Wednesday 15 September 2010

Books and Booker

‘I know it sounds pompous,’ I often hear myself say, ‘but I think writers have a duty to at least try to write well.’
Why do I feel I have to apologise for holding that view? If it implies criticism of some of my fellow writers, where does the blame lie?
Just the other day my dentist apologised for extracting the wrong tooth. ‘Sorry’, he said as he wiped my blood from his grubby fingers, ‘I’ve done a shocking job for you. Now I must be off, I’m up for an award as Dentist of the Year.’
Once my gums had stopped bleeding I arranged to meet some friends for supper. I ordered fish. It arrived promptly, quite well cooked on the outside and only slightly frozen in the middle. When I tried to return my dish I learned that the chef was no longer on the premises. ‘He had to dash,’ the waiter explained. ‘He’s off to hear if he’s won Chef of the Year.’
‘The food must be good,’ one of my friends said. ‘The chef’s up for an award!’ The others were too busy chewing to speak.
‘Some of the seasoning could do with severe cutting,’ I muttered. ‘Didn’t the chef taste this before serving it up?’ The only response was the sound of someone choking.

Sir Andrew Motion commented recently that some of the books put forward for the Booker Prize were ‘pretty shocking’ and ‘quite shockingly in want of a decent edit.’ Does the author take no responsibility for the quality of the writing?
My own books have been described as ‘well-written’ (The Times, Marcel Berlins) ‘refreshingly compelling and original’ (The New York Journal of Books, Michael Lipkin) ‘intelligently written’ (Bookersatz, Helen M Hunt) ‘well-written’ (Eurocrime, Amanda Gillies) ‘accomplished’ (Watford Observer, Melanie Dakin). I could go on.

So why do books like mine, well-written though they are, never appear on a long list for a literary prize? Because my books are also described – to quote just a few of many similar reviews - as ‘gritty and addictive… gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end ..’ (New York Journal of Books, Sam Millar) ‘a gritty page-turner from the start’ (Star magazine,) ‘tense… fast-paced twisty narrative’ (US Publishers Weekly starred review)

Yes – well-written they may be, but I write crime fiction.
Sorry about the door slamming. That was just my credibility as a writer leaving the room.


Unknown said...

I know it doesn't really matter but I loved your book.


Leigh Russell said...

Having readers who enjoy my books is far more important to any author than 'official' recognition! It was just a response to Andrew Motion's complaint that some nominated books are 'shockingly' written. How do they reach the long list when there are so many well-written crime thrillers (mine included of course!) that don't receive any credence as 'literature'.

Leigh Russell said...

Ahem - my comment was not well-written (unlike my books!) I should have written 'Having readers who enjoy their books' and 'My comment' not 'it'. Note to self - check comments before hitting that button!

Jen said...

Pompous? No! You sound correct. Don't apologize. You're right.

Your chef story made me laugh. But the idea that crime writers can't be taken serious by the prizes, well... I wish it weren't true. I think Kate Atkinson and the like may be bending the rules somewhat, hopefully making room for others. We'll just have to wait and hope.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Jen. There are other genres which are not considered 'literature' either.

Charles Gramlich said...

There are definitely some shockingly bad works available out there, and few seem to recognize them for what they are.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I watched a review programme recently about the Booker shortlist and they were slating most of the books there too.

Maybe it has something to do with the PR publicity campaigns behind some of these writers? I've no idea, but it probably has something to do with it.

Stella Jones said...

It amazes me too. Goes with the 'famous for being famous' trait that abounds these days too.
Blessings, Star

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Charles - do you think standards generally have slipped or become more relaxed? Of course not everyone would agree that is a bad thing. The same seems to have happened in visual arts where it seems everything is acceptable.

Leigh Russell said...

I find it hard to discuss this without sounding like sour grapes, Debs, but I've always said if I won the lottery my latest book would be a number 1 bestseller straight away... because that's what it takes! As with just about everything else these days, money can buy most things..

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Star. It's the Emperor's New Clothes all over again.

Pat said...

That sort of treatment would send my BP sky high.
Does Motion give examples?

Val Ewing said...

It is nice to receive awards and be recognized. After all, I've had photos praised ... entered into a contest and failed miserably.

Yet would I trade my 'style' for that which a 'judge; may like better?

Naw, way.

Literature is fickle that way.
You ARE well written.

Poo on those that cannot recognize your writing as good literature.


Leigh Russell said...

Not sure if he gives examples, Pat. It's not worth stressing about though. Life's too short.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Val - I'm sure you really enjoy taking your pictures!

Leigh Russell said...

Just trying to log on

Rose said...

I dont understand - why should it be a problem that you write crime fiction? Are you doing any readings/signings in London soon? Hope you are doing well, by the way :)

Leigh Russell said...

Absolutely right, Rose! So far so good, it's all going very very well. I'm signing at WH Smith's Brent Cross this Sunday - there's a schedule of my events on my publisher's website. Hope to see you at a talk or signing soon..