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Friday, 19 June 2020

A good book is never hard work


What exactly is it that makes a book ‘difficult’? It could be handy to know. Lots of people cite difficulty as their main reason for giving up on a book, or not even getting past the first page and, if we don’t want to drown in the rapidly rising tide that is modern publishing, knowing what not to read is a knack we could all do with.

Some people have told me they find Dostoevsky and Tolstoy difficult. ‘It’s all the words.’ But isn’t prolixity a whole other thing? Granted, a long book can be as daunting as a hard one. I nearly reached for Game of Thrones until I saw the bookshelf sagging under the burden of those other volumes. But ‘all the words’ didn’t put people off Harry Potter or the Neapolitan novels – or Dan Brown’s thrillers which, by a corollary to Zeno’s Paradox, are technically interminable. From Dickens to Stephen King, popular fiction has never shied away from a swaggering word count, so that can’t be where difficulty really lies.

Is it in the unfamiliarity of the story’s setting? Now we might be getting somewhere. Readers prefer a world they can relate to. Ah, you say, but what about the million fathoms of fantasy and science fiction? Yet that’s not really a leap into the strange; all of it is populated by 21st century characters. Most readers of historical fiction just want a theme park Middle Ages, not the wild, hallucinatory, plague- and atrocity-ridden reality. It takes a bit of coaxing to get folks off the tour bus and backpacking along the more obscure trails through the literary jungle.

So is difficulty in fiction about straying from the readers’ comfort zones? The problem with comfortable writing – a likeable character, a cosy setting, a plot that ticks the boxes – is that it often makes for very bad books. And bad books are the most difficult to read. Listen to Papa:
‘For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.’
Doing something new doesn’t have to mean brain-blisteringly ergodic works like The House of Leaves or that French thing with no letter e. But now we’re steering in towards the genuine reefs on which many readers founder. Opening a book that is radically unlike anything we’ve seen before prompts the question, ‘How am I meant to approach this?’ The thousand-line poem at the start of Pale Fire, the stream of consciousness of Ulysses, the curlicued digressions of Tristram Shandy, the post-apocalypsese of Riddley Walker. Out of our familiar territory, with no map to guide us, what are we to do but panic?


Take a few deep breaths, though, and none of those books need be difficult. Resist the urge to flip to every note in the back; the author didn’t mean for any of it to be homework. Skip the critical introduction; it’s just an excuse for an academic to show off. Get stuck into the book itself. All experimental literature comes from a sense of exhilaration and (the same root as any fiction) a striving to connect. ‘Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.’ It doesn’t make sense? You can’t parse it? Well, the only problem there is thinking that you have to. Dive in. You can’t drown, and you might find the water’s lovely.

Nobody expects every work to break new experimental boundaries, but fresh and surprising isn’t too much to ask. Even then one encounters the complaint of the challenged reader – ‘I just want something to take to the beach.’ ‘I’m looking for a relaxing read.’ Geoffrey Hill addresses this point in a Paris Review interview:
‘One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are? Why does music, why does poetry have to address us in simplified terms, when if such simplification were applied to a description of our own inner selves we would find it demeaning? I think art has a right—not an obligation—to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification. […] I think immediately of the German classicist and Kierkegaardian scholar Theodor Haecker, who […] argues, with specific reference to the Nazis, that one of the things the tyrant most cunningly engineers is the gross oversimplification of language, because propaganda requires that the minds of the collective respond primitively to slogans of incitement.’
Not to be flippant where Nazis are concerned, but ‘slogans of incitement’ perfectly sums up my impression of most pulp writing. Surely we can all agree that the unlovely, screenplay-shallow prose of a typical contemporary potboiler is very far from being a relaxing read? It glides away before the eyes but gives us nothing to hold onto. The world it presents leaves us on the outside looking in, munching the literary popcorn as the story washes over us and is gone.

It’s curious that, just as television drama is getting more complex, slippery about genre, aiming for ambiguity and interiority – as, in a sense, it’s becoming more literary – the medium of the written word, which is so much better suited for handling those elements, is often favouring a superficial style – declarative, depthless, all surface action. Are those authors trying to leave a calling card with Hollywood? Because – newsflash: if we leave aside the unscalable pinnacles of nine figure blockbusters, what the networks really want is intricacy, richness, innovation, unpredictability. You know, ‘difficult’ stuff.


