I've got an awful lot of writing to do. Henley's is out there, in ebook form, although I also want to pitch it as a stage play. Ushabti, as a novella, is my current project, currently having it's first edit. Fairfax, as fond of him as I am, will have to remain in storage, for some time to come, because I really want to get Midnight At The Alhambra under way as a full size novel. The story is complete, on index cards and a cork board, so I should get off to a flying start, once I have got my loose ends tied up.
Add to that, I have a massive reading list. I do not write at the expense of giving up reading. How can you write, if you don't read? My list is long, because I have met so many authors in recent years, and one or two of whom I regard as friends.
I cannot lay claim to have come face to face with JK Rowling, but out of curiosity I had pre-ordered her latest book, A Casual Vacancy. I fully expected the critics to be chomping at the bit only to willing to wobble her pedestal, especially after committing the cardinal sin of crossing genres to crime writing. Many others have done the same without comment, but it's tough at the top, Jo, as they say. Although the Harry Potter books defined JKR, surely, commercially she should be regarded as a brand rather than genre specific. I have not finished reading it yet, but from what I have seen, it doesn't appear to be overtly clichéd as the critics say it is. And even if it is, would the average reader care? It doesn't drag on so much that I start thinking about what I'm going to have for tea whilst skimming over the pages, although there are others that would disagree. I think the book is quintessentially English enough to lend itself easily to quite a reasonable film starring the likes of Stephen Fry at the one end of the spectrum to Ray Winstone at the other end. .
Is JKR a great writer? Commercially, she has been a phenomenally great writer. Yes, but is she a great writer? Maybe. Her books, I'm sure will be revered for many generations to come. The fantasy world of Harry Potter is timeless, as tales of witches and goblins have been entertaining mankind for generations, and I can't see any reason why that will change. So supposing she continues as a crime writer, can she be regarded as a great writer for her post HP work? I think she can, as long that there is a pertinent message for future generations, then maybe. Dickens was a great social historian, showing an empathy for the poor that was not shared by many during those harsh Victorian times. Thomas Hardy, painted idealistic pastoral pictures in the readers mind of rural England. My Thomas Hardy years were during the worst of the cold war, when our country, may be the world could be annihilated at the touch of a button, and some of those who could afford it were falling over themselves to sink subterranean nuclear fallout shelters at the bottom of their gardens.
My point being that Hardy was a master of describing the ordinary man's attitudes, values and beliefs and the message for me was their fears were exactly the same as ours. The fact that the average British citizen believed that it was just a matter of time before the French came over and murdered us in our beds. The might of Napoleon, appeared unstoppable, but we had not reckoned on the strategic cunning of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington who went onto be the greatest rock star superheroes our country have ever known. It irks me that so many of our young folk don't know that.
The blurb on JK's new book, describes conflicts between classes as war, with the people of Pagford's clashing with the tenants on the neighbouring council estate. JK Rowling describes her fictitious neighbourhood well, illustrating social decline, in a benefit state. However, Charles Moore, of the Telegraph, accuses her of turning her back on a provincial life, the life that inspired her to escape into a world of fantasy and create Harry Potter. He said, and I quote, ''JK Rowling has told the world that this is a book she “had to write”. She detests snobbery, she says, and she wishes to expose it. She has very simple codes to indicate who is bad. Anyone who has a slightly out-of-date, petit-bourgeois Christian name, like Howard, Shirley or Maureen, is bad. Such people’s evil is proved by the fact that they have carriage lamps outside their doors, refer to the sitting-room as the “lounge”, wear deerstalkers (indoors!) and candlewick dressing-gowns.'' (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9573579/JK-Rowling-has-turned-her-back-on-the-culture-that-made-her-great.html
Maybe it's fair comment, and it's quite likely that many will agree. However, I also think that JKR may be painting a more objective picture of the provincial life and depict, (as many of us in the UK are experiencing), the fact that good manners and respect have gone out of fashion, criminality is on the increase, as is drug use, binge drinking, domestic violence, and riots. I could go on.
Despite JKR's well publicised struggle as a single mum, given the circumstances she was in, she surely must have had a better existence then than what she could expect today.
If she hadn't written Harry Potter, but secured a publishing deal for A Casual Vacancy, I do believe she may not have found herself sat amongst the higher echelons of English literature, but with her latest venture, I don't think she has lost anything at all.
As writers, we put our energy into characters then plot, or plot then characters and good narrative, all good skills in their own right. The very first thing I learned about writing, and I think that was in primary school, was description. Description is a powerful tool. Description is the portal that will take the reader into the writer's world.
Hardy and Dickens were masters of description, and JKR too
.Me? Like many others, I'm working on it.