Why Do Authors Diss Other Authors?

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Credit: Gerd Altman

You know what’s hot right now, other than global warming? Tearing down your peers in order to promote your new book! And it’s not new authors, desperate for any kind of media coverage they can get – these are well-established authors who all seem to be hopping on the latest controversy bandwagon. But why are they doing it? Does it result in more sales or is a just a ploy to get your name ‘out there’?

For a while there, it seemed like a queue of predominantly white male authors were awaiting their turn to declare that the novel (as they knew it) was dead. Will Self being the most vocal (who even is he??!). It was all a bit pathetic really – writers bemoaning the fact that their work was no longer relevant and choosing to denounce the younger generation for their lack of taste rather than accept that their books mightn’t be as good as they thought they were. Or that, like the rest of us mere mortals, their books have no  guarantee of a warm reception.

Irish author Colm Tóibín recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I can’t do thrillers and I can’t do spy novels.”  

Asked which books he felt were most overrated, he said: “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing; it’s like watching TV.”

So clearly, Colm has read ALL THE BOOKS and they’re all boring. Thanks for that Colm, inspirational.

Poor old John Banville can only write ‘genre’ under a pseudonym, lest his good name and reputation be besmirched by popular fiction. It’s a form of snobbery, looking down one’s nose at other writers, and readers for that matter. Like the ‘real book’ brigade who scoff at eBooks and their readers. Like, get over yourself and the delusion that you are the sole arbiter of good taste. By dismissing things that people enjoy, you are dismissing them and what matters to them. And to me, this seems a very foolish thing to do.

The most recent author to diss an entire genre is Louise Doughty, when she told The Guardian (why is it always The Guardian?) “I can’t bear anything chicklitty or girly.”

Wow. Can’t bear it, eh? Any book in particular, or just every book written by a woman who has been classified under the broadest commercial fiction genre EVER? Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such an established writer must be aware of how dismissive this sounds to her peers? How many years have female authors been fighting this exact kind of stigma associated with chick lit? It’s a marketing tag, that has unfortunately sidelined contemporary romcoms  written by women as vacuous, vapid and unimportant. The definition of chick lit is ‘a heroine-centred narrative‘, so far so brilliant, and luckily for us fans, promotes a whole plethora of styles, voices and subject matter. In fact, categorising novels by a single criterion is such a reductive exercise anyway, the dismissive tone used by this authors is at best, unhelpful.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for here. If an author is asked their opinion, they have every right to give it. It was the editor’s choice to pick that one quote from the interview and run it as click-bait on all social media platforms. And this seems to be the way of it now – the newspaper takes the most inflammatory line from an article, tweets it and watches the book world have a meltdown. And that my friends, is marketing.

But in case you were thinking literary authors were safe from all this criticism, think again. Sally Rooney has committed a cardinal sin – the worst thing you can do in literary fiction – she has sold a lot of books. It’s one thing garnering critical acclaim, but to be successful in the monetary sense can risk the loss of your member’s card to the ‘serious’ literary writers club. Will Self (him again!) ‘bravely’ took it upon himself to put her back in her place by labelling her writing as ‘lacking ambition’, lest she go getting any ideas that she might have earned her place among the literati. Fortunately we have men like him to save us from our own bad taste.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard has her finger on the pulse and her tongue firmly in her cheek with this latest tweet:

 

So is this the future for authors? A newspaper article in which they upset not only their fellow authors, but the millions of readers who enjoy their books?  And while everyone has the right to speak their mind, it is the contrivance to cause controversy that seems to be the PR drug of choice these days. To me, it just makes people look arrogant and insecure. I’ve always been taught that people who try to make you feel small are only doing it so they can feel big. Authors dismissing other genres must have some dire need to feel important, or to be seen as superior, i.e. someone whose work matters. But newsflash, we all matter and a bit of diplomacy goes a long way.

We are all creatures of habit and of course we tend to gravitate to certain styles of writing and subject matter. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with not liking a book. Art is subjective. But when does it stop being an opinion and start being derisory? Good critique is backed up by fact and reason (like books where the characters are under-developped, for example) but generalisations that have no real basis tell us nothing constructive. The truth is, there are crap writers and crap books everywhere. There are crap literary books, crap self-published books, crap traditionally published books, crap YA books, crap detective novels, crap books by men, crap books by women … but to give one broad sweep of criticism to any of these categories is just ignorant and lazy.

