Showing all posts tagged: novels

That time Douglas Adams unofficially signed copies of his books in Sydney, Australia

22 July 2024

If you enjoyed the novels of late British author Douglas Adams, you may enjoy this in-depth article about his later life, by Jimmy Maher.

Adams, it seems, did not restrict his particular brand of humour to the written word. A regular customer at a coffee shop I used to go to, told me about an encounter (of a sort) with Adams, in Sydney, Australia, sometime in the late 1990’s. My friend at the coffee shop once worked at a large bookshop in Sydney’s CBD.

He told of the day that Adams — who was presumably in Australia promoting his latest work — arrived at the shop unannounced, and made his way to the sci-fi section. Apparently, his most recent book, plus a selection of others, were on display in a promotional cardboard gondola, similar to what you see on this webpage.

Adams, without saying a word to anyone, pulled a pen from his pocket, and proceeded to sign random copies of his books. Before turning to leave, he scrawled his name across the top of the gondola, and walked out of the shop, again, without saying a word to anyone.

My friend told me how a huddle of bewildered bookshop staff quickly gathered at the gondola, trying to make sense of what had just happened. “Was that him?” was a phrase uttered numerous times apparently. Signed copies of Adams’ novels must have been a windfall for those who bought them…


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Seventy-five of the best sci-fi books, but I only ever read one

16 July 2024

I might be a fan of science-fiction stories, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, but of the seventy-five titles listed by Esquire magazine, on their best sci-fi books of all time, I’ve only read one. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. That’s it.

1984, by George Orwell? No. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley? Ditto. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Same. And I’m pretty sure none of these were required reading at school either. The list of non-reads, of course, goes on. I have seen the film adaptations of a few of them though.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, which ranks at number nine on the Esquire list, is definitely a novel I’d like to read, and is on my TBR list. One day I’ll be able to say I’ve read two of them.


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The Honeyeater, the new novel by Australian author Jessie Tu

1 July 2024

Cover image of The Honeyeater, the new novel by Jessie Tu.

The Honeyeater is the second novel by Sydney based Australian writer Jessie Tu, and will be in bookshops on Tuesday 2 July 2024. That’s tomorrow.

I read Tu’s 2020 debut A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing almost four years ago. It was the story of a once child prodigy musician, who wasn’t always successfully navigating life as a twenty-something adult. It often made for difficult reading. In contrast, The Honeyeater seems more like a thriller:

Young academic and emerging translator Fay takes her mother on a package tour holiday to France to celebrate her birthday. It’s a chance for the two of them to take a break from work and have a little fun, but they both find it hard to relax. Her mother seems reluctant to leave their room in the evening, and Fay is working on a difficult translation. On their last night in France, Fay receives the shattering news that her former lover has suddenly died.

Back in Sydney, Fay seeks solace from her mentor, Professor Samantha Egan-Smith, who offers her a spot at a prestigious translation conference in Taipei. But can she trust her? Does the Professor know more than she is admitting, or is Fay being paranoid? When a shocking allegation is made, Fay chooses to keep it secret. Is she protecting the Professor or exercising power over her?

Fay arrives at the conference in Taipei. Career opportunities abound, but it’s ghost month in Taiwan. Her mother had begged her not to go at that time, warning that she would be susceptible to dangers and threats. And there is almost nothing a mother won’t do to protect her child.

And coincidentally, Tuesday 2 July 2024 is also when the shortlist for Australian literary prize, the Miles Franklin, will be announced. Not that The Honeyeater will feature on that list, though who knows, it may in 2025.


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Are more first time authors struggling to get published?

18 June 2024

Kate Dwyer, writing for Esquire:

Almost everyone mentioned that debut fiction has become harder to launch. For writers, the stakes are do or die: A debut sets the bar for each of their subsequent books, so their debut advance and sales performance can follow them for the rest of their career.

It might be harder today to launch a debut novel than in past decades, but people still succeed in doing so. What sort of sales might be generated by a “successful” debut novel, is another matter though. Spoiler: probably not a whole lot, unless the title is the next Harry Potter, or has enjoyed some sort of celebrity endorsement.

Promotional channels are more fractured, and maybe the number of people who want to write a book is greater. Everyone has a book has in them, after all. It could be tools such as word processors, and access to helpful resources online, empower more to try getting published.

So what to do, to help debut authors? Encourage more people to read newer fiction? Place less emphasis on the classics? Why not? If people are reading books that are centuries old, when is there time to read contemporary work? For my part, I rarely look at anything over ten years old nowadays.

I tried though. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Both cornerstones of Western literature, no doubt. How many novels feature a key character, having been out of the country on a prolonged absence, returning home, unexpectedly, late at night? We can thank Mansfield Park for that.

But despite my interest in these novels, I finished neither. I’m sure they’re both great books, but they’re just not for me. Ditto Vanity Fair. So contemporary fiction it is. Call me shallow and uncultured, but hopefully I’m helping a new or emerging author at the same time.


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Intermezzo by Sally Rooney, on bookshelves in September 2024

17 June 2024

Cover image of Intermezzo, the new Sally Rooney novel.

Intermezzo, the fourth novel by Irish literary fiction author Sally Rooney, will be published on 24 September 2024*. The synopsis is classic Rooney:

Aside from the fact that they are brothers, Peter and Ivan Koubek seem to have little in common.

Peter is a Dublin lawyer in his thirties — successful, competent and apparently unassailable. But in the wake of their father’s death, he’s medicating himself to sleep and struggling to manage his relationships with two very different women — his enduring first love Sylvia, and Naomi, a college student for whom life is one long joke.

