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Tom McCarthy favourite to win Booker Prize

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Tom McCarthy, the writer of this year's Booker favourite, C.

Tom McCarthy, the writer of this year's Booker favourite, C.

It has transpired that C, by Tom McCarthy, is the forerunner to win the Man Booker Prize when the accolade is awarded on Tuesday 12 October.

Bookies have reported heavy betting on the British writer’s novel in final hours before the ceremony.

C, one of six books nominated for the annual prize, which comes with a cheque for £50 000, follows the life of Serge Carrefax through the upheavals of early 20th century Europe.

Also shortlisted are Parrot and Olivier in America by Australia’s Peter Carey (bidding to become the first author to win the prize three times) and Room by Irish-born Emma Donoghue.

Carey is one of just two authors who have won the Booker twice. His last was in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang and prior to that in 1988 with Oscar and Lucinda. South African J.M. Coetzee has also claimed the prize twice.

Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room), Howard Jacobson (The Finkler Question) and Andrea Levy (The Long Song) complete nominees for 2010’s Booker.

In 1981, Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children earned him the title of Booker winner. In a recent interview Rushdie underlined the significance of being associated with literature’s biggest prize.

Talking to Reuters last week, Rushdie said: “It made a big difference, no question. In England the paperback of Midnight’s Children has sold well over a million copies, and it wouldn’t have done that (without the Booker). It’s very beneficial.”

Midnight’s Children also won the Best of the Booker title in 2008 which was chosen by a popular vote.

Hilary Mantel won the prize in 2009 for her historical novel Wolf Hall, which portrayed Henry VIII’s reign through Thomas Cromwell’s eyes.

The competition aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or Ireland. Past winners include V.S. Naipaul and William Golding.

Like music’s Mercury Prize, the Booker can launch the winning author to literary fame and bolster books sales by hundreds of thousands of copies internationally.

Watch Tom McCarthy discuss C below:

Discussion:
Have you read any of the Man Booker shortlisted offerings? Which is your favourite? Do you think Tom McCarthy would be a worthy winner of 2010’s prize?

Words: Dean Samways

Website says money difficulties behind quick sale of Bret Easton Ellis movie rights

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Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Entertainment press website Purple Revolver this week claimed that American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis is ‘cash-strapped’.

Reporting on the sale of the movie rights to his new novel Imperial Bedrooms, the website alleges that the reason behind the quick sale is because Ellis has found himself in financial difficulty.

We at The Scribbler were especially surprised by the news of the sale when Ellis himself expressed such disappointed at the last film adaptation of one of his novel, The Informers.

However, if you believe Purple Revolver, Ellis has hinted that the quick sale of the rights was money motivated and is not a challenge he is setting himself to transfer the text to film, as The Informers was (for which he wrote the screenplay and co-produced).

Imperial Bedrooms is considered a sequel to his first novel and film Less Than Zero which starred Robert Downey Jr.

According to Purple Revolver Ellis was speaking at a GQ party when he said: “In an ideal world, I would love to have the same cast as before as it is the same characters.

“But I don’t think Robert will do this one – he is in a different place now.

“Actually scratch that, in an ideal world the film would not get made, but I would still get the money.”

We are waiting for comment from Ellis and his publishers to reassure us that he cares about how his works are translated into celluloid.

Watch the trailer for Less Than Zero below:

Discussion:
What’s the best and worst Bret Easton Ellis film? Why do you think his novels are so resistant to the successful treatment?

Words: Dean Samways

Afghan war book deal for Rolling Stone writer

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Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

The journalist who broke the story of General Stanley McChrystal‘s ill judged words on the US’ involvement in Afghanistan has a book deal.

Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings is now working on a book about the conflict with publishers Little, Brown and Company, it was announced on Tuesday.

According to the publisher, the book will provide an “unfiltered look” at the war and those men and women fighting it.

As of yet a release date has not been set and the book is currently untitled.

Hastings’ Rolling Stone article featured the much publicised remarks made by McChrystal and his aides about President Barack Obama and his administration. McChrystal was replaced as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan by General David Petraeus following his highly criticised comments.

Read the original article, The Runaway General, here >>

Watch an interview with Michael Hastings on Democracy Now! below:

Discussion:
What do you make of the article? Is Hastings the contemporary journalist of modern times? Will you be reading his book?

Words: Dean Samways

Bret Easton Ellis talks American Psycho

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Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis

We at The Scribbler are very excited to learn that one of inspirations behind this project is going to be making an appearance in London this summer.

Celebrated contemporary writer Bret Easton Ellis is going to be talking about his acclaimed 1991 novel American Psycho as part of the Guardian Review book club.

The discussion with John Mullan is taking place on 14 July at King’s Place, London.

American Psycho is one of the best-loved modern classics of recent times. In 2000 it was made into a major motion picture starring Batman actor Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman.

A 27 year-old Wall Street employee, Bateman is the epitome of 90s decadence. Living in an upscale, chic Manhattan apartment, dining at the most exclusive restaurants and an expert in fashion and expensive consumer products. He is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath.