What is the source of this myth that good books must be a struggle, that you can only relax with ‘trash’? A good book is more difficult than a bad one only in the sense that a relationship is more difficult than paying a prostitute. So why are so many people phobic about literary commitment? It must be an impression picked up at school that ossifies in later life into a Pavlovian insecurity about quality – in all the arts, not just in literature. A silly, muddle-headed submission that ‘fancy stuff’s too much for me’.

Why does this matter? Because for most people the phobia goes much deeper than choosing bad books over good ones. It is the reason that most people don’t read books at all. In perpetuating the fallacy that quality and entertainment value are a zero sum, in dismissing good writing as somehow elitist, we are setting a course towards a world where books are no longer read. Not even the bad ones.

54 comments:

  1. Interesting article, Dave. I tend to struggle on with 'challenging' books regardless - it took me three attempts to get through "Heart of Darkness", possibly due to the fact that it's a slow burn, rather than an exciting read - it's certainly not the length. As a counterpoint, I gave up on "The Da Vinci Code"... not due to the subject matter, as it did *appear* to be interesting, but because it was (in my opinion) badly written. I can accept the odd transcribing spelling mistake, such as words with 'rn' having these letters replaced with a 'm', but popularity aside, Dan Brown is not a good writer...

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    1. No kidding! Still, next to E L James he seems like a master of the craft.

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    2. I never thought I'd say this on a public forum, Dave, but I like the bit about the prostitute.

      Romeo and Juliet was imposed on me at school, so I'll tell people I can't stand Shakespeare, even though that's my only experience of him. Have I had a cultural awakening after such a positive "now for something completely different" BABYLONdon experience? No, I wouldn't read anything else of Shakespeare if you paid me (the same teacher had us read Z for Zachariah and Lord of the Flies, which mitigates my feelings for her slightly).

      Funny you should mention Stephen King. I would hazard a guess you've no strong opinion of him, but that's a detail! I only mention him because in the early 90s I read his book Danse Macabre. In the appendices he listed 100 books (and films) that he thought were important influences (the book was written in 1981 so they're all pre then). As he was a favourite author around that time, I took it upon myself to read or watch all of those books/films (this may have been pre Amazon/e-bay, so WH Smiths made a killing). I'd guess I managed to get a third of them. Stephen King said, you may not find all of these to your taste, but all seem - to me, at least - important to the genre. Getting to the point, some I loved (The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids are in there - albeit I think I'd already read them), some I was indifferent to (The Thomas Covenant Trilogy), some I detested (I think I've mentioned Pynchon's V. before). Your post brought home it's partly in the eye of the beholder, but also there's something about timing. I wonder if I'd given BABYLONdon the time if I'd not read some of the author's more mainstream (!) works beforehand and your tipping record having been so good.

      Apologies, I've gone on a bit there. I'll take your word re E L James as I haven't had the pleasure However, as you defended (of a fashion) Dan Brown, I'm in turn going to defend E L James. I get nauseous just hearing the EastEnders theme playing (at the start!), but can so many million of people be wrong?!

      Very good point ajgemang (this won't make sense in an hour).

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    3. p.s. I think we need a Morris' 100 books and films

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    4. I think you've already made the killer point about "recommended 100" lists, Andy, which is that they're different for everyone. It is a bit odd when you come to think about it that it's so hard to pick a novel or movie that a friend is going to like. Recently I finished a novel and told my wife, "This is such crap you should read it so we can talk about what the author did wrong." And (you guessed it) she loved everything I hated about it.

      In hopes of getting a Shakespeare a second chance, I'll just say I had to read him at school too and was not at all impressed, but I later came to realize why he has the reputation of being the greatest writer ever. Not all of his plays, mind you; there are some real stinkers. And can millions (maybe billions?) of Shakespeare enthusiasts be wrong? Well, it's not like millions of people haven't been wrong before...