I have always found the writing community to be supportive and always remember the first time I read another saying that there is room enough for all of us. We don’t have to compete by putting one another down. Most readers, like myself, read across genres, so in the long run, it’s probably wiser to big up your fellow authors rather than risk alienating your audience. Your readership could well overlap. But just on a human level, as Michelle Obama once said, when they go low, we go high!

What’s In A Name?

 

Copyright Tom Gauld

What’s in a name? Well, that’s easy for Shakespeare to say with a name like that, but when you’re trying to think up new character names for your book, it’s not always that easy. Unless you’re Man Booker winner Anna Burns, in which case you can dispense with names altogether. But for most of us, we like to pick names that somehow embody the character. The right name can bring your character to life and set the tone, but the wrong name can take a reader out of the story, which is a cardinal sin!

One of the most striking names in literature is Heathcliff. It speaks to location and character – perfectly capturing the haunted, wild, untameable, unforgiving landscape, echoing Heathcliff’s volatile persona. I mean, would he really have had the same impact were his name John? Or Pat (considering he was probably Irish – where Emily’s father was born with the less impressive surname of Brunty). There is a power in names – and a history, like lettered breadcrumbs, which lead to the source.

My surname can be traced back to the 10th century, in the Annals of the Four Masters. In Old Gaelic, my name is Ua Gáibhtheacháin (try saying that ten times!), descendant from a fierce warrior. Apparently we were famed for our expeditious and industrious nature – swiftly dispatching enemies, which is basically just another day for me. And if it weren’t for Cromwell, I’d probably be talking to you from the family stronghold in Kilkenny, and I wouldn’t be on the Atlantic coast, constantly moaning about the rain. Damn you Cromwell!!

My maternal grandmother is also from a great clan in Mayo, the O’Malleys. So I am also connected to another chieftain, or the pirate queen as she is known, Grace O’Malley. In Gaelic she is known as Grainuaile, or bald Grainne, which refers to the legend that her father wouldn’t let her go raiding on the ships when she was a girl, in case her long hair got caught in the sails and rigging. So she took a knife to her locks and cut them off, earning her place on the ship. Which is just like the time I bravely cut my hair into a long bob (a ‘lob’). People still speak of that hairdo, to this day.

So, I hate to disagree with the ardent Juliet, but names do have significance and we also assign them with meaning. In The Story Collector, I chose the name Anna for my protagonist because I wanted a name that was traditional, unfussy and strong. I also chose the name Harold, which instantly speaks of someone who is distinctive and hints of a well-to-do background. When writing historical fiction in particular, it’s important that your names fit the era you’re writing in. No Beyonce’s here, I’m afraid.

But how do you decide on a name? Sometimes the name comes first; others, you have a fully outlined character who remains nameless through several drafts. Or worse, their name changes mid-draft – or their gender! It’s almost impossible to get their original name out of your head and this requires extensive proof-reading afterwards. There aren’t any rules to picking names as such, but there are certain guidelines that are worth taking into consideration. Like it’s okay (preferable even) to pick common names, rather than searching for something unusual, as it makes the story more authentic.  I recently put down a book after two chapters because I found the character names better suited to a pair of kittens than leads characters. They were so contrived and pretentious, it just put me off the entire thing.

And apparently, us readers are as lazy as they come, because after a few goes at reading the character’s name, when we see it again, we only read the first letter. Hang on, maybe that’s not lazy, maybe it’s highly efficient! So it’s better not to choose names that begin with the same first letter or sound too similar, as it can confuse things unnecessarily, like Marie and Mary.

I remember an old tip that suggested picking names from the phone book, but sadly, the phone book no longer exists, so I find myself googling baby names (which may cause a shock to my nearest and dearest!) or trying my luck ‘Vegas style’ with online name generators. But mostly, I just sit and stare out the window until the right-sounding name comes to me. In my new WIP I have quite a large cast of characters and thankfully, most of them have come with – at least their first names – already intact. I had to search for popular Russian Jewish names (hello Mikhail!) and I’m still trying out names for one of my main characters whose personality I’m really only getting to know with each new chapter, but what is she called? I need something unique but not too unusual. A strong name, but also with a sense of vulnerability. Something lyrical, but not too sweet.

