Friday, 31 July 2009

Feedback Friday :: Shit Floats

bicycle rides :: 5
hours of Wii Fit :: 6
new writing regimes :: 1
days remaining till return to London :: 30

I've been reading a lot about writing recently, with a view to finding out how to make a living out of it. The answer seems to be this: write a bestseller, or better still, a series of bestsellers, like, for example, Stephenie Meyer, the Mormon lady who writes about abstinence disguised as teen vampire lust, and currently occupies seven out of the first 25 places on the Amazon bestseller list. This is particularly impressive as she’s only written five books. She gets around that by cleverly publishing her books twice, once with ordinary white pages, once with red ink along the edges. Some would say that this is a sickening and cynical money-grubbing piece of marketing chicanery, but some people are just jealous. Anyway, the little girls, they love it.

Or of course like Jeffrey Archer, the thief, who can’t write for shit yet still manages to churn out bestsellers like a sump pump in a word-sewer.

I’m sorry for going on about Jeffrey Archer, but having finally read one of his books, I’m just staggered that his is the kind of writing that millions and millions of people seem to adore. I know they’re fucking idiots, but... actually, I don’t. That’s what worries me. Maybe these people who eulogise over the super-resilient sociopathic plagiarist are actually right. Maybe he is brilliant. And maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong? You’d tell me, wouldn’t you? OK, let’s do a little experiment.

While I was reading Shall We Tell the President? - which in the end I did find to be absolutely the worst novel I can ever remember having finished - I turned the corner of the page every time I flushed with embarrassment or cringed into my coccyx. Now I’d like to share the worst bits with you, and I want you to tell me, honestly now, if they really are as poor as I think they are or if, on the other hand, I am blinded by bitterness and envy and a deeply rooted but massively disguised desire to actually be Jeffrey Archer.

Some of these extracts bug me because I feel that they contain one of the following: unrealistic or embarrassing dialogue, horrible clichés, clunking collocation, senseless imagery or merely the inability to use the right word. Oh, and the thing about ‘cocaine smoke’ - I’m guessing he must mean crack, but even if that is the case, it just doesn’t sit right. Does it?

Just in case you haven't figured it out by the way, Simon, in the last extract, is black. We know he's black because a) he talks jive, and b) just about every time he appears, the fact that he's black is mentioned somewhere in the description.

If I am wrong by the way, and the above extracts say nothing to you except that Jeffrey Archer is a good, solid, no-frills thriller writer, then you might enjoy watching this very revealing talk-cum-Q&A, in which the lying lord is self-importance personified and mentions in passing that he's brilliant and amazing and better than Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham and so on and so forth and puke puke puke puke puke puke murder.

OK, OK, enough. Now I have to stop being a jive-ass bastard, put my money where my mouth is and see if I can actually do better. Right. Here I go.

Have a super weekend by the way. Doing anything nice?

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Anonymous said...

Archer a 'no frills thriller'? His works(?)seem more of a 'no-thrills filler'

La Bête said...

Well, quite.

Anonymous said...

He's fab! But then I do 'ave a fever and suspected piggin' flu so I could just be deluded.

It's all L.C.D. stuff, innit. Lowest cunting denominator.


Catofstripes said...

Consider J K Rowling.

This weekend I'm going to be doing a lot of what old people do best.

La Bête said...

AA - is that you, AnnAnon? For shame. Do you hear me? FOR SHAME.

Hey, Stripey - I don't think Rowling is as bad. I don't think she's any good, by a long chalk, but she's no Archer. Enjoy the gardening!

gongman said...


Just goes to prove that not only can you take a horse to water you CAN make it drink as well....especially if there are thousands of other horses doing the same.

As if you needed telling the same applies to music.I know musicians who have more talent in their little finger than those who get given awards for having done so little.

Same horses,different stream.

misspiggy said...

Couldn't even read the jive bit - the screen went all funny and I started to gasp for air...