      As for E L James -- just to correct a possibly weird impression, I didn't actually buy her novel, just opened it at random in a bookshop. Dan Brown instantly seemed like Kit Marlowe in comparison.

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    5. Bah Humbug! You've just fallen into my (not preconceived) trap! If Shakespeare was in your top hundred, I might have reconsidered. And please don't talk about Roz's new novel like that!

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    6. Hmmm, my last post not my best, Dave. Give me your favourite Shakespeare and I'll read it (probably, through gritted teeth).

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    7. I can do better than that, Andy. I've got you a viewing list. Try these movies in this order & see how you get on:

      Richard III (Ian McKellen)
      King Lear (Peter Brook)
      Anthony & Cleopatra (Charlton Heston)
      Macbeth (Roman Polanski)
      A Midsummer Night's Dream (Michael Hoffman)
      Hamlet (Gregory Doran)

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    8. Good thinking, Dave. That'll save me the ignominy (again) of being like Rik Mayall in that episode of Bottom where he needs his dictionary whilst reading War and Peace (which he'd been reading for 10 years but still on page three).

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    9. By a quirk of fate, Dave, my current Amazon basket has in it, the six Golden Dragon books (I'm not trusting my son with my used but pristine original editions after he bent my BABYLONdon) and the six Shakespeare's above. You are keeping good company these days (form your own punchline here)! Some of those DVDs are quite pricey, but I think I can hire them all on Amazon Prime cheaply instead. I knew that would come in use for something!

      Some really interesting posts below. I think I'll Avoid that French book though.

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    10. "Bent my BABYLONdon" sounds like a phrase Frankie Howerd could do justice to, Andy :-)

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    11. It could have been worse, Dave. At least he didn't bend my Binscombe :)

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  2. "This is such crap you should read it so we can talk about what the author did wrong." I laughed out loud for a good minute! Thanks :-) Will have more to say on your post later...

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    1. That's what daily life is like with two writers in the household!

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  3. "La disparition"...
    I read "Da Vinci Code" (in French) when I had a job and lost a lot of time in public transportation. The style is rather good, the rhythm too so you never get bored, the background is researched (don't forget that many RpGs whose action takes place in the real world use all kinds of "conspiracies")... In fact, only the main point is laughable, well why the Merovingians should be related to Jesus !????
    A definitely example of poor writing and entirely overrated success is "Fifty Shades of Grey"...

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    1. From your description, I suspect the French translator simply junked Brown's book and wrote a different and (by the sounds of it) far less abominable one.

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  4. Quite a lot of food for thought here. For my part, I find the more 'literary' television shows with complex interleaving plots intensely annoying. As you say, books are so much better at those things, and the medium really is the message. If I must watch TV, give me a 24 minute sitcom or some cops & robbers stuff with no moral grey areas.

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    1. There's some very good TV drama these days, but that's a whole other post.

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  5. Speaking of Good Books how about having Keeper of The Seven Keys or Eye of The Dragon as A Mage only Fabled Lands Quest or Down Among The Deadmen as A Warrior only Quest or Way of The Tiger Book 1 as A Rogue only quest

    If you need to justify them how about having the god that your worships decide to help a fellow god by sending your character to that world to help both his/her fellow god and the beings of that world that are allied to good?

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    1. Paul Gresty has rewritten one of those old gamebooks as an FL quest. If there's enough demand maybe we can fund it by Kickstarter. (But "good"? What dat? There's no alignment in FL.)

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    2. I helped edit/proof that book. It's goooood and I'd really like to plunk down money to get it for reals at some point.

      As far as making those books into FL Quests, I've already put my 2 pence in on the idea of doing Eye of the Dragon. Though I wouldn't make it Mage (or any Profession)only. One point of FL books is (or should be) that anyone of any Profession should have a reasonable chance of completing the adventure successfully.

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    3. Good point about not making them only available to 1 Profession

      How do you like this idea of mine. If you do A do write A Fabled Lands Quests version of either Down Among The Deadmen or Eye of The Dragon, or even both of them, how about if you win then the item that you get as part of reward changes depending on your class

      As another idea if you do write A Fabled Lands Quests version of Eye of The Dragon how about having it so that the easiest way to win requires the player to pass A roll against Magic that has a very high Difficulty, which means that you don't have to be A Mage but as they always start with A High Magic Stat it would help?

