Monday, June 12, 2006

Novels to Inspire Writers

You learn about writing by reading, of course. But some novels address writerly issues: I thought this list drawn up by The British Council's Literature Matters team was fun and might help you with your own magnum opus:

Jill Dawson – Wild Boy
eg, borrow or steal a plot. Plenty of great novels are based on real events and Wild Boy is the perfect example of how to take a blurry historical event and turn it into fascinating and compulsive fiction. Based around the first documented case of autism, it explores early attitudes and medical approaches to the condition.

Marian Keyes – The Other Side of the Story
For an insight into handling the bitchy, cut throat and not-for-the-faint-hearted world of publishing and literary agents, pick up a copy of the latest from one of Ireland’s sparkiest novelists. As well as exploring issues around guilt, infidelity and depression, not to mention sex and shopping, Marian Keyes' latest will guide you through the many and varied machinations involved with publishing a book.

Toby Litt – Finding Myself
Another witty insight into the world of writers as the hideous Victoria About sets up a literary hideaway in deepest, darkest Suffolk, intent upon creating a Big Brother type setting in which to spy on her companions who she intends to use as inspiration for her next novel. Possibly not the best way to endear yourselves with your friends and loved ones, but if you’ve hit a wall with your plot development, it might just offer a way forward.

Iris Murdoch – The Book & the Brotherhood
Now this is the way to go. Appear intellectual and clever to a group of your friends and they might just offer to sponsor you to write a book that they think is going to change the world. However, you’d better come up with the goods, or they might turn nasty as the protagonist of Murdoch’s novel found out to his cost. Still, nice work if you can get it.

Reshma S. Rhia – Something Black in the Lentil Soup
This comical and irreverent account of poetic rivalry should help to prepare anyone shortlisted for a literary prize. Featuring a host of sneering and sniping writers, hanger-onners and scholarly big cheeses, if it wasn’t for the money, the fame and the possible British Council trips overseas, it may even make the more tender-hearted among you run for the hills at the mere mention of the words Man Booker/Forward/Orange.

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle
If anything is likely to terrify a writer out of their writer’s block, I Capture the Castle is it. This tender story of a young woman’s coming of age is also an entertaining and inventive account of what happens when her father, who has achieved some literary fame with his first novel, is blocked and slowly but surely brings his family down into his pit of despondency with him. Their inventive cure for his literary lethargy may just be worth a try should things get desperate.

Barbara Trapido – Frankie & Stankie
Write about what you know is the long-standing piece of advice offered to fledgling writers. Well, it took Barbara Trapido a long time before she followed that advice, but her 6th novel neatly captures her South African childhood and is an absorbing piece of personal and political history.

Barbara Vine – The Blood Doctor
If biography is your bag, then the latest from Barbara Vine may offer some inspiration. Wading through the complex and mysterious family secrets of a Victorian doctor, historian and biographer Lord Nanther uncovers a number of unsavoury details that bring into question the role and the integrity of the biographer, conflicting loyalties and what we can ever really know about another person.

Also well worth reading on this site is novelist David Pearce's take on taught creative writing courses (he's less than impressed) and advice on alternative paths to publication.


sympozium said...

Frankie and Stankie - I enjoyed reading it as I've been living in South Africa for the past 4-5 years, and she's captured the place and the feel well, but it's another book with a too much "tell" and not sufficient "show". It's smooth, easy reading though.
Marian Keyes???? Wouldn't touch her at all. Too chick-lit.

For a bitchy, scathing and hilarious and entertaining read about the UK publishing industry I'd recommend Olivia Goldsmith's "Bestseller".

Ted Mahsun said...

ooh! I've been looking for a list like this.. thanks for the link! Also, Stephen King's On Writing is another good inspiration book for writers even if one hates his guts.

bibliobibuli said...

sympzium - thanks for the recommendation

i read marian keyes "sushi for beginners" for a reading group read and quite enjoyed it ... and that book gave a great insight into how magazine publishing works

ted - this is a list of fiction, i also have so many books about creative writing - here's a link to the books i have in my collection. i generally don't lend these books out because i need them for reference (not to mention I'm scared of getting them back). and i really should add some reviews because some are a lot more useful than others ...

i gaver mph a list of useful writing books and they have made it a point to stock them, which i'm pleased about!

the steven king is very good

Chet said...

"not to mention I'm scared of getting them back"

Sharon, I think you mean "scared of not getting them back"?

Chet said...

The late James Michener wrote a book called The Novel. From what I remember of it (bought and read it more than 10 years ago), it featured two writers - one a popular (pulp?) fiction writer, and the other a professor of academic works. Here's what I found at

"James Michener turns the creation and publication of a novel into an extroardinary and exciting experience as he renders believable the intriguing personalities who are the parents to its birth: a writer, editor, critic, and reader are locked in the desperate scenario of life, death, love, and truth. As immediate as today's headlines, as close as the bookshelves, THE NOVEL is a fascinating look into the glamorous world of the writer."

I can't remember what I did with the book. Would like to read it again.

qaminante said...

I would be interested to read your annotated list of books helpful to writers, if you ever get around to doing the assessements. After my exams this week I am giving myself 6 months to buckle down to it or accept that I never will, and chuck out all the books on writing!

Jordan said...

Wow, I've never read any of those. Thanks for the list!

Thaatch said...

This is great. A nice change to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. Don't get me wrong, "How to write" type books are informative, but it's so much more invigorating to read about 'writing, writers and publishing' in fiction. Thank you.

suaranya said...

I am absoultely in love with Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. It's a journey through the joys and pitfalls of the writing process, in a collection of short essays. Not your typical writer's manual, but I've learned more from just that book than I have from any number of structured exercises.

bibliobibuli said...

chet - thanks for the addition of michener

qaminate - that's an incentive for me to get on with it!

jordan, thaatch - you're welcome

thaatch - yes, i agree ... tho' sometimes in fiction the preocess of writing is made to look much too easy - i just finished "the kite runner" and the protagonist just seems to become a writer without any struggle!

suaranya - yes it is an inspiring read. have you tried nathalie goldberg's books especially "writing down the bones"?

Chet said...

Adding to the list - Small Ceremonies by Carol Shields. Back cover blurb:

"Judith Gill is writing a biography of a minor Victorian novelist. Judith has also written a novel of her own, but is unhappy with it. Is the plot original - or is it plagiarised? And when she discovers her own novel has been plundered can she fairly justify the anger she feels?"

I found a copy in the lelong shop at the lower ground floor level of AmCorp Mall this morning. Only RM15.00. Almost new (i.e., not grubby) copy. There's another copy still in the shop.

bibliobibuli said...

well done, chet!