This week’s guest post comes from Georges Sen-Gupta.
I’d never heard of Margaret Fuller before this week, when The Nation published a compelling article about her*. It gave a précis of her life, from her hothoused childhood and precocious adolescence to her emotional and political flowering and premature death in 1850. However, there was one phrase in particular in Vivian Gornick’s piece which captured a conflict I have seen again and again in aspiring writers: “She… experience(d) intimately that great philosophic convulsion – the passion for the supremacy of the individual alternating in distress with the equally compelling passion for universal equality.” Will your struggle to be you really fascinate the reading public? Can you show them why they should life their lives differently?
It was half term this week. My son and I went to Foyles – the original one on Charing Cross Road – because the second volume of Will Hill’s Department 19 series has been published. My son had recently completed the first volume, and liked it enough to follow it up. He’d taken months to finish vol 1 because it was too big to fit in his school bag, only to find vol 2 was two hundred pages longer. We went on Facebook, and the author told us the paperback is expected sometime this year, which was nice. However, although we chose Foyles because it has a large children’s section, there was something depressingly uniform about all the books for thirteen year olds and up. When pressed, my son admitted that they were often very similar, even the ones he liked. In fact, if you go to any bookshop nowadays, you pretty much know what you are going to find there – the books look, and often are, pretty similar. Of course – that’s how books sell. If you are writing to make money, you can’t complain about that. If you’re not, well, what are you doing?
That there is something unsatisfying about being too precisely targeted came home to me when we went to Brighton, my home town. Partly we went to look for the secondhand bookshops where my brother and I bought James Bond books thirty years ago. Some of them were still there, the paperbacks in the window bleached by the sun. I like all the used pages and out-of-date haircuts on the covers. There is a lot of opportunity for disappointment, but you never quite know what you will find. The books ended up there through their individual unpredictable journies, and here you are, unpredictable yourself, ready for something you didn’t know you wanted… Will your reader feel that you knew they were coming and everything in your book happened just as they expected? And when your book ends up in a secondhand bookshop, will every page be fingered and used, or will it be nice and clean, the clothes on the cover (almost) still in fashion?
*No link – you’re old enough to search the internet by yourself.
Georges is working on his first novel – see Facebook for regular activity updates