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  6. When I said followers and forces of Good I meant those of the world that the god you worship has sent to help your save and not The World of Fabled Lands

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  7. The French book with no E is called A Void. I read the English translation a few years back and don't remember much about the story. The lack of e didn't distract me though. I remember reading Crime and Punishment when I was 17 and I found themes I could grab onto. The police officer who offers psychological analysis of the perpetrator sticks in my head as does Dostoyevsky's excellent ability to end a chapter on a cliff hanger. I don't remember finding it hard, but I probably missed a lot of the themes. However, it still had something that I could relate to (not the murder, I emphasize!). A story needs to have something people can relate to. A skillful story does this succinctly without having to write extra paragraphs just to prove to you that character A is just like you and also offers the characters many layers so that many people can relate to them. I think vagueness is also important Inna good story. Make your situations too specific and it could put people off. But there's a very fine line between so vague it's not engaging and so specific it puts a lot of people off.

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    1. There are a whole lot of lipogrammatic novels. I have to say it just strikes me as the author being bored -- and probably therefore boring the reader:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipogram

      Dostoevsky is a master of character, to the point that he can have a character act in a way that's unlike anything we've seen them do earlier in the story and yet we think, "Of course..." Surprising and yet (in retrospect) inevitable -- that's what all authors are striving for.

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    2. As HDA says, lots of food for thought here. Damn you Dave Morris - you made me think! Hard. When I first read your post, apart from laughing at what is definitely my quote of the year so far, I bristled at some of the statements. I wanted to go away, figure out why I had that reaction and then craft a railing polemic against literary academic snobbery and champion the right of the people to be entertained by puerile pap. Bread and circuses and um...Kardashians, I guess. But when I re-read your words and thought about it I realised I was struggling to disagree with what I think is your central thesis.

      What I did want to explore though was this sentence “The problem with comfortable writing – a likeable character, a cosy setting, a plot that ticks the boxes – is that it often makes for very bad books.” That may be so, and the fantasy genre is certainly rife with poorly written, highly derivative work (Shanara I’m looking at you), but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

      However you care to characterise/classify stories, the reality is that an audience expects certain things from certain kinds of stories, whether they be action, romance, crime/murder mystery, thriller, horror etc. By that I mean (as Shawn Coyne of Story Grid fame describes them) there are certain conventions and obligatory scenes in different types of story. Whether it be “the lovers meet” in a romance or “hero at the mercy of the villain” in a thriller, “speech in praise of the villain” in an action story etc. Is it box ticking or paint by numbers to include things you normally expect to read in a story or see in a tv show/movie? Maybe, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a bad story. I laughed when your reply to HDA mentioned surprising but inevitable endings as what all authors strive for. That’s a phrase used quite a lot by Shawn Coyne and Story Grid editors and authors (sorry that makes it sound like a cult doesn’t it). Following a formula or recipe for writing a certain type of fiction doesn’t render it necessarily poor writing nor good writing. But it does make it more likely a reader’s expectations will be satisfied and increase the chances of it being better than bad writing. And maybe that’s the point. If the author wants to subvert the conventions of a genre then they must first understand what those conventions are before they bust them open. They also then should expect a different reaction from their readers than merely satisfied and entertained. Possibly intrigued, challenged, with thoughts provoked, perhaps satisfied, perhaps feeling let down but probably changed in some minor way or at least thinking about the story long after the final page or episode or movie credits roll.

      Anyway I just wanted to take self-righteous umbridge :-) with the notion that a plot which ticks the boxes often leads to bad books. To the contrary I think writing which doesn’t tick the boxes (by which I mean satisfy or deliberately omit or twist the conventions of the genre) is more likely to be a bad book than one which does. Rant ended :-)

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    3. You've raised some interesting points, Nigel -- so many in fact that I'd better save the bulk of my response for a future post, otherwise my reply here will be as long as the original piece.