I’m tempted to run a poll, but I have a terrible habit of ignoring other peoples’ advice, so the chances are I will still go with the name I want, even if the overwhelming majority pick something else! It’s a bit like book titles – sometimes you’re completely married to one idea and others it won’t come until the last, desperate minute. Naming things is such a big responsibility. That is the title they will bear for the rest of their lives, so you want to get it right. But for now, maybe A and B will have to do!

 

When Someone Has Already Written Your Book

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‘There is no such thing as a new idea’, Mark Twain once wrote. Which is bad news for anyone trying to be original! But as he goes on to say, we can create new and endless numbers of new combinations. Still, what if you find that you keep coming up with ideas that have already been done? I’m reading a charming little book at the moment, ‘How To Fall In Love With A Man Who Lives In A Bush’, (quite easily, it seems, apparently Austrian men aren’t up to much) where the protagonist dreams of becoming an author. The only problem is that every story she comes up with has already been written …. by Charlotte Bronte or Stephen King!

It’s something of an occupational hazard for storytellers – even when it comes to choosing a title for your book. A quick search on Google will reveal that your unique, edgy and entirely original title has already been used by a handful of other authors, in some shape or fashion.  It’s happened to most of us, at some point or other in our writing lives, but thankfully it doesn’t always sound the death knell for your book.

On reading Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu.  Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building.  It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination.  Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that while both stories had their similarities, they each had their own authentic voice. Imagine if either of them decided to give up on their project, because the story had already been done?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored.  Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.  Original thought might be as rare as hen’s teeth, but it is the writer’s perspective which makes a story ‘new’, recycling old ideas and creating something different. I  found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward.  She states that “Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.”  The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

So it’s not unusual for people to independently come up with the same ideas in the creative sphere, or any sphere for that matter.  We all share the same collective unconscious.  Plagiarism, however, is another issue entirely. Plagiarism is the intentional copying or lifting of another person’s work and passing it off as your own. When I hear stories like this, it makes my blood run cold. I was in a chat group recently where a writer lamented the fact that a novel she had written a few years previous was now a major hit for someone else. Obviously, I have no proof as to whether or not this was true, but I could feel their helplessness.  What can you do if you see a book that shares more than a passing resemblance to your own (even the twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’?)

The most recent high profile copyright lawsuit involved the 2012 novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman (author Margot Louise Watts) which screenplay writer Joseph Nobile alleged was based on his 2004 screenplay, A Tale of Two Humans. The case, which was taken after Dreamworks adapted the novel for screen, was eventually dismissed, despite the plaintiff arguing that there were striking similarities between the work of the two authors, (the story’s setting on a remote storm-swept island, the central couple and specific scenes in chronology and specific passages of dialogue).

Equally being accused of plagiarism, based on mere coincidence, must be an unsettling experience. Unless you’re Daphne du Maurier, whose much beloved ‘Rebecca’ bore many similarities to A Sucessora (The Successor), a 1934 book by writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco and her editor alleged du Maurier had stolen the plot and much of the dialogue, but Du Maurier scoffed at the claims, arguing that the plot itself was too common to have been plagiarized. Although sued for plagiarism in 1947, du Maurier won the lawsuit.

As Oscar Wilde once said, as only he could, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Although I wouldn’t say that to anyone’s face!

While the majority of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.  Having said that, publishers and readers alike don’t want the same old tropes churned out year after year. The trick is to tell a tale as old as time, but in a new way. Mix up genres and avoid the predictable cliches. The real challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it.  That is what will make your work original.

When One Novel Isn’t Enough

1I’ve just begun outlining my fourth novel.  No-one is more surprised  at reading those words than I am!  Obviously, I’m still in the honeymoon period, meeting the characters, sussing out locations.  There’s nothing like starting back at the beginning to remind you how delicate this process is and how, at one point, writing more than one book seemed like wishful thinking.  They say that everyone has a book in them, but the greatest fear of all writers is that one book is the limit.  What if that’s all there is?

