Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Fluffy Navel Rides Again

OK, it’s been a while since I shared any of the rambling thoughts that wander through my head. Most times I’m too busy putting them down in my latest manuscript. But I’ve got a few minutes spare and thought it was about time I got down to write something here for which this blog was originally intended. To hopefully inspire other authors to write the book they always intended to.

So, I’m going to pose a question, and then just write what comes to mind. I warn you now: it could be a ramble, it could be disjointed, but hopefully there’ll be something here to make you think.

Before I start, I’m not on a soap box, but just want you to think a little about your own writing. If you don’t agree with what I say, then that’s OK, because it will only solidify my point. I’m not generating debate here, unless it’s in your own head, so when/if you comment, please be gentle with me, Okay?

Here’s the question:

How do you decide what to write?

Do you follow the old adage of ‘write what you know’, or ‘write what you’d like to read’?

I tend to go with the second nugget of advice, and thankfully – by the number of readers and supporters of my Joe Hunter series – it seems to work for me.

Basically, I enjoy writing escapist, fast moving, slightly over the top, crime thrillers, because quite frankly I enjoy reading them.

Some have said my writing is superficial, unsophisticated and lacks depth. Well, in my book (no pun intended), that’s fine by me. It means I’ve delivered what I set out to write, and that can be no bad thing. Not that I mean that I purposefully write superficially or in an unsophisticated manner, or without depth, but that I write for readers who aren’t looking for such in my books. You want those, read one of the classics or the latest Booker Prize winner. If you want to kick back and engage yourself in a few hours of pure escapism, in a style that’s accessible to the lay man, then I write for you.

What is a fiction author’s first duty? To teach or to entertain? Me? I believe in the latter. A good book will do both, I understand and appreciate that, and I do like to learn new things. But I also love to be entertained. In fact, I prefer to be entertained. Therefore I try to write entertaining books, and leave the factoids to someone more in the know than I.

In my humble opinion, there are no rights and wrongs in writing (although I’m firmly against some subject matter). I’ve never read a chick-lit book, but that’s not to say thousands of other readers don’t love them: they obviously do. I’ve read very few of the classics, but there’s no denying that they’re great. Some people turn up their noses at sci-fi and fantasy, where others absolutely devour those genres. Basically, there’s a reader for all books. Sometimes you get lucky and there are masses of readers for your book.

As an aspiring author, are you trying to pre-empt the market and think of the next big thing? Great if you can do it. But the market is a funny and fickle thing that we just can’t pre-determine. The publishers can try to build a market, but for something to truly become the next big thing, it needs to engage the public consciousness.

Think of a couple of the biggest crazes of the last decade (as far as publishing success is concerned).

Harry Potter.


Who would have ever guessed it, eh?

Most agents won’t touch fantasy or horror with a barge pole. What were the chances that either a boy wizard or a brooding vampire would have caught the imagination of readers the world over? Never mind that: who would have guessed that either series would ever have been published?

I’m digressing a little, but what I’m trying to say is that both JK and Stephanie must have sat writing their debuts with a faint taste of impending doom in their mouths, knowing what it was they were up against. But they persevered and delivered, and ultimately triumphed. They wrote what they liked, and it found a following. The following swelled and birthed a tide of readers of tsunami proportions.


Never give up, never surrender.

Write what thou wilt.

If the books you write are good, then they will get a readership.

(Like I have, you will also get your deriders...but, hey, that only means you’ve achieved some level of success. No one would bother to knock you if you hadn’t done something they’d love to do, but can’t.)

So...head up, tighten your chin straps, and get back to writing that book of yours. Write what you would love to read, and others will join you in loving your writing.


Lee Hughes said...

Couldn't agree more. I love horror, so mainly write horror. And as for getting published, there will always be horror fans. I just have to bide my time and hopefully outlive some of the more popular writers and sneak in that way.

Alan Griffiths said...

Total agreement from me, Matt.

As a teenager I devoured Jack Higgins books so fast paced thriller stories tick the box for me – probably why I enjoy your stuff so much. Later on I discovered other authors that lead me down the road to crime – John Harvey, Mark Timlin and Ken Bruen are just three of them.

I guess if you wanted me to pin it down further I’d say that hardboiled floats my boat. But above all I like to be entertained; I’m happy to suspend reality for a while and lose myself in a good story.

So, yes in my own small way I like to write what I like to read. I’d add a caveat though; I regard my writing as nothing more than a hobby (of course I have a desire to see my stuff online and hopefully in print) and because of this I like to write stuff that I find fun to write. If it’s a chore for me to write then I know I’ll never finish the piece, I’ll stop tapping the keyboard and pick up a good book! But that’s just my personal opinion on my own stuff.

Good post though, Matt. Cheers.

Col Bury said...

Good post, Matt.
As with life, and meeting people, I like to take a little taste of each person (or book I've read). In a non-vampiric way, of course! From this, I've developed my own style and persona. Be it, the fast pace of Kernick, the eye for detail of King, the feel of impending doom from Herbert, or the action of a certain Hilton chap! Along with the moral values of my parents... et voila... my crime novel was born.

Dean Crawford said...

Really great post Matt, a perfect way to show the dividing line between what we write as individuals, and how our work reaches out to a particular audience. I don't think even the biggest, most successful author out there is liked and bought by all.

For my part, I've written everything from historical fiction to screenplays, contemporary fiction to thrillers, and it was thrillers that won out for me. I loved the work of Michael Crichton and similar authors, thrillers that entertained but also made you think as a reader. I didn't try to emulate, only to find new subjects that fascinated me and ensured that my enthusiasm made it through onto the page.

I think that's what matters the most. You can't write for an audience, you have to write for yourself: hopefully, others will then pick it up and love it, but as you say, you just can't predict whom, or when...