good story? Interesting characters - ones which the reader can relate to? Or is a good book one which, when you take it to bed, simply allows you to escape the last few hours of a mundane Monday thanks to its engaging plot and intriguing storyline?
Is a good book one in which the plot really grabs our attention? When we think we know 'who dunnit' then the author hits us with a cruel twist, and we're left reeling over the events of the last ten pages? I don't know - what is a good book? Do you know what a good book is? Come on, give me some answers...
Well for me, it's good writing with a page-turning plot - it's as simple as that. Good solid writing with the use of language in a colourful manner. But every once in a while a book comes along and I scratch my head, wondering where its merits lie. I toss and turn at night wondering how the author ever managed to grab the attention of an agent, especially with the opening chapters. There has been one in particular which produced a rather large advance for the novelist and many readers, me included, were convinced our bottom drawer unpublished efforts had more merit. In other words, it needed a darn good edit. Once in a while when a book such as this crops up on our shelves, I wonder why this so-called 'great book' has been labelled by critics as such.
A 'good book' to the average Joe Public reader is usually a personal preference. But if you are a reasonably experienced writer who knows the ins and outs of the business, you tend to look for more than the basis of a solid enjoyable story.
When I read a book, I focus on originality, in characters, story and language. One book which literally blew me away in terms of originality was Darkmans by Nicola Barker - one which now takes its place on my list of all-time favourites.
(If you ask a child what he or she wants from a book, the young reader will almost always say 'I want to laugh' or 'I want funny and sad bits together')
There are books too which have been hailed by critics as the best thing since Shakespeare and sliced bread, and I've struggled to find any admirable qualities. I don't want to condemn certain books as poor quality, but I've just finished Netherland by Joseph O'Neill and I'm still waiting for something to happen. It was like a rambling stream of consciousness with no pace or structure and the reader was constantly being pulled this way and that. I want a book that makes me anxiously turn each page and in Netherland, I was patiently waiting for that. I didn't feel anything happened. More happens in my Bottom Drawer novel in a more erratic fashion.
It’s not the first novel I’ve been disappointed in - there have been a few. A good book will be filled with the author’s passion - and that will be evident in a reading. So whether it be an agent, or an independent publisher, make sure you have a good book lined up too when the time comes.
Have a flick through How NOT to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. I must admit I haven't read it but, according to the critics, it has a plethora of info which will help us avoid the pitfalls of sabotaging our own work....including the over-use of the exclamation mark!! That's my pet hate!!!! So, go on, make your book a good one!!!!!!