Ivan is a twenty-two-year-old competitive chess player. He has always seen himself as socially awkward, a loner, the antithesis of his glib elder brother. Now, in the early weeks of his bereavement, Ivan meets Margaret, an older woman emerging from her own turbulent past, and their lives become rapidly and intensely intertwined.

For two grieving brothers and the people they love, this is a new interlude — a period of desire, despair and possibility — a chance to find out how much one life might hold inside itself without breaking.

I’ve liked all of Rooney’s novels, with Conversations with Friends, her 2017 debut, being my favourite so far. I’m yet to see the TV adaptation, but am told the book/screen crossover didn’t quite work.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find many of Rooney’s male characters not to be all that driven, certainly when it comes to the women in their lives. The men are flawed (as are all of Rooney’s characters), and that’s ok, but they just don’t seem to have much motivation.

But said women are usually the lead protagonists, so maybe Peter and Ivan, especially since they are Intermezzo’s main characters, will be less plodding, less non-committal?

* that’s 24/9/24. Obviously not a palindrome… but does the date have some sort of significance, or was it chosen solely for its, um, numerical symmetry?


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Everyone has a book in them, but not every book has a reader

26 April 2024

Everyone has a book in them, or so they say. It’s a pithy turn of phrase, one that’s possibly inspired the writing of a billion plus manuscripts. Slightly less inspiring though, is the revelation that ninety-six percent of books sell less than one thousand copies.

Everyone has a book in them, but how many readers of that work might they have? I’m not saying you shouldn’t write the book you’ve always wanted to, after all, not everyone wants to see their work published. This in spite of the sometimes years of toil that might go into the writing.

For some people, I’m sure, writing a manuscript is an end in itself. But it’s interesting. I looked up the phrase everyone has a book in them to find out more about it. I hear the words frequently, and have uttered them a number of times myself, but I was curious to learn who coined the phrase.

As I discovered though, the actual quote is everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay. So usually only part of the phrase is in common use. A little like Albert Einstein’s oft quoted words, imagination is more important than knowledge.

It seems everyone has a book in them, etc., is considered one of late British/American writer Christopher Hitchens’ witticisms, but there’s a bit more to the story. Now that we’ve cleared that up, back to the question at hand. If you have a book in you, should you write it?

I say of course you should. Why keep it yourself? Self-publish if need be. But you’ll need to temper your expectations in regards to how many people might buy it.


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Is book social cataloguing website Goodreads still relevant?

4 September 2023

Canadian author Tajja Isen, writing for The Walrus:

Gradually, things started to go off the rails. My to-read list ballooned alarmingly, not from titles I felt drawn to out of genuine desire but ones the algorithm pushed on me. The thrill of discovery, too, felt compromised: every time my feed told me a friend had added a book that I’d found first, I felt a frisson of annoyance. Have some imagination.

Amazon bought the social cataloguing website in 2013, which some book industry pundits saw as an attempt to stifle potential competition, should the then owners have decided to sell books through the site. Goodreads has remained little changed since Amazon took over.

While I have a page there, I don’t used it a whole lot at the moment. In terms of reading recommendations though, I’ve just about always obtained them from other sources, as I think my reading interests fall way outside the purview of the Goodreads’ algorithms.


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From slush pile to bookshop shelf: the secrets of successful unsolicited manuscripts

26 August 2023

We all know the drill. We send — unsolicited — the novel manuscript we’ve spent years toiling over, to a couple of publishing houses who accept them. From there they go into a kind of purgatory called a slush pile. How long manuscripts might spend in this limbo is unknown, but probably just about all of them end up going through the shredder eventually.

Nevertheless, we hold onto hope — hope above all else — of a different fate.

Because not all slush pile works go to pulp. Some Australian authors, including Abby Corson, Shannon Meyerkort, Natasha Sholl, and Mark Smith, have been plucked from the agglomeration and found their way onto a bookshop shelf. Perhaps then what happens in the movies is true. Book publishers have staff who sift through the slush pile, looking for that elusive diamond in the rough.

Take note then. Good writing separates the wheat from the chaff. Manuscripts with eye-catching premises, and engaging opening chapters, might reach the next rung of the ladder.


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The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, with her handwritten notes, found in Sydney

24 July 2023

In 2021, Simon Cooper, a University of Sydney worker, rediscovered a first edition copy of The Voyage Out, the 1915 debut novel of British author Virginia Woolf, lurking amongst a collection of science books, where it had been misfiled years ago.

What makes the find so remarkable are the notations throughout the book, written in hand by Woolf herself, when she was considering revising the novel. A veritable boon for anyone interested in studying Woolf’s work. The book has since been digitised, and can be viewed online.


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Leslye Headland to direct The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo film adaptation

4 July 2023

Well over a year after a screen adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 novel The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo was announced, American filmmaker and screenwriter Leslye Headland has been named as director. Reid’s work of historical fiction spent over a year on The New York Times best seller list, after becoming a TikTok sensation in 2021.

The story recounts the life and times of Hollywood Golden Age star Evelyn Hugo, who, at age 79, grants a rare interview to an unknown journalist, Monique Grant. The now reclusive Hugo promises to reveal all to Grant, much to the chagrin, and envy, of Grant’s better known contemporaries. While Grant is as surprised as anyone else at being chosen, Hugo has a reason for selecting her.

So far there is no word on who will be cast, but earlier this year fans of the novel were clamouring for Jessica Chastain to take the role of redhead Celia St. James, Hugo’s foil and friend.


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