      Genre itself can be an invitation to laziness, for both the writer and reader. I get why it exists (for marketing purposes) but the most interesting stories about crime or fantasy or science fiction or romance tend to be the ones that defy pigeonholing as genre. (OK, I'm only guessing when it comes to romance.) I don't mean the writer shouldn't be aware of the genre tropes. There's nothing more annoying than a non-SF writer deigning to write an SF novel that they don't realize covers ground that real SF writers dealt with more interestingly already. But even if something is genre, we agree we don't want it to be predictable. It's not so much about ticking the boxes as being aware which boxes the reader is thinking about so as to surprise them. But I would say that's something every author has to think about.

      For example, you're reading or watching a story and you see it's building towards a genre convention. A showdown with a killer, for example. (I'm thinking of that because I've just been watching the final season of The Affair.) There's the obvious way it can go, that we've seen a thousand times before in unimaginative stories: the killer, even decades after the crime, is a scheming psycho who richly deserves to meet his end. But I want to see something unexpected. The writer reeled me in, now surprise me. The killer is a different person all these years on, so now the story is about the protagonist confronting their own motivation. Or the killer is sick and already dying anyway; revenge is futile. Or he has somebody dependent on him, and vengeance would harm them too.

      In short, I'm not saying that a story has to twist itself into shapes so unrecognisable that we can't go along for the ride. That would be House of Leaves for sure! But there is no point in the writer doing what we've already seen done many times before. Within the form they've chosen to use (I agree that's crucial) they need to surprise us.

      My wife btw calls that recognition of the story boxes "the promise of the premise" and she's very insistent that having made a contract with the reader, the writer must not fail to deliver. If the movie Space Station 76 was set in a Victorian drawing room, that would annoy everybody. But it turns out to be not at all what you expect even while (I think) keeping the promise of the premise. The viewer has to change their expectations as they watch -- which I think we have to do with all really good stories -- but we end up, hopefully, feeling that the place it took us to was worthwhile precisely because it wasn't what we expected.

      Oh boy, having said I wouldn't write another post I very nearly have. I blame you for coming back with such an interesting counter-argument!

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    4. Incidentally I'm hoping Jamie might actually comment on this one as he reads a lot of fantasy series, and after a lifetime of that he ought to have some pretty firm ideas about the genre.

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    5. One of the better examples, to me, of a kind of unexpected direction actually comes from the Fabled Lands - actually two, now that I think about it. The first, most obvious one is the "main quest" in the first book. The obvious choice there (and what would have been the quest in any other series) is to support the old king's son's rebellion against General Marlock. But. But you don't have to. It's equally valid for you to support Marlock in putting down the rebellion and giving peace to the land (a slightly oppressive peace, perhaps, but still peace).

      The second one came with a third choice in dealing with the warehouse cannibals. You can fight them (and get eaten). You can yell their god's name and have a fighting chance against them or... you can join their cult. Figure in most other books/series joining the cult wouldn't have been an option.

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    6. Funny you should mention that, John, because somebody asked me about morality in Fabled Lands just a few hours ago. My reply to them covered pretty much the same points you raised:

      "As for moral messages, I don’t think FL has one; it certainly wasn’t intended to have one. The kinds of roleplaying games Jamie and I like are set in a universe (eg Tekumel) with no built-in moral message; if players want morality they have to bring it themselves, just like in the real universe.

      "Fantasy being derived largely from English literary traditions, it has retained the cosiness that goes with a sentimental moral attitude. Almost all genre fiction is in a sense children’s literature, even if it adds horrific brutality into the mix, but after all its aim is merely to entertain, and we can all enjoy a fairytale. But when fiction does deal with moral themes, it’s fake if it tries to sell you a bottom line. “Why did you do X or Y?” It’s never that simple, is it, so to handle such themes well the story can only explore them, and it might be clear that the author inclines to one thesis or another, but when the author makes their universe back them up that’s no longer fiction, it’s just propaganda."

      In short, we just set the stage. It's the player's story.

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    7. I neglected to note that there's a third "option" in terms of General or King's Son - you can ignore both of them and do something else. Perhaps their "quest-lines" will net a couple of automatic Rank increases, which is nice. Especially if you've already fought Pirates, etc and gotten to Rank 12 already. Going higher requires the auto Rank raises. Still, you don't have to do it. And let's face it, once you really get up their, there isn't that much difference between Rank 18 and Rank 20 or so. Defense +2 and 2d6 Stamina is okay, but probably not critical at that point. Especially given that success for the Rank 18 Demigod attempting those quests would be near-automatic.