I remember when I published my debut novel, the thought of writing another book was almost laughable!  Do that again?  Are you nuts??  The idea for that book came to me somewhere around 2010 – but that’s not really the beginning of the story.  I began writing The Heirloom after a two-year break from writing, following the disappointment of my ‘actual’ first novel, unfortunately titled ‘Shoot The Moon’.  I missed.  My ideal publisher requested the full manuscript.  It was too good to be true – I hadn’t even finished writing it (rookie mistake number one) and now I had a major Irish publishing house interested.  When the letter came back, praising my writing but accurately pointing out that the story wasn’t strong enough, I went into a kind of mourning.  One rejection letter of my first and only (and unfinished) novel was enough for me to scrap the entire enterprise.  When  you start out as a writer, your ego can be so fragile that even when positive feedback arrives along with an initial rejection, it comes as a huge blow.

Over time however, my bruised ego healed and I began reading more and beyond the limited genres I felt comfortable with.  I discovered time-slip (or dual timelines) and just fell in love with the idea of connecting the past with the present.  So, my writing was good but my story wasn’t strong enough, eh?  Well, I was going to give them a story to knock their socks off!  I spent over two years researching and writing a monster of a novel, with a story stretching from medieval Ireland to the present day.  It took over my life and at times (i.e. all the time) I felt as though I had bitten off more than I could chew, but when I eventually self-published The Heirloom, I felt a huge sense of achievement.  For about a week.  And then people started asking if I was working on my next book.  I thought I’d misheard them.  ‘But look,’ I’d say, ‘look at the big huge book I wrote.  It took two years and it nearly killed me.  Isn’t it brilliant?  Won’t I be living off this success for years?!’  Tumbleweed rolled by as my audience backed away.  Turns out readers need proof that you’re not a one-trick-pony (bloody readers).  If they like book one, they need book two to satiate their appetite, or they’ll have to look elsewhere.

All of this is like a threat hanging over an author’s head!  Like a lover threatening to leave if you don’t keep them… entertained.  Not a great motivation for writing, but motivation nonetheless.  I quickly realised that if I wanted to stay in this business, I had to write more than one book – hardly rocket science, but still it came as a shock!  This was officially my second book, did I really have a third in me?  But just when I wasn’t looking, the plot for my next novel dropped into my lap.  I was watching a TV show about an Irish chef living in France and for some reason she decided to visit a renowned bakery that was shrouded in secrecy, as no-one knew who the baker was.  I may have made that last bit up; it’s all so long ago that I’m not sure where the TV show ended and my imagination began.  Either way, the ingredients for The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris were gathered and I began writing again.  Just recently while doing a clean up of old files on my computer, I found the first draft, in which I hit the mother of all dead ends.  I had forgotten that, but my original plan for the story just didn’t work.  I thought, that’s it, I can’t write.  I remember now, laughing slightly hysterically with my sister about it, who assured me that I would get there in the end.  But how could she know that?  I didn’t even know it!  As an observer of my writing process, all she saw was another speed bump, not a dead end.  I can’t say exactly how long it took me to work out another route, but one day my main character Edith appeared in my  head and took over the story.  I started having fun again and realised that my first attempt was too serious.  I was trying too hard to be a writer instead of telling a good story and enjoying myself on the page.

Writing never really gets any ‘easier’, but I suppose what does change is your faith in the process.  Practice does actually make perfect and what’s more, it builds confidence.  Somewhere in your neural pathways is the memory that you have done this before and therefore, can do it again.

Whether you are traditionally published or self-published, there are pressures to get more books out there as quickly as possible, but I’m not sure if this is a good thing for writers.  I remember getting the advice that you should have three novels written before you begin publishing and thinking, who are these people?!  I don’t think I would have been able to write another novel if I hadn’t seen that there was an audience for my work.  Also, I am a firm believer in giving your ideas time to germinate.  I see a lot of commercially successful authors who have a new novel out every year for a decade and I wonder, where do they carve out the time to just, think?  Maybe it’s a luxury, but one of my favourite things is turning an idea over in my mind for months at a time, watching it take shape and expand.  This is the time when serendipity peeps out from behind corners, magazine articles, overheard conversations; drawing all manner of flotsam to the shores of your mind, that just happen to fit your story.

