Read What You Damn Well Please

Okay, so while it may look as though this post is in defence of Dan Brown–an author who has sold a bazillion books and could probably buy a gold-plated helicopter–in fact it’s in defence of democratic principles. You may be aware that Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol is out in the US today, about six years since he published The Da Vinci Code. This book is the very definition of “long-awaited”: both by readers and by snarky reviewers.

So it was with yawn-inducing predictability that this article warned readers not to be the kind of semi-literature lemmings who are “tempted” to buy it as there are so many books by “better writers” out there. The article then goes on to suggest a number of alternatives. Some of them look good; some of them, I’m certain, Dan Brown readers will have already found (Stieg Larsson’s for example). But some of them belong to the School of Wha…? Imagine this exchange in a book store:

CUSTOMER: Excuse me, I am looking for the new Dan Brown novel.
SALES ASSISTANT: I’m sorry, but we’re fresh out. However, I do have many copies of Paradise Lost still in stock.
CUSTOMER: Wonderful. I will take a copy as I am sure they will provide a similar reading experience.

Seriously: opinionated tosspots need to stop (a) bagging the common reader’s tastes, (b) assuming incorrectly that they know why the common reader reads the books they do, and (c) suggesting that the common reader read something a little less common as it would be Improving. I am reminded of the shoutline that appears on Umberto Eco’s official website regarding his book Foucualt’s Pendulum: it’s “a thinking man’s Da Vinci Code.” G’on admit it: you’re an unthinking woman aren’t you? You haven’t a clue what the Foucault a “Foucault” is and you quite like Dan Brown. For shame!

My point is this: read what you like and have your own opinions. And let’s take the guilt out of “guilty pleasures”.

For fear of repeating myself and repeating myself

I have been silent for a long time, nursing my secret shame. That I am predictable. I have wanted to blog a number of times, but had nothing new to give you. Just more of the same artistic crisis I had at the start of the last book (remember my hilarious overworked Mt Doom moment?) But here I am again, after more than 20 books, feeling the same stuff again and yet somehow still firmly believing that this time it’s unique, special, different. This time I really have lost my mojo. Reeeeeeeally!

Maybe it’s because I’m going back to the magic stuff, back to worlds where people can make corn-dollies come to life and have premonitions of dragons. This used to be my material but now I’m afraid of it. I stand back and look at it, feint left, feint right, back off, go to bed for a while and imagine winning an Endeavour prize home. I swear to you, it feels like I have forgotten the lyrics to a song I’ve known my whole life. I sit down to write and all I manage is weird, stilted dialogue and ham-fisted transitions.

Problem is, though, I have to write. This is not a time to not be writing, and this has nothing to do with a deadline. I wake up every morning between 5 and 5.30, my traditional writing time, with a burst of adrenaline to my heart. My body is telling me to get up and write: it has actually become a physiological need.

My husband is fond of saying to me, “What would you tell one of your students?” Well, let me just say that being the teacher means you don’t have to listen to any advice ever especially your own (and especially when your own has always been delivered in an annoyingly calm and practical way that borders on patronising).

So here I am, in a holding pattern. Repeating myself.