In praise of the audiobook

I cannot praise the audiobook enough.

Perhaps considered the plainer cousin of the ebook, or the slower version of the traditional book, the audiobook has never really been regarded with much appeal. By me. Until now.

I never really saw (or heard!) the point of an actor/actress drip-reading me the contents of a novel that I could devour by conventional reading methods in a fifth of the time. That was until I chose to take a seven-and-a-half-hour trip in my not-so-fast car from south of London to central Scotland.

I picked a gripping crime novel from the modest choice of audiobooks available from my small local library, believing that I would be so transfixed by the plot that the trip would simply fly by. Without actually being on a flight (my usual way of travelling north of the border).

And it did. The interminable monotony of the M6/M74 stretch of the trip transformed into a joyful distraction for a driver who didn’t even notice the cramp in her toes or the dragging in her lower back. Until later.

The audiobook had 10 CDs that stretched over 11 hours. I ended up listening to four CDs, with the fifth poised for play. I love to listen to local radio as I enter a new area/city, to help me feel oriented.

Being lost in a book is something that has made me feel alive and connected since I was first able to read.  I am so captivated by the plot and the exquisite diction of the actress reading the book that I cannot wait to hear what happens next.

I love being engaged with a book so that I lose track of reality. What better time or place to do that than on a journey where a book can enrich, enlighten and enquicken!

Do successful authors have doubts about their talents too?

I guess I imagine that once you’ve got a few successful novels under your belt, and your work is adored by readers and feted by critics, that you’d feel confident about your talents. However, there is all the pressure that goes with that – and can the fourth and fifth novels be just as good as the first and second?

This seems to be the case with Zadie Smith, who is extremely modest about her abilities. In a brief article in the Evening Standard, Accolades fail to ease Smith’s nerves, she is quoted as saying: “You have to struggle with each page. It’s very hard to listen to yourself for that long and feel that — even if you have had a career of some kind — someone wants to hear or read it.”

Her last book to be published was On Beauty in 2005. Her new novel NW is due out in September and is billed as a “dazzling portrait of modern London”.

I can only empathise with the very real pressure she must be under – from herself as well as external factors like publishers and reviewers – and I’m sure her new novel will be as brilliantly original and unputdownable as her others.

How to make reading a treat, not a chore, for children

Allowing children to read ‘cool’ books rather than stiff old tomes the authorities think they should be ploughing through is the key to stimulating a creative love of reading. That’s according to a wonderful little article in the Evening Standard, Forget Austen, there are no explosions, which quotes Steven Moffat, the writer behind successful TV series Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Give a child a ‘cool’ book and she’ll devour it. Boring books get left on the shelf. (Pic:

He says: “We should give [children] really cool books that they think are exciting. It doesn’t matter if they are good books as long as they read. Reading makes you better at English. Reading a lot makes you want to read better books.”

He’s so right. I’m a professional writer now who can’t bear to flirt with badly written fiction. Life is far too short for that, and my bookshelves are stuffed with books I’d much rather commit to. However, as a 10-year-old child, I devoured just about every Continue reading

Why World Book Day is for life, not just for one day

Are your books for life, or just for one day? (image is a screen grab from

My eight-year-old daughter begs me for a story every night. It’s a treat for her to be read to – especially if I agree to read the books of her babyhood, but perhaps changing the voice, the tense, the direction and even the names of the character to spice it up a bit.

I’ve been reading to her – not always out loud, sometimes in my head – since she was first conceived. It never entered my mind that a child of mine wouldn’t want to hear stories read to her, and for her imagination to be fired.

I hadn’t planned any particular learning outcome from sharing my passion for stories with my little girl, but as it turns out she always gets Continue reading

Why the e-book argument is beginning to sway me

The headline How you can make a million writing your own e-book is irresistible. Just how do these writers do it?

I admit it is tempting to side step the agony of approaching an agent and to avoid the pain of rejection letters. At least, that’s what successful e-book authors tell us. They bash out a book in a couple of weeks, having picked a popular genre such as crime thriller or chick lit, get an eye-catching cover designed, and then sell it for a few pence online.

As someone who has laboured over every sentence of her novel, and still hasn’t finished it five years on, I do find it hard to understand how people can write books so quickly and sell them so cheaply. Quality of writing would be my main concern, though that doesn’t seem to trouble the Continue reading

are authors really having their last (w)rites?

I had a few minutes to spare on Sunday, and wandered into WHSmith where I lost myself in reading the blurb on the back of many of the paperbacks in the bestseller chart. It’s a while since I checked out what kind of literature is captivating the public, and it does bring out some competitiveness in me.

However, I may be rather too late to win the race to the bookshelves, if I’m to believe the bleak vision of the future of publishing painted by Ewan Morrison in his Guardian article Are books dead, and can authors survive? He gloomily predicts that “writing, as a profession, will cease to exist”, because writers will offer their work for free in a digital environment that increasingly provides free content. He argues that in the future writers “will labour under the delusion that Continue reading

Kindle author achieves publishing dream by landing major book deal

I LOVE to hear about writers making it big by being persistent and brave, and not taking no for an answer.

So I was delighted to read in the Evening Standard about an author who self-published her novel digitally, and sold it for 95p on Kindle. Louise Voss proceeeded to promote her novel, Catch Your Death, relentlessly via social networking, propelling it to the top of the Kindle charts. Her success caught the attention of HarperFiction, which gave her and her writing partner Mark Edwards a six-figure deal.

What an inspiring story. This has turned traditional publishing on its head, and shows that a well-written, compelling book with an author driven, focused and prepared to promote it CAN achieve starry success.

why shouldn’t writers and novelists get paid?

On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, I heard Monica Ali, author of The Untold Story, having to defend the fact she has written a commercially viable novel.

OK, so the ‘what if’ plot focuses on the imaginary scenario of Princess Diana having faked her death to escape media attention. And, from a marketing point of view, this is perfectly timed – what with the royal wedding of William and Kate a months away. Some of the commentators were shocked that the author of literary, character-driven novel Brick Lane could descend to such depths as writing popular fiction, and that it would “be hard to take the literary hard ground after a book like this”.

Monica responded in the Today interview by saying Continue reading

The beauty of book club

It’s taken me years to find a Book Club: through lack of time or opportunity, I’d always listened wistfully to friends who were reading a book specifically to discuss with their avid-reader friends. For me, it’s a total pleasure to read a book for fun, and discuss it with gusto, rather than have to analyse its narrative arc, the effectiveness of the dialogue, or the nuances of tone, structure or symbolic architecture.

While I do enjoy the detailed and technical analysis of a novel (I’m studying for a creative writing MA, after all), there’s a freedom, purity and bliss in just discussing what I liked and didn’t like about a book. Looking too closely at a book can show the seams, whereas tonight I’ll be enjoying the entire garment.

Hurrah for World Book Night

I love the idea of World Book Night – a new initiative to give away a million books (40,000 copies each of 25 titles) in libraries and book shops across the UK, as well as in homeless centres, pubs and hospitals.

It’s such a feel-good initiative that could revive the beauty of reading among so many people – as well as bringing books to people who probably can’t afford the luxury of buying them.

With the likes of literary greats such as Margaret Atwood taking part, I’m tingling with joy and excitement.