      So, yes, all the quests are optional on some level. Obviously you'll want to some of them to advance, but Liche Lord there's no quest in Fabled Lands that you can't either opt out of or just put off until whenever.

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  8. If Jamie joins this thread I will geek out completely...

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    1. It has been known to happen, but it's about as rare as a kissogram from Groucho Marx.

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    2. I picked up and put back down on the shop shelf umpteen times the first Shannara book when I was about 9 years old, Nigel. Young me sends his thanks from the past for your tip off.

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    3. I think I was 12 or 13 when I got The Sword of Shannara. Even then it seemed derivative The Lord of the Rings. I liked a bit more later once I grasped that it was a fantasy world within a post-apocalyptic land, still I haven't really kept up with it much.

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  9. Maybe Shannara is a cheap shot...I’m sure his other stuff is better. And hey it was very popular at the time and now it’s been made into a Netflix series so I guess Terry Brooks is laughing all the way to the bank. :-)

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    1. Maybe there's other stuff, but the only other thing he's really done was something about a Magic Kingdom for sale. I had zero interest in that. He ultimately connected Shannara to his Knight of the Word series by making that series the prequel to the apocalypse out of which Shannara was born.

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    2. According to Wikipedia “ He has written 23 New York Times bestsellers during his writing career, and has sold over 25 million copies of his books in print. He is one of the biggest-selling living fantasy writers.” Sucks to be Terry I guess ;-) *sigh*

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    3. I looked at the same info on Terry Brooks, Nigel. At least he’s alive to still enjoy his wealth. Most of his contemporaries have sadly passed on. I did almost outdo Terry Brooks. At about the same age I was weighing up his book, I wrote several chapters of what was going to be my first book and magnus opus, entitled, The Last Barbarian. Probably the most derivative story that never came to pass. Not that I knew what the word derivative meant at the time. Needless to say, it was crap and I decided that Howard was probably the better author. Perhaps I should have stuck with it.

      I can’t quite let the post go without further comment, Dave. It got my thinking, most of my favourite books or classics that I really enjoyed were read in my school years. Why then post school did I start reading largely pulp fantasy and horror? Then into my 20s, reading very little at all. I can roughly map those stages against the progression of my career, interests and girlfriends. What’s the point I’m making? Do those factors lead people to shy away from books that will expand the mind a bit, as the creative soul is drained through work and other priorities win out? The only time I seem to have the energy to read is at the weekend, therefore I gravitate towards my favourite books or new books by the same authors (I would say music has followed the exact same path, and to a lesser extent, films). In the back of mind, there’s then the uncomfortable thought I’m probably the other side of the hill in terms of lifespan, so I need to be picky when it comes to book choices.

      I’ll go with a gamebook ending. Am I saying;

      I need to challenge myself more with my book choices?

      I understand a bit more why people watch Eastenders having not got past the first page of Shakespeare (and hopefully not. but dare I say it, BABYLONdon)?

      I’ve not read much fantasy in the last 20 years, so I’m interested in what Jamie’s recent favourites are?

      Considering my own mortality and having a mid-life crisis?!

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    4. I'm always in hope that the future holds great books & movies yet to be discovered, Andy -- although my favourite movie probably still is Lawrence of Arabia, and it was my favourite movie when I was five...

      I don't know anything about Terry Brooks, though remember what H L Mencken said about how not to lose money. I don't read much fantasy or SF these days (having read nothing but as a kid) but I'm always on the look-out for something truly original in the genres. Oliver's novel The Knight of the Fields is one of the best I've read -- on a par with Gormenghast, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and The Dying Earth -- but he can't get it published because, apparently, it's "more of '90s style fantasy". My contempt for publishers knows no bounds when they say something like that; a great book is a great book, fashion be damned.

