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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Friday, August 08, 2003 - 01:26 am:   

Out of a holiday in Shropshire last week came a couple of things that prompted me to add a postscript to the thriller-writing thread, but then I thought, what the hell, let's open up a new one and take it somewhere else...

In an unlikely-looking bookshop in Church Stretton I came across three titles from POD publisher House of Stratus on the shelves, out there for browsing just like any other retail-distributed book. I've always had questions about the quality of print-on-demand, but their production quality was equal to or better than any other publisher's product in the shop. So much so that I thought they were high-end trade pbs and got a slight shock when I took a belated look at the spine logo.

Unless someone's now going to tell me that these weren't POD and that Stratus has branched out into more 'normal' methods of production on certain tiles (one was a John Harris, two were R Austin Freeman) then I'd have to say I was impressed.

Following the Desmond Bagley and John Harris examples, it would be great to see this as a means of keeping the backlists of good-but-unfashionable writers in the literosphere (sorry, I just made that up).

Because, let's face it, as books get bigger and samier it's it seems to be getting harder to locate good reading amongst new product, and unless you haunt the second-hand bookshops there's no such thing as 'old product' readily available. If a new author doesn't shift cartloads in a matter of weeks, they fall off the face of the earth. In order to shift those cartloads, new writing has to appeal swiftly and directly to the most casual tastes -- big, sweet and simple, full of fats and sugars. The consequence of that is books for grownups that read like children's primers (if you think I'm exaggerating, pick up a Kathy Reichs and just take a look at the prose. It's a f*****g Ladybird Book!).

But it ain't all bad news... after a recommendation I picked up Stephen Hunter's DIRTY WHITE BOYS for some holiday reading and was very taken with it -- an upmarket sensibility engaging with a so-called downmarket form, to great effect.

And you know what it felt like? It felt like something written a good ten years or more before its copyright date.
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Vanessa
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 08:45 am:   

Isn't it true that certain books suit you at certain times in your life? Ive re-read some books that I used to love and wondered what I ever saw in them, which leaves me wishing that Id left the memories alone!
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 - 03:08 am:   

I know exactly what you mean... every year in my early teens I used to read THE SNOWMAN COMETH, a Sexton Blake novel by "Desmond Reid", and the memory of it is bound up with my entire perception of Christmas. This year I read it again. Not only did I recognise almost nothing of it, I was hard-pressed to understand what I'd ever seen in it!

(Reid was my favourite Blake author... little did I know that it was a house name used on editorial rewrites of unusable submissions! But I reckon there may be an explanation for my preference in that these were books that had received two drafts by two different hands, and had been worked-over to a much greater extent than the average Blake title)
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Mark PL
Posted on Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 07:30 am:   

Just a thought, what with OUT OF HIS MIND due out soon, but it strikes me that with the growing popularity of the series character novel (the ultimate expression of bestsellerdom bloat, I’d imagine) in the stores these days that maybe one of the reasons short story collections and now even novels are finding it hard to make it in to print might be because they’re too much work for the reader (and in some cases, you might think, the writer).

I know it’s always been the case that story collections fare less well in terms of sales, but after a conversation I had with Peter Robinson – author of the Inspector Banks novels and two stand alones and a small press short story collection – I couldn’t help wonder if the reason his series books were popular was because all the heavy work was out the way already for readers. They know the lead character, so there’s none of that usual three pages of background characterisation to get through in the first chapter; instead you’re straight into the story, no worries about whether you’re gonna like the protagonist or not. Whereas in a short story collection and a new novel with a new set of characters there’s more work involved. Especially as far as shorts are concerned, where you finish one tale and have to find out about a whole new set of characters and situations. Robinson told me his none-series books fared far less well in the stores than his Inspector Banks novels. Mind you, Macmillan are publishing the short story collection he could only get into print through the small press a few years ago this autumn (US trans: fall). Maybe there is some hope.

Perhaps commitment to the series character novel is like putting on an old pair of slippers and sitting in front of the fire while the mountain boots are getting left by the door, never to be worn.

So you writing another John Lafcadio book, Stephen?
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Sunday, January 11, 2004 - 03:42 am:   

I could, but I reckon that all the things that make him interesting would become ludicrous if pushed to series length. I had this problem with James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux -- the fact that he was a well-written character meant that Burke had to keep sight of his backstory. The bigger the backstory got, the harder it became to take seriously.

It's not that I can't see the appeal of series to the reader -- I can. I grew up on Bond, Tarzan and Sexton Blake, and I've still got a weakness for the occasional Travis McGee. But I've come to recognise that a series character isn't a character in the proper sense of fiction, but a flexible instrument with some necessary components removed. For me, all those big fat novels with series characters fail both as proper novels and as episodes.

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