Archive for November, 2010

I’ve been musing on this one for a while, and I wondered what everyone else thought about book buying etiquette for the 21st century. This is entirely my own musings, so please feel free to point out if I’m wrong, or if I’ve missed something glaringly obvious.

For the sake of this post, and because I know little about electronic books, lets pretend e-books and e-readers don’t exist, and we’re living in a non-virtual book-buying world. Today we are hypothetically going shopping for real life books, and there are a lot of considerations.

Support the Writer?

Firstly, one’s consideration might be Is the author still alive?

If the answer is yes, it might be nice to give them some money in the most direct way possible. Perhaps the best place to buy this book would be at a book signing, direct from their publisher, or from the author’s personal website. Next best might be from your local independent book shop.

Last resort: a supermarket. Tesco don’t need your money.

Support the Book Shop?

If the author is dead (and therefore not in need of your direct cash to supply their cups of tea and central heating), maybe it’s time to support your local independent or secondhand book shop.

Support the Environment?

If you don’t have a local secondhand or independent bookshop, as sadly is beginning to be more and more common, or if you’re unable to leave the house because two inches of snow fell over night and OH MY GOD I’M SNOWED IN, perhaps the internet could help.

Abe Books seems pretty good to get secondhand and low priced books, and similarly the Book Depository. Second hand books are in abundance, and I think buying secondhand is a form of recycling.

Support the Charity?

And here’s a question: what about charity shops? It’s very nice to be able to support a charity, and it’s great to be picking up books for anything from 50 pence to £4, but how are their low prices and abundant stock impacting the independent book selling market? I worry about this.

A question:

And what about Amazon? I get the feeling that bookshops are a bit cross with the behemoth of Amazon. Should we avoid book shopping with them? Should they be lumped in with supermarkets as a last resort?

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for so long that I thought I had actually written it already. We’re very lucky on our course because every couple of weeks a guest writer comes and reads some of their work and answers our (often inane) questions. We’ve had some absolutely fantastic writers this semester: Anne Donovan, Vicki Feaver, Les Murray, Alan Bissett, Brian McCabe, James Robertson, Tim Turnbull… I think we’re the luckiest writing students in the world.

As well as being fantastically entertaining and informative, seeing all of these fantastic professional writers has taught me something absolutely valuable, something which you can’t be told; you can only learn by observing: reading your work in public can, and possibly should, be a performance.

It’s all very well standing up in front of everyone and reading out loud, making sure to pause effectively between sentences and enunciate, reading slowly and clearly. Yes, all of that is important.

But if your narrator has a voice, use it. Speak in that voice. It might be difficult, it might be excruciating, but for that five or ten minutes, be that character.

I know, I know, you’re a writer. Not an actor. You like to be squirreled away behind a desk, wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and not talking to people. The last thing you want is to stand up in front of a room of unimpressed faces and… well, basically strip your soul naked and invite them to laugh at you.

Here’s what I hope think: most people are nice and supportive. If they’re there watching you read, they’re probably on your side. They’re rooting for you and they’re hoping it goes well for you. They’ll clap and they’ll cheer, and if they’re nice they’ll come up to you at the end and tell you that you did well, because you did.

So get up there and read your work. Read it loudly and with confidence. Do it in an accent if you want. Move your hands around a bit. Use different tones of voice for dialogue. If your story is from the perspective of a bitter old lady, put that slight lemony pucker on your lips and hiss a little when you speak. If your story is from the perspective of a narcissistic pyromaniac,  there might be a manic grin creeping around the corners of your mouth while you read (ahem… I’ll post a video one day). If you do well, your friends might not leave you unattended near an open flame ever again. And then you’ll know you performed, you didn’t just read.


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Wee Red Gig

I’ll be reading a little story at the Wee Red Gig on Wednesday this week (Nov 24th). Come along if you’re near Edinburgh; it looks like it’s going to be a fantastic night.

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