There's a lot of functional illiteracy about, Stan. And people love the big gold AUTHORSNAME with an intriguing, punsome title slightly SMALLER: plus you pick up a Jeffrey Archer book and it's satisfyingly weighty, yet not too intimidatingly large. Lots of pages, making you think that you're reading a proper novel instead of the adult equivalent of Roger Redhat. Clearly you have got it all wrong Stan, with your clever cover illustrations and words longer than three syllables - what were you thinking?!

Helen said...

Jeffrey Archer. Just say no.

Tonight I'm going on a date. I'm terrifired.

Maureen said...

Perhaps you have never been to middle America. I have and I suggest the fair state of Iowa (known here in NYC as Idiots Out Walking Around) to explain it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm just kickin' back while the sun is high.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, Bete - I think those extracts are quite badly written.

Compared to Martina Cole, however, the guy writes like William Shakespeare.

Open any of her books at random, and you will find a far, far worse piece of writing than any of those extracts, staring you full in the face. Try it and see if I'm wrong.

And don't even get me started on Cecelia Ahern...

J x

the fly in the web said...

I don't think it is about what people like. I think it is about what publishers assume to be the level of their potential punter and the hype they generate to reinforce their view of success. Vicious circle.
My cousin's boy just lent me a Harry Potter. It is worse than Oblomov. I can read anything...will read anything...must read something, but this defeated me.
Your Archer episodes were better than Rowling.

Pueblo girl said...

Thanks for that brief introduction to the Archer. I'd never read anything by him before, and can now safely say I never will. I particularly liked "Perhaps he was a eunuch" - why not a mennonite, or a tree surgeon, I wonder, or a thousand other equally incongruous possibilities?

The trouble with your research so far, it seems to me, is your expectation of combining quality with income. As in all areas of art, this is still a relatively rarely successful approach, and from what i've just seen, studying JA will certainly not provide many clues as to how to go about it.

I suggest you either prioritise (income or quality?), or choose a different author to study. If income turns out to be your priority, I've heard that it's still possible to make a decent livng churning out Mills and Boon formula romances.

La Bête said...

Gongman. Horses, eh? But can you lead a horse of a different colour to water? I guess so. Horses for courses.

Piggy - functional illiteracy. I like that. The concept I mean. Not the thing itself.

Helen! Date! Excellent. I hope it goes really really well. Don’t forget to sprinkle a little cinnamon in your girdle.

Hello, Mo. I’ve never been to Middle America, no, but I swear it can’t be worse than the North East of England. It simply can’t.

NK, what sun? How come you’ve got sun and I haven’t? Where’s the justice in this world? Eh?

Juliet - seriously? Right, I’m going to take you up on that challenge. I’ll get back to you.

Fly - again, I can’t believe it. Show me some Rowling that’s worse. I dare you.

Pueblo - I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to write Mills and Boon. I mean, you really have to be disciplined to write in a style that runs entirely contrary to your own, and I don’t think I have it in me. And I was really only reading Archer to see if he was really as bad as I thought he would be. And he was.

Wisewebwoman said...

Two words.
Jackie Collins.

the fly in the web said...

He's taken it back to Belgium. I don't know which one it was...I could ask him in the interests of research...
No Belgian jokes, please.

laurasusan said...

I think a little book of Archer Extracts would be an ideal christmas prezzie for the bitter and cynical amongst us. You are the man for the job, as I laughed like a drain and quoted them to my friend, who did likewise. There must be money in that surely? If you don't, I will.

Weekend? How does home alone, freshly dumped and cuddling a bottle of rioja grab you?
Maybe I will join the mafia, if their people are having it off occasionally..... beggers,

PurestGreen said...

Murder isn't food for the appetite?

Having read this vile excuse for a sentence, life seems meaningless.

Please write about things that make you go wild with happiness due to their superb sentence structure or gooey metaphors. No more of this...torture. Please.

Anonymous said...

It's fairly obvious Mr. Archer has never been to The Bronx. Americans don't refer to The Bronx as being in NY, its just "The Bronx". He'd get rolled for that minor infraction!

La Bête said...

WWW, I see your Jackie and raise you Joan and Phil.

