Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Reviews

To read, or not to read: that is the question. I get asked a lot whether or not I read my reviews, and my answer is 'yes, sort of'. Basically, I don't believe any authors who say that they don't notice reviews. Pretty much everyone does it, and the ones who say they don't are liars.

Nevertheless, I don't tend to read the bad ones all the way through. I'll usually glance at the last paragraph of the review and, if that's okay, then I'll read the rest. If the final paragraph is the equivalent of a dagger being twisted in my heart, then I don't bother reading the rest. I'm not a masochist. Well, not that much of a masochist anyway.

So the reviews for The Book of Lost Things have been coming in over the past couple of weeks. So far, between Ireland, the UK, and the advance US reviews, there have only been two negatives, and all of the rest have been glowing. That's probably as well as I've ever done with a book, review-wise, and it's kind of consoling. It is, as one reviewer pointed out, an "odd" little book, but that's no bad thing.

When I was doing a radio review show last week, I was asked where bookstores were going to put it, given that it didn't obviously fit in with my previous books, and was a difficult book to describe. It was a good question, and I'm not sure that I had the right answer, but, secretly, I was kind of glad that it forced people to ask these questions. If nothing else, it's a little different from the norm, and, with luck, readers will begin to find that out for themselves, regardless of where it's positioned in the bookstores.

The UK tour comes to an end this week, and then I head to Madison for Bouchercon. I'm trying not to worry about sales - this book was always going to be something of a slow burner, and it has come out at a very competitive time for fiction. It's nudging the Top Ten list in Britain, which is a surprise to me, although a welcome one. It would be nice to see it break into the list, but it may not, and I'll live with that.

Now, given that I have my first afternoon off in as long as I can remember, I'm off to see Helen Mirren in The Queen. And then maybe Clerks II, because it's going to be that kind of day . . .

This week John read

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Sound of No Hands Clapping by Toby Young

and listened to

101 by Depeche Mode
Tripper by Efterklang

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Glamorous Life

Wake up feeling a bit groggy. Last night I spoke at a booksellers' conference and then stayed up until 1.45am talking about books and stuff. I don't often get the chance to talk to so many booksellers at once, so it was a rare pleasure. Unfortunately, I'm paying for it this morning, even though I only had a couple of beers. In addition, it's only two days into the tour and my voice appears to be going. I sound like a fog gargling gravel.

Start driving from Bristol to Brighton, which is quite a long way. I prefer to drive myself rather than use a chauffeur, mainly because I like my own company, my own music, and I'll spend much of the day talking to people so it's nice to have somewhere quiet to which to retire, even if that somewhere quite is hammering down a motorway at 80mph. No breakfast, as the hotel hadn't started serving it by the time I had to leave - not that I'm a big breakfast person anyway, but a cup of decaff wouldn't have hurt.

Arrive in Brigton to sign books for some dealers. The dealers have always been very supportive of me, so I don't mind making the effort for them. Am offered a cup of coffee, but there's not much point when I'm signing as it will either go cold or get spilled all over their books.

Arrive at the wholesalers in Eastbourne. More signing, and again I refuse a cup of coffee for the reasons stated above. I've become a pretty fast signer, and my signature remains fairly consistent, or at least it still looks vaguely like a real signature when I'm signing the last copy. I was once given a signed copy of James Ellroy's My Dark Places, on which the signature consisted of a single vertical line about one inch long. Cheers, James! One to treasure . . .

Find myself in the wrong town, for various reasons. (This doesn't happen very often, I'm happy to say.) Already running late, despite my best efforts, so give up and have a cup of coffee with a bookseller in her store. She's one of my favourite people, a really lovely person and a great bookseller, but she informs me that her store is about to close. She really wants to stay in bookselling, and I feel immensely sorry for her. (If anyone in London or points south needs a great bookseller, get in touch with us, please! I'm sure we can find a suitable way to thank you.)

Still feeling very sad for my fave bookseller. Begin driving to where I'm actually supposed to be, which is another wholesaler's premises further west. Sign more books, chat, meet some nice managers. Everyone seems a little puzzled so far by the new book, and I can tell there's a certain amount of caution about it. Nevertheless, they're supporting it, for which I'm grateful.