If your goal is to sell a lot of books, then yes, by all means write a trilogy and study the genres that are popular right now (it’s grip lit by the way, you can have that for free!).  But if your goal is to be a writer and to write the kind of stories you love, that say something about you, don’t rush.  You have to make the choice between what’s right and what’s easy.  I read an interview recently with Irish author John Boyne who said he always advises his students against taking the easy route and ‘brushing up’ old manuscripts, for lack of any better ideas.  This may have been a cheeky reference to some of his fellow authors, but I get his point.  Sometimes the thought of starting out from scratch again is so scary and the pressure to produce a new novel so great, that the temptation is to cut corners.  But it’s your integrity that’s on the line – your unspoken contract with the reader.  Like I said, it doesn’t get any easier, your ego is still open to bribery.  I wish there was a lovely motivational quote I could use to send you all merrily on your way, but you know the answer and it’s not very glamourous.  The only way to write your next book is sit down and write.  And believe.  And in my case, surround yourself with four different types of chocolate.  And stop looking at Twitter!

Where Was Your Book Born?

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We’ve all heard how JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a local cafe.  In fact, the chair she sat on recently sold for €344,300.  That’s some indication as to the importance we give a writer’s creative perch.  Writers and readers alike are enchanted by the idea of where a book was conceived, convincing themselves that even the chair they sat on must be oozing with literary genius.  There’s something romantic about it, scribbling ideas in a local cafe.  Writing  at a desk wedged into the corner of your council flat while wearing old Primark pyjamas doesn’t really have the same ring to it, although one can only assume that Rowling must have written at home too.  But does it really matter where you write your masterpiece?

I think I’ve written in every room in my house, bar the toilet.  I would include a photo of my beloved attic (where I write in the summer and stare up at longingly during the winter as it transforms into a fridge) but I’m saving that for the OK! Magazine spread.  The dawn of Pinterest has introduced us to a plethora of ‘designs’ to ‘inspire’ us with ‘ideas’ to create our own ‘writing nook’.  In other words, Pinterest is the devil’s work which bombards us with over-styled images of unattainable shabby chic home offices we will never have.  No I don’t have a pure white room with an old-fashioned writing desk which I’ve upcycled with chalk paint and I’m not surrounded by flower-clad boxes with all my papers neatly filed away in alphabetical order.  I’m the kind of person who sees an empty space and immediately feels the need to fill it with bits n bobs (i.e. junk).  I would love the perfect writing nook, but in the meantime, I generally pick the warmest spot in the house and write there.  I’m basically a cat.  With thumbs.

So what about venturing outside?  Well, yes, writing en pleine air could be a nice change except…. again, I live in Ireland.  I did try to write at the beach a couple of times, but there’s a lot to be said for a comfortable chair and while a large flat stone jutting out to sea might look attractive, my bum says otherwise.  Then there’s the whole writing long hand thing.  It can make a nice alternative every once in a while, but I’m the kind of writer who needs the entire manuscript in front of me when I write.  So squinting at my laptop while my bum goes to sleep on a rock gets old very fast.

Cafes seem like the ideal place to get the creative juices going, but the only problem with that is that they are full of OTHER PEOPLE!  At the best of times, people in public places can be tiresome, but when  you’re trying to write a novel, they are downright intrusive!  I have no idea how writers can focus on their own thoughts while they are being drowned out by clattering delph, noisy conversations and earth-shatteringly loud baristas (do they have to smash that coffee filter like a judge’s gavel Every. Damn. Time.!!)  Seriously, doesn’t anyone drink tea anymore?  Sartre had it only partly right; hell isn’t just other people, it’s other people who drink coffee.

If I do decide to venture out, I usually go to a hotel.  These are much more sedate affairs and best of all, they usually have comfy armchairs so you can really settle in.  No-one really cares how long you stay or whether you order coffee (but if you do, they thankfully prepare it out of earshot).  My nearest hotel has a conservatory that is, for the most part, empty and pipes out a nice mix of chilled-out tunes in the background.  The best part is, you can’t come up with a million excuses to leave your desk when you’re writing outside of the home.  You can’t start attacking the hotel toilets with bleach and a brush, so you just have to stay put and keep typing – not least to make everyone else think you’re extremely busy and important and overflowing with intelligent ideas.