Fly, speaking of Belgian jokes, I recently watched In Bruges. I loved it. Have you seen it? Funniest film I’ve seen for years.

Laurasusan, you’re welcome. You do realise that you’d have to pay Archer for the privilege though? I couldn’t bear that. Sorry to hear about your dumping. Have a bottle for me.

OK, PG. I’m done now. It’s out of my system.

42, I’m pretty sure they don’t ‘have it off’ either.

the fly in the web said...

In Bruges.
No, but I'm going to have to...two guys holed up in a that the one?
Thanks to you I shall probably be arrested by a squad of gendarmes for illegally downloading anything other than our Dear Leader's latest speech to his loving people, so the film had better be worth it.


Celia Aherne. I have nothing else to add. Just: Celia Aherne.

Peach said...

yeah, I quoted, believe it or not, Archer in an essay about Shakespeare when I was about 16. My English tutor had a (literal) heart attack (small) and had to retire early from his profession... oopps.

Well I was 16 !

This weekend I am in Portland, Oregon enjoying the weather and catching up with the lovely interweb people such as yourself


Anonymous said...

Okay, much better examples of his tawdriness here. :D

Perhaps he was a eunuch , as also commented on by Pueblo girl.


Maybe that was Archer trying to be creative.

Anonymous said...

Bete - yup, the Martina Cole challenge is definitely worth doing!

And it's wide open to anyone and everyone who has an interest in decent prose.

IMHO, there is a clear dividing line between straightforward does-what-it-says-on-the-tin storytelling - and writing of such blundering, graceless, horribly-written clunkiness that it makes you physically lose the will to live.

Again IMHO, Jeffrey Archer is standing slap bang on the middle of that line - while Martina Cole is several million miles on the wrong side of it.

Some Cole fans have said to me 'just focus on the story, and ignore the style.'

But for me, that's like being told 'just focus on the pretty sunset, and ignore the angry chimpanzee that's sitting on your shoulders trying to pull your head off.'

Hey, take the Martina Cole challenge and tell me I'm wrong...

J x

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

He has skills other than the ability to produce beautifully crafted prose. And dire though his books may be, you have to acknowledge he does have ability, otherwise you'll really struggle to understand the industry. He has storytelling talents, and self promotion talents, and the talent of understanding what will excite large numbers of people.

But it's pointless worrying about what makes Mr Archer successful. You need to find bestselling books you enjoy reading, and think about what makes them good. But even then it's an almost futile exercise. You can't ape someone else. All you can do is write the best book you can possibly write, something with passion, something which excites you, and then you have to put all your energy and passion into making it the best it can possibly be, and that'll be your best chance of making it big. But as to whether you will or not... there are so many factors involved, many of them unpredictable by anyone, including the publishing industry, who would be in a much better state if they were any good at predicting bestsellers.

Personally I've decided that the business of trying to make a living out of writing fiction, and also trying to be majorly successful, just sucks the life out of it, ruins the writing, and makes you miserable. Annoying though it may be, if you assume you're not going to make a living out of it and keep other income-generating avenues open, you're probably much more likely (ironically) to be successful. But there's also a large chance that you'll be like the rest of the novel-writing community (and that includes a lot of the apparently successful ones), ie supplementing your income with other stuff. But the good news is that you'll have something to write about, and won't descend into writing books about writers.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Down with Archer and all his mates!

Big Bum Girl said...

There are many literary snobs out there, all tend to annoy the crap out of me. Now you don't come across as a snob; everyone has at least one author they hate. But it's quite obvious that publishing is about marketability. If publishing houses don't earn money, they can't fund other smaller, better quality works. Unfortunately, there's a trade off and that is to unleash crap vampire books on a global level, alongside Harry Potter books. Also, is it just me, or is Twilight a little incestuous, while portraying submissive women? What is America's obsession with submissive women and abstinence. For a country that produces the bulk of porn, they can't make up their mind. But enough of me commenting on that. You make valid points, especially on writing books. Now I think writers of instructional books on writing should be shot.

TheCunt said...

Those excerpts make me want to kill people with ice picks.