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    5. Couldn’t Oliver self publish, get it out on Kindle etc and we can game the system and algorithms with purchases and reviews to help spread the word until its inherent brilliance shines through? But I know I’ve raised this before and given Oliver is, as I understand it, actually in Publishing perhaps he knows best...

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    6. That's what I've told him, Nigel, but I suppose having a career in publishing he feels that the dribble of copies he'd shift compared to the thousands a professionally-promoted book sells just isn't worth the effort. I have even offered to set it all up for him on KDP. I'll keep trying...

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  10. Andy your post resonates very strongly with me. Is there an “all of the above - turn to page 666” option? :-) Perhaps one difference isn’t I’m still labouring under the grand delusion that I will one day have the chance to write an epic and groundbreaking fantasy series... I sincerely hope Terry is living large. The untimely demise of many great writers suggests it’s not a healthy lifestyle choice to be sitting hunched over the keyboard all day. Is that why you’re doing 10 mile hikes Dave? Or is it just a convenient excuse to listen to podcasts with convenient health side benefits?

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    1. I'd probably never take any exercise if not for podcasts, Nigel, but in that respect I'm not a typical writer. My wife (also a writer) enthusiastically launches into hours of bodypumping, running, dancing, etc, every week. It's exhausting just to watch.

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    2. Well done, Nigel! You've successfully completed the quest and get to win the prize, a first edition signed copy of The Last Barbarian. Treasure all 30 pages of it (forgive the large writing).

      Perhaps it's something about aged 5, Dave. The Empire Strikes Back my first cinema outing and first film I remember, but still my favourite (well, there about).

      Before your last few posts I put into Amazon "Oliver Johnson The Knight Of The Fields" just in case it had been released and you'd not done a post on it. What came up? F is for Fart: A rhyming ABC Children's book about farting, by Mr Smelt it and Mrs Dealt it. We're all out of our depth here. It's going in the basket! I suspect The Age of the Triffids won't be my favourite book for much longer.

      I've probably asked before, Dave, but was Oliver's Lightbringer Trilogy any good? Looks like he'd get at least two sales of his new stuff anyway. I keep pressing for interviews, so would Oliver be up for that (and how about Mark Smith, another forgotten favourite)?

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    3. Didn't I run an interview with Mark already, Andy? Come to think, it might have been a few years ago now, so I'll see if he's up for a new one. It'll be even harder to pin Oliver down, as his position at Hachette might mean he can't be totally honest about the books he rates or hates. I can but ask.

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    4. I found that interview. It was six years ago!

      https://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2014/06/interview-with-mark-smith-creator-of-orb.html

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    5. Thanks, Dave. I starting reading your blog a year or so later from memory. That said, I thought I'd read all your older posts at least once, but evidently I missed this one, typically one of those I'm most interested in.

      My first book in the series was Usurper. I then worked backwards. The original covers were superb, absent from the re-issues I see. I drew them all (and the martial arts moves inside) for my art GCSE, hopefully a bit too late now to get done for copyright infringement!

      It would be great to find out about more about the people, as much as about the books themselves. What were their influences, why did they stop writing, etc. Of course, completely respectful of the fact they may not want to tell us!

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    6. If I could figure out how to record a Zoom call, Andy, then maybe I can get Oliver, Jamie and Mark all together in one fell swoop. (But don't hold your breath because the first if there is a biggie.)

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    7. I'm constantly struggling with Teams, Dave, so I sympathise. I'm looking forward to that interview almost as much as F is for Fart.

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  11. The universe may implode from the sheer gravity of so many luminaries of gamebook and RPG fame being in the same (virtual) place and time! Your good self obviously included in that list Dave. Like Andy I’m looking forward to that interview as much as Tyutchev, Cassandra and Thaum want to thwart Avenger and steal the Talisman of Death!

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  12. I think we need to tag team Dave, Nigel. Lo pan style.

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  13. There's nothing particularly difficult about La Disparition, by the way, nor is its translation A Void. Though the latter title may read like a discouragement just for the heck of it.

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    1. Translations often end up with strange titles (Simenon's La Main somehow became The Man on the Bench in the Barn in its first English edition) though in the case of La Disparition they obviously couldn't translate that as The Disappearance so opted for the e-free A Void:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Void

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