American Psycho is a brilliant, jet-black comedy wherein Bret Easton Ellis satirises the excesses of yuppy materialism and examines the dark side of the American Dream.

Tickets are £9.50 online and £11.50 from the box office. The event starts at 7.00pm. For more information visit the King’s Place website or call 020 7520 1490 to reserve your seat.

Watch the intro to American Psycho, the motion picture:

Discussion:
Who’s going to be going to the talk? Do you even rate Bret Easton Ellis? If so, why? If not, why not?

Words: Dean Samways

Welsh’s Porno banned in Malta

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Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting and Porno author Irvine Welsh

Scribbler favourite Irvine Welsh has fallen foul of overbearing censorship regulations in Malta, it’s been revealed.

The Scottish author’s second book and sequel to his groundbreaking debut, Trainspotting, Porno, has been banned in Malta.

The University of Malta has taken the decision to remove the novel from its library shelves as the Mediterranean island’s censorship laws state that “obscene or pornographic” should not be available to the public. These statutes also declare that the country’s classification board must give their approval to any and all literature before it is made available to the citizens.

Porno follows the antics of Trainspotting characters Renton, Spud, Sickboy and Begbie ten years after their first drug-fuelled outing only this time the backdrop has shifted from heroin use to the sleaze of the pornography industry. However, this has proved far too racy for the Maltese authorities.

Ingram Bondin of the island’s Front Against Censorship defended the novel last week during a debate in which she branded the situation “a classic case of censorship”.

On the back of this discussion the Front has put forward several proposals to update the country’s censorship laws. For example, they would like to abolish the prison sentence that faces an individual who vilifies the Roman Catholic Church. They would also like the practice of checking material for obscene and pornographic contents by a centrally appointed Classification Board to be stopped.

The 21-year-old editor of the student newspaper Realtà was recently threatened with jail time for publishing a short story deemed inappropriate by the authorities. Mark Camilleri, leader of the Front Against Censorship, said: “Censorship has increased and is being used to suppress arts. But the government is not budging.”

No stranger to controversy Welsh’s themes and scenes of rape, dog killing and drug use have attracted criticism and bans in the past. His play, You’ll Have Had Your Hole, allegedly faced a Belgian ban and the great censors, the Chinese, have refused to allow several of his titles to be sold in the country.

Watch an interview with Irvine Welsh post-Trainspotting:

Discussion:
Is Malta right to censor Irvine Welsh’s work? Is there any place for censorship in this modern age? What are your feelings on the subject

Words: Dean Samways

13th Annual Graham Greene Festival line-up announced

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Graham Greene

Henry Graham Greene: author, playwright and literary critic (1904-1991)

Details of this year’s International Graham Greene Festival have been released.

Held in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the 13th annual celebration of the English author’s life will welcome writers of all disciplines to discuss the local literary luminary’s work.

Brick Lane author Monica Ali, journalist and psychoanalyst Michael Brearley OBE, Blood River author Tim Butcher, foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley, publisher and editor Jeremy Lewis and historian Dr. Joe Spence are among the many intellectuals billed to speak at the event.

Taking place between 30 September and 3 October the festival will hold a screening of The Ministry of Fear (based on the 1943 novel) at The Rex Cinema, a seminar on Greene’s unpublished material lead by Prof. Francois Gallix as well as Ali talking about Greene’s influence on her work. Good news for aspiring writers: there will also be a one day creative writing workshop.

Tickets for all the events are available now with under-21s able to attend the festival free of charge. For more information visit The 13th International Graham Greene Festival website.

Listen to a reading from Greene’s book Our Man in Havana below:

Words: Dean Samways

Discussion:
Graham Greene is one the UK’s best loved novelists but what is your favourite Greene book and why? Will you be going to the 13th International Graham Greene Festival? Have you been? Tell us your past experiences.

The Greenhorn Novelist Blog – Post Three – Making People

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Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden from Fight Club, arguably one of the greatest literary characters of recent times

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden from Fight Club, arguably one of the greatest literary characters of recent times

Something ain’t right with my novel.

The big bones are in place: the main characters, the plot lines, even the climax and denouement. Seen from a distance, it certainly looks like a novel. But up close, you can see that it’s just a simulacrum of one; it’s canvas doped over a frame, like a dummy aircraft to fool the high-flying enemy. A book prematurely abridged.

A good start, I hope: now the simple process of filling in…

Ah:  here’s the rub. It’s this close-up work, the real flesh of the story that refuses generaisations and synecdoche that I’m having trouble with. There are scraps of the real stuff, passages and pages I adore, but I am having trouble joining them into a consistent and cogent narrative.  It’s not quite firing, quickening, whatever metaphor takes your fancy to describe that mojo quality that is life.

It’s tricky. This writing, in fact, is positively hard. Those that have actually achieved this act of sustained imagination (or perhaps more accurately, these millions of small acts of imagination) ascend higher in my estimation every day.

