The Page 69 Test

How to judge a book? By its cover? By what other people say? By the first few paragraphs?

There are those who advocate a different approach – reading Page 69. Or indeed, asking the author to read and comment on it themselves.

I’ve just been asked for some thoughts on Caveat Emptor – slightly alarming when it turned out that, being the start of a chapter, the page in question only offered 19 lines to work with. But it seemed a shame to cheat, and in the end I enjoyed playing the game. The results  – along with those of a host of other writers – can be found over at The Page 69 Test.


Caveat Emptor published in North America

I’m delighted to say that Bloomsbury have now sent out the first copies of ‘Caveat Emptor’, Ruso and Tilla’s fourth adventure, so it’s possible that Santa may be delivering one or two very shortly.

Here’s another shot of the cover (because it’s so lovely). Clicking on it should take you to the book details on the publisher’s website.

Cover of Caveat Emptor

Apologies to British readers, who will have to wait a little longer. I understand the Easter bunny is currently welcoming pre-orders for our edition – ‘Ruso and the River of Darkness’. I’ll update the blog as soon as I have more details.

Good news – it’s Simon Vance again!

Ruso and Tilla’s followers on Facebook will already know the good news – Simon Vance will be reading the audio version of ‘Caveat Emptor’. Hooray!

Someone mentioned authors narrating their own work, which set me thinking.  Simon Brett, Alan Bennet and  Gervase Phinn sprang to mind as people who’d made a success of it – but since I’ve been in this game I’ve begun to understand why most audiobooks are the work of actors rather than authors.  My own experience from giving ‘author talks’ suggests that, both literally and figuratively, I can’t read my own writing. Well, only selected parts of it. Parts where nobody has much to say.

I hope the Ruso books ‘read’ fairly easily, in that people don’t have to chew over the sentences to pick out the meaning. And I do work pretty hard on making the dialogue sound natural – if it doesn’t ‘sound’ right in my head, it ‘s tweaked until it does. Often many times. But in my case what goes on inside the head and what comes out of the mouth are very different things.

This came as more of a surprise than you might think. After all, my earlier dramatic readings of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ were acknowledged works of genius – consistently greeted with enthusiasm and demands  for more. Eeyore (from a mythical place in Yorkshire where everyone speaks in a glum monotone) and Kanga (based on Marge from ‘Neighbours’, obviously) were particularly fine creations. On reflection, though, practically any old rubbish  is more appealing to a five-year-old than being told to put the light out and go to sleep.

To read for several hours at a time, making sense of the story while bringing a huge cast of characters convincingly to life,  requires skills that few of us have.  And the really clever thing is, the best readers make it sound easy.

A blessing, a curse and a warning

A blessing upon:  the good folk of Lancashire,  Staffordshire and Leicestershire, who apparently borrowed more Ruso books from their libraries than anyone else in the UK in 2008-9.  This isn’t really a fair comparison, since I got the figures from the PLR (Public Lending Right) website and they only include the sample libraries chosen for that year. But thank you anyway.  I hope you enjoyed them.

A curse upon:  the gremlins who seem to have invaded the British distribution  of  ‘Ruso and the Demented Doctor’ and ‘Ruso and the Root of All Evils’. There are a few copies in a box under the desk here, so if Santa needs one urgently and the local bookshop can’t oblige, please get in touch – see below.

A warning: the gremlins have also struck the email system. I would blame the snow (since it’s being blamed for everything else) but we haven’t had any. Anyway,  if you’ve made contact recently and not had an answer, please try again. To outwit the gremlins,  use the ‘comment’ option below, and if it’s really just intended for me, put ‘not for the blog’ on it.


Learning more and knowing less

It seems the whole of the UK is blanketed with snow, and not much is happening – except here in our little patch of the West Country, where the only sign of trouble is the occasional car passing with a white coat on the roof.  But as an expression of solidarity  (or of sheer laziness) I’ve taken the morning off work and gone wandering around the Web. And I’ve hit a brick wall. Or rather, not a brick wall. Not even stone, or turf, that oddly clumsy building material beloved of Roman soldiers wanting a quick rampart without quarrying.

There I was, browsing innocently around Gary Corby’s blog when I came across his post on Geoff Carter, a chap who’s suggesting that Hadrian’s Wall was first built from – wood. You’ll have to check out Gary’s blog for the link to the report. (I’m not a completely shameless link-thief.)

While you’re there, spare a thought for an author whose books are set in Britain at the beginning of Hadrian’s reign and who was, until this morning, confidently looking forward to planning a story about the first builders.

Of course when you write a novel there are questions that history and archaeology can’t answer, and about which you have to take an educated guess. That’s half the fun of it. Sometimes you have to fudge around the obscurer details, and there’s always the danger that some eager soul with a trowel or a new research tool will discover something that disproves what we always knew to be true  – and make you look silly. But no matter how thick the fudge, even the least attentive of readers will spot the difference between a stonemason and a carpenter.

The Wall novel is only on the far horizon at the moment. With luck, by the time we get there, greater minds than mine will have reached a consensus about what the first builders were up to. Otherwise it’s going to be an interesting challenge…