Monthly Archives: September 2012

D-Day…

Here goes nothin’…


Is it a boy or a girl?

Well, neither – it’s a book. But delivering a work of literature to the world has often been compared to giving birth, and not just books: music, film, a new play, an exhibition, whatever.

On the most fundamental level there really is no comparison  – the purpose of life, as far as life is concerned, is to create more life; life doesn’t care about art or entertainment or meaning or anything else, just the continuation of life. (It’s very focused that way.)

Still, you can see the similarities too – launching your narrative “baby” onto the world really can feel like you’re holding up a child, something you’ve made, presenting it, showing it off, saying, “Look, everyone! See what I’ve done!”

Actually, for me, it’s a little different. Publishing a book is like putting a part of yourself up on a stage to be inspected by everyone, and then waiting for the feedback. You’re hoping for praise, dreading criticism, probably willing to settle for mainly the former and a little of the latter. But you’d prefer if it was all good.

So it was pretty goddamn nice for me when the first review of Even Flow went online yesterday – and it was really positive. (It was also intelligent, thoughtful, perceptive and in-depth. But the positive aspect is probably more important to me, deep down!)

On thebookbag.co.uk, Ani Johnson describes Even Flow as “…a highly entertaining thriller with one dimension more than some thrillers can boast… hurtling readers along at a fair crack…action-packed and atmospherically tense…(not) the sort of book you only read once.” She also really gets under the thematic skin of the book, examining the arguments it makes and questions it raises.

Excellent review, in both senses of the word – and I’m bleedin’ delighted! For the full article, click here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear the baby crying…


Why are books so long nowadays?

Here’s a whimsical column on book lengths, also to tie in with Friday’s publication of Even Flow (note: my book is quite short!). With thanks to the Irish Independent’s Weekend magazine…

 

The following is, almost literally, a never-ending story.

A while back I read this book called The Historian, and jolly good it was, too. Sorry, let me rephrase that: a while back I read this book called The Historian over a period of no less than ten weeks, and it may have even stretched to 12 or 14.

Why, you may ask, was this fellow labouring through one book for the bones of three months? Why did he not simply finish it and move onto that new Rutger Hauer biography, like everyone else was doing? Is it just that he’s a painfully slow reader, or was there something else – something darker, one might almost say – at work here?

Well, there were a few reasons. One is that my attention would get called away, from time to time, by other attractions. It’s just so hard to pass the video shelf at home, for instance, and for my eye to catch the cover of Point Break, without putting the damned thing on one more time. Oh Bodhi, you lovable bank-robbing surfer-dude Zen