The main problem lies with the characters.  It’s not about them yet: it’s still about events, and the characters just happen to be the vessels through which interesting happenings happen. The tension between plot and character is of course fundamental to all stories. But I want both to be vibrating, pulsating, symbiotes feeding and thriving off the other.

And the core reason for this problem? I simply don’t know my characters well enough. Even the main characters have not got the depth of history, of complexity, that makes me believe they’re real. I am often at a loss as to what a character will do in a situation, how they will speak, react, move about. I can’t hear them. Their voices are muted.

Or, if the problem is not a lack of biography, it is they have too many, all equally tempting and interesting, all antipathetic to one another.  Choosing a particular path for a character involves destruction as well as creation, the slicing away of a host of possible past and futures. Of all the shiny scraps of the world that I have collected- the interesting stories and happenings squirreled away in notebooks- only a small proportion will ever be realised in a character. Try to get too many in, and a character becomes a shapeless hold-all.

So sit your characters down and interrogate them.  Ask them fifty questions. Start off with the major biographical details: name, sex, age etc. But then range on, to favourite foods, pastimes, memories, to their hopes and fears. Concoct strange questions and situations, and see how they react. Examine their webs of relatives, friends and enemies. How do they sit within these networks? Are they popular or disliked? Powerful or downtrodden?

Physical appearance is essential. What do they look like exactly? Sketch them. Find photos that could be them.  How do they walk, and sit and laugh? What do they sound like when they talk to you? Hopefully when they answer your questions, they’ll begin speaking in their own voice, complete with their quirks of accent and idiom.

Running parallel with getting to better know our peeps, we have to make sure they are worth knowing.

A bad story, in a film, play or book, invariably lacks strong characters.  Forget the setting, the special FX or bodycount. It’s how alive the characters are, how much the audience can empathise with them (not always, please note, sympathise). We’ve got three million years of DNA programming forcing us to want to pay attention to what people are about. Even if cinema audiences bumble on about wanting to see explosions and full frontal nudity, what they would really like is that but with great characters.

So what makes a great character? A trawl through my own fiction reading, and various handbooks on writing, offers some consensus.

Falstaff, one of the greatest Shakespeare characters

Falstaff, one of the great Shakespeare characters

  • Characters should be vibrant. They push against life. Something is wrong in their lives and they set out to change it, whether an external event forced upon them or an internal problem revealed through self-examination.
  • Like real people they should be full of contrasting, even contradictory emotions.  Surprise the reader with how a character acts and reacts. Complex people are interesting people. External conflict often reveals the internal conflicts, the mental fault lines along which a character splits.  The character is forced to make choices.
  • A mix of characters brings realism and contrast. They shouldn’t be interchangeable with one another: the “Bad Guy No.4” in the credits. Humour and sadness ,  for example, whether expressed by a single person, or in a group, become sharper when next to each other.  A wacky character can act as a foil for the more realistic. Or a character can be contrasted against the environment; the city boys in the country; the airhead in a high-powered job.
  • They are often good at what they do, whether it be cutting wood or being a lawyer. Even if they are bad at something, then they are the best at being the worst.

Of course, these guidelines are by no means definitive or binding. Not all these characteristics need to be included in each of your creations. But I think they certainly provide some direction.

With the details set down in black and white, with ambiguity taken away, the characters start to have to make decisions for themselves.  These concrete details are the foundations on which intricate structures can suddenly be built. New, more subtle plot suddenly presents itself.  Cards can be placed on these foundations- and then, as time goes on these lower layers seem to harden and fuse themselves, capable to sustaining structures upon them too, all the while developing in unexpected ways.

In the light of this discussion, it is perhaps telling that my two favourite stories of the moment, Anna Karenina (read the full text here), and the various series of The Wire (The Wire dedicated Guardian Blog), use their respective equivalents of the omnipresent, omnipotent narrator to peel back the inner lives of their characters.  With the same unblinking eye, we see the conflicting, and often contradictory, emotions in all parties. All are understandable as human: all suddenly become rational beings, no longer easily summed up and dismissed by race, wealth, gender or sexuality. The reader is forced to confront the tragedy or blessing of chance: that could have been me.

Vividly imagined, vital characters can help us be better people.  To crawl, waltz, crash out of the hot confines of one’s head, and into another’s: to forget one’s body and become someone else, if only for a moment, and then to return, slightly changed, more sensitive and subtle, is magic and art itself.

Just for your information and my fun, here are my top five characters:

  1. Captain Yossarian (Catch 22 by Joseph Heller)
  2. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) (Full text)
  3. Harriet Dufresnes (The Little Friend by Donna Tartt)
  4. William Brown (Just William by Richmal Crompton)
  5. Falstaff (Henry IV Pts. I&II, The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare) (Full texts)

Watch Captain Yossarian collect a medal in the nude below:

Discussion:
Have you been finding Richard’s posts useful? What are you going to take away from this instalment? If you’re doing some writing how have you found the obstacle of fleshing out your characters? Comments and debate always welcome below.

Words: Richard Walsh