Hellish drive into the centre of Brighton to sign shop stock. Turns out that the toilets have leaked in the bookstore, and assorted noxious things are threatening to drip through to the ground floor, so the staff are a little distracted. Sign quickly and leave. Still haven't eaten today, and starting to feel a little tired. Schedule now entirely gone to pot.

Begin driving. Realise that I'm not going to make Southampton before the bookstores there close, so call the lovely, tolerant publicist to ask her to make my apologies. Get caught in roadworks and traffic jams. Now very tired, and very hungry.

Make it to Eastbourne just in time to park my car in the world's most expensive car park and race to the bookstore.

Arrive at Borders bookstore in Bournemouth. Small but enthusiastic crowd, and a very kind bookseller. Start talking, only to find that my voice really is shot. Persevere. Someone gives me her phone number and asks me to call her, which is very odd. I don't, needless to say. That's a little beyond the call of duty.

Check into my hotel, which is full of rather elderly people. Wash teeth, then walk back into city centre and find a bar that is showing the PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool match. Have a glass of wine. Liverpool don't get beaten, which is about the best that one can say about the match.

Find Mexican restaurant. Order first meal of the day, only to find that I'm so hungry my stomach seems to fill up after a couple of bites, or maybe I'm just so tired that I can't eat. Walk back to my hotel and collapse into bed.

Wake up. Shower. Start driving . . .

Recently John read

The Religion by Tim Willocks (finished it at last - yay!)
Christina Falls by Benjamin Black

and listened to

5.55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Unquiet

As I write, I am surrounded by sections of the next Parker novel, The Unquiet, as yesterday I commenced printing the book off prior to sending it out to my editors and my agent later this week.

I think I've said in the past that I have mixed feelings about this part of the process. I never print off the book until it is due to be sent out because, as soon as I do so, my mind starts moving on to the next project. While a book remains on my computer it is fluid, capable of change, open to improvement and adjustment, but once I start printing it off I begin to draw a line under the writing. The act of printing is an admission that the book is, to a large degree, finished.

True, my editors, and my agent, may suggest small changes, and I will always try to incorporate those suggestions into the book, but I will find it harder to make those changes now that the novel has assumed a physical form. It is like a building that has previously only existed in the mind and plans of an architect, and suddenly it starts to become a thing of bricks and mortar, of windows and doors and ceilings. At that point, the architect's part in the building's construction is largely done, and whatever changes he might make to his original vision will ultimately be rather cosmetic, unless he is forced to raze the whole structure and begin again.

It usually takes a couple of days to print off the book, largely because I view it as my final chance to make alterations and to correct as many small mistakes as I can. It's useful to do it in as concentrated a burst of activity as possible, as it forces me to keep the details of the book fresh in my head. (When did Daniel Clay disappear? Was it September or October, 1999? How many days have passed since Frank Merrick's ultimatum to Parker?) It also enables me to spot repetitions, and those little tics that seem to inhabit every book, the words that I overuse and that need to be pruned back in favor of others.

There is also a hint of regret, though. While it is satisfying, at last, to print off something that has existed only in my mind, and then on screen, for the best part of two years, that satisfaction is tempered by the fact that another imperfect book is about to see the light of day. I always feel that another draft would help it, that another re-write might help to make those imperfections less obvious. But even if I were to be given that time, then I would just seek a few more days on top of it again, because there will always be the urge to revise the book once more in the belief that every revision makes the book fundamentally better. In the end, though, I know I would be making the kinds of changes that only ants would notice, and 'changes' is the operative word: changing something does not automatically make it better, only different.

Usually, too, I would take a couple of days off once the book has been couriered to London and New York, but not this time. I have the publicity for The Book of Lost Things to which to attend, and I will not be seeing much of the inside of my house for many weeks. This, too, means that the urge to hold on to The Unquiet has to be resisted. If my editors do not get it this week, then it will be November before I have a chance to start printing it off again, and that will be too late to make the publication date that has been set. Events have conspired to take the book out of my hands, and perhaps that is for the best.

Now, too, I have to start thinking in earnest about the next book. I no longer have the excuse that I am still writing this one. The Unquiet is done, and before the year is out I will have started a new project. And I think I may even know what that might be . . .

This week John read

The Religion by Tim Willocks (still haven't finished it, and have now been fatally distracted from it by the necessity of writing a review of Christina Falls by Benjamin Black, a.k.a. John Banville)

and listened to

Revelations by Audioslave
El Perro Del Mar by El Perro Del Mar