Notes on books I’ve been reading, and any insights I’ve gained as a writer…
As my own writing project at the moment is a good old thriller, I’ve been reading a fair bit around that genre. A few months back I was reading the hardcore action thrillers. In the last month or so I’ve been reading some more cerebral thrillers, as well as an insight into the workings of one of the best-selling thriller writers…
Reacher Said Nothing
A look behind the scenes as Lee Child writes another Jack Reacher mega-bestseller. Interesting in many ways, but it also held some frustration — many was the time I was urging the author to dig deeper into the hint of an interesting insight, while also often urging him to move on from lengthy off-topic meanderings. It made me really respect Child as a professional at his craft though.
Writing insights: It’s okay to just launch in to writing unplanned, and find where it takes you — then put the underpinning of planning in afterwards to support the inspiration. Editing is where it happens. It can be hard to apply bum to seat and fingers to keyboard, but you just have to keep at it. Also: “At moments of action, when the reader will be reading quickly, slow it right down.”
The Handmaid’s Tale
A modern classic, that lived up to the hype. One of those that I probably should have read long ago but only just picked up. Impressive realisation of a powerful idea. Great writing.
Writing insights: Trust the reader to be clever, and work things out even though you don’t explain every detail. I was admiring how Atwood did that throughout the book — painting the world with casual mentions of things that were normal to the characters but unknown to us. Then she went and explained all the details in the epilogue which made it a frustrating end for me.
An enjoyable bit of speculative fiction in the near future when a Facebook-like beast has got even more out of control. Great concept. Felt it could do with a firmer editorial steer though as most plot points were towards the obvious end of the scale, including the final ‘big reveal’.
I Am Pilgrim
The author clearly knows his stuff, and writes well, but his knowledge and research seemed to get in the way of just telling a story. I got a quarter of the way in and it was still just introducing the backstory of the main characters in microscopic research-reciting detail. Needed to cut a load of that and get going. This one’s been put aside and I haven’t picked up again yet — though I’m pretty sure it will get good later.
Writing insights: Do the research, but don’t write from your notes. Put them in a drawer and let what’s settled at the back of your mind inspire you as you just focus on writing a good story. You can check important facts in the edit. Get straight into the main story and drip in backstory only as it becomes relevant and necessary.
The Best Of Our Spies
I enjoyed this as a well-written, well-plotted story. It’s set up as a spy plot, sure, but if that’s not your thing you’ll still find plenty to like in the setting, the characters, and the human story.
Writing insights: Whatever the genre, an emotional core adds such power to the tale.
All The Light We Cannot See
I loved this. A really moving story, told beautifully. Recommended.
Stories Of Your Life And Others
I love short stories, and this collection of contains some great examples, including the one that got made into the movie Arrival.
Calling Major Tom
A very easy and enjoyable read with plenty of smiles.
Conversations With My Agent
Amusing tales of life as a TV writer in LA. No great learning, but a bit of insight into the though my process and the issues. Mostly a lot of venting of frustration about work never getting to screen!
A powerful and moving story. Really great writing. Recommended.