Tuesday, 27 January 2009

It's all good

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, s
imply 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which produced a rather large advance for the novelist and many readers, me included, were convinced our bottom drawer unpublished efforts had more merit.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!!!!!!

11 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Great post, Gillian - but it strikes a raw nerve with me as i don't read much now. I know - quite an admission and something i need to work on! My head just feels crammed with words from writing all day, and in the evening all i feel like doing is chilling in front of the goggle-box.

I think i'm going to get that book about pitfalls to avoid, it sounds hilarious.

I look for a character i can relate to in some small way, that hooks me in. I like a pacey style.

Sam x

Gillian McDade said...

I know what you mean Sam! Usually I'm too tired to read much on a weekday, but I try to make a point of reading a book a month at least.
There are people who never read - and there are those who have only managed The Da Vinci Code!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Lots of good questions, Gillian. Like Samantha, I stopped reading fiction while writing my novel - just read non-fiction. And now, after a rather traumatic few months, I find myself drawn to re-reading novels I've already read - obsessively. For the moment, I want comfort in my fiction. I don't want to be worried or over-stimulated, however good the writing. I trust this phase will pass in time...
For me, it's always quirky, multi-layered characters and a story which forces me to turn the pages.
Susiex

bfs ~ "Mimi" said...

Great thoughts. Seems like I'm reading less these days ~ especially after a long day at work. But you inspire me to read more...and to think more about 'what' I am reading, and why.

I prefer page-turners, but I get stuck in the rut of reading the same author, waiting for his/her next book, rather than branching out more. I'm working on that, however. And I may check into Darkmans (if it's available here).

Leon Basin said...

This is a great blog. Thank you for sharing.

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for all the comments :) If you want to expand your reading, I'd definitely recommend just randomly choosing a book and sticking with it. I've uncovered so many gems, and have fallen in love with them over the years.

CarolineG said...

Interesting post, Gillian. I'm now dying to know whether the disappointing book you mentioned at the start was Netherland? or was it another? If so, spill the beans! Haven't read Netherland, but am reading the Booker winner The White Tiger for my book group and not really enjoying it. Makes me feel grumpy because for me reading is a really important relaxer. I even read in queues sometimes and like a small child, can't sleep unless I have had a decent reading session before bed.

Anonymous said...

I guess we all have our own ideas about what makes a good book, but I think joining a reading group can be very instructive. Sometimes I'm disappointed, as with this month's choice - Terri Gerritson's 'Vanish'- but knowing I'll be taking about it makes ne think about good points as well as bad.

Gillian McDade said...

The disappointing book was....er...I'm loathe to mention it, but it has three words in it, ending in Girl.
All suggestions welcome! ;)

CarolineG said...

The Icarus Girl??? Not read that.

I've just read The White Tiger for my book group and hated it! Won Booker prize, so it's obviously me!

Gillian McDade said...

That's the one! Sigh..The White Tiger was on my 'to do list'.