A blog by Nikki Dudley about the gaps in everyday life...


Monday, 27 December 2010

The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

4/5 rating

** spoiler alert **

I was excited to read this novel as I had read some of the author's work on authonomy.com. This book thankfully, lived up to my excitement. I read it in about two days, constantly thinking about the characters and the story, so much that I had to pick it up again and again!

Rose Wilks is a cold and intriguing character. Her story is told in the present but also through her entries in a black notebook, talking about her past, her relationships and the events leading up to the death of her friend's baby, Luke.

The other narrator is Rose's probation officer, Cate. Her character is not likeable at first but I begun to enjoy the alternative perspective - her observations about the other characters in particular (Emma, the mother of the dead child, Emma's current husband, Jason (Rose's partner and Emma's ex-husband), and the other people in the prison environment)). Also, she provides a different perspective of Rose.

Thinking of someone killing a baby on purpose is of course something that most people don't like to think about and the beauty of this novel is that it plays on the desire for Rose to be innocent, when in fact, there seems to be ample evidence to the contrary. And even if she isn't guilty of murdering Luke (which I'm not saying either way), you can argue she is no doubt a troubled individual who has hurt people in other ways and that she is being rightfully punished for some things she has done (stalking, obsession, lying, manipulation). But the question is - should she be released? Has she paid for her crime/s? This is Cate's dilemma and the dilemma of the readers who can only watch the information unfold, toiling with their perceptions of Rose.

A great novel and I'm excited to say that this author has another book forthcoming in 2011. The Woman Before Me is by no means a masterpiece and there could be some fine-tuning of the writing but overall, Dugdall is a very good writer who has constructed a story that I won't forget in a hurry.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

There is more than one way to skin an... author?

Some interesting developments of late. Pearson, the large educational publishers, now want to offer and even award their own degrees. Read more here. In the same week, Curtis Brown, a large literary agency, also want to start a Creative Writing School. And this is what I really want to talk about.

Wow, how strange I thought. You pay £1600 for a 10 week course, have one weekly evening course and a few extra sessions conducted by "leading writers and other publishing professionals". The reward? A critique by someone from Curtis Brown. AND if they like your work you could even be offered representation, at the usual 10-15% commission of course.

The comments on The Bookseller website are enough to show people's lack of support for this idea. In fact, some of the comments are downright angry, including one from a fellow literary agent who writes:

'As a literary agent I am dismayed at this development. Agents should not be taking money from prospective clients up front. It goes against every principle of agenting and will just give agents a bad name. What were you thinking Jonny? Writers pay for the course and then have to give you 6 weeks exclusive option on their work? WOW! Make your money the old fashioned way - earn it!'

Another unimpressed person commented:

'Instead of vanity publishing, we now have vanity agenting! Pay a part-time member of staff's wages for three months and they'll give you an insider's view to publishing. Writers would be better off doing an unpaid internship at a publishing house or literary agent's. Or finding respectable outreach programmes and writer development scemes, such as Inscribe by Peepal Tree Press, Signposts in South Yorkshire, The Writing Squad, etc. Sorry folks, but if you think £1,600 is a shortcut to getting published, and is even worth it, then you're sadly deluded. If agents can't make their money selling authors and their books any more, then I'd seriously doubt the qualifications of said agents to teach anything.'

Gosh - angry or what! But I found myself agreeing with a lot of the comments. For £1600, you would expect a bit more than a weekly evening course. Plus, those extra sessions don't seem to have any weight attached to them and they sensibly don't specify how many you get! It also does seem to be a way of Curtis Brown a) getting authors to come to them instead of actually searching for them (God forbid they do any legwork), and I think this makes me suspicious that they will most likely try to get said 'students' to write in a way that suits them and b) earning themselves some extra money in desperate times by taking advantage of other people's dreams and c) getting long-term commission money in the bag by securing a few writers from the course.

All of these points are not necessarily bad. I think it's obvious and understandable for Curtis Brown to want to make money. However, I think what people are especially upset about is the price tag (you could undertake a certified Masters course at a university for a whole year for around £3000-4000 - with more lectures, support and that small thing at the end of it, hmm - a degree!) and also a feeling that this move is backhanded and unfair (particularly for taking money in advance, which is what agents and publishers are not meant to do - unless it's self-publishing!)

It's definitely a big change for the literary world and I wonder if it is something that other organisations and businesses will begin to do more often, or if this is a one off experiment. Time will tell...

Note about the cartoon: It has nothing to do with my piece really but I thought it was funny!


Search This Blog