So are there any benefits to having a ‘special place’ to write?  After all, we’re not like visual artists who rely heavily on their surroundings for inspiration.  Writers inhabit the interior world, the imagination.  We create worlds.  We mine our memories and nose through nostalgia for material, then spin all of these threads together into a fine cloak to envelop ourselves and our readers.  In fact, I think the plainer your surroundings, the better.  I’m not talking a monastic cell here, but the truth is that even if you bag yourself one of those writing retreats in rural Italy replete with red tile roofs and cypress trees, you still have to retreat to the solitude of your own mind and write the book.

I think we all saw this coming ☺

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

When writers are asked, ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ and they reply with a vague, ‘Oh everywhere and anywhere really’, they’re actually telling the truth. You never know where your next idea will come from and more often than not, it finds its roots in some throw-away comment or idea that just manages to cling onto your imagination. A newspaper headline; a passing remark on a TV show; or a piece of gossip you heard on the bus, can lodge itself in your subconscious and present itself as a story begging to be told, just when you least expect it.

medium_307745952  This was exactly the case for The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. A few years ago, I stumbled across a cookery show by Trish Deseine, an Irish woman who moved to Paris and embraced French food and culture wholeheartedly. Being a huge fan of both food and France I figured, what’s not to like?! Anyway, during one of her shows, she saunters around Paris sharing her favourite spots for shopping and eating. Then she points out a bakery, famed for its secrecy and delicious breads, whose patrons include the A-list of Parisien society. I can’t remember the story entirely, but apparently no-one was seen either entering or leaving. It was an old stone building with a basement entrance and there was something very mysterious about its clandestine operations.

A half-forgotten story about a mysterious bakery waited patiently at the back of my mind for years. Finally, I decided to write a short story about it, but it just didn’t seem to work. Then along came NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) and I seized the opportunity to breathe new life into the story. Writing a novel in thirty days is a daunting task, but it certainly focuses the mind! My bakery took on a life of its own, and lots of new characters to tell the tale. I decided to set my novel in a town that lies one hour north of Paris – the town of Compiègne, which is full of history and has very strong connections with World War II. Even though this book is not in the ‘Time-Slip’ genre like my first novel, there are still a lot of historical elements in the book and Compiègne seemed like the perfect location for the story to unfold. I really enjoy tracing the influence of the past through my stories and exploring its effects on my characters, and so the bakery’s story really begins during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.

I also wanted this book to retain a light-hearted quality and I relished being able to describe the culture shock that is ‘la vie en France’. Having lived in Toulouse for a year in my twenties, I had a lot of personal experience to draw from. My protagonist, Edith, also brings a lot of warmth and humour to the story. A woman in her thirties, who is trying desperately to recapture her ‘student years’ by flitting off to a job in Paris, but needless to say, nothing goes according to plan (which is usually when you have the most fun!)

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris is a blend of all my pleasures in life: Pastries, travel, history and a good old fashioned story about finding yourself, your bliss and hopefully, some romance. Where do you find your ideas and how do you translate them into your writing? I’d love to know 🙂

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy  The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris Amazon ~ Kennys.ie ~ iTunes 

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How To Be Original

imagesWhen I recently read Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu.  Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building.  It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination.  Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that it’s practically impossible to have an original creative idea.  But should that put you off writing your next novel?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored.  Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.  Imagine if ‘The Rosie Project’ had never been written because the author felt the story had already been done?  What a loss that would be to the hundreds of thousands of readers who have enjoyed Simsion’s wit and style of writing, not to mention his interesting characters.  And just to prove that there really is no such thing as an original idea, only the writer’s perspective which makes it ‘new’, I searched the internet for opinions on the subject and found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward.  She states that “Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.”  The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

We hear a lot about plagiarism (hello Shia Leboeuf!) but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  Most of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, but it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.  The challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it.  That is what will make your work original.

The other reason why ‘Adam’ is one of my favourite movies?  The soundtrack – which introduced me to ‘The Weepies’.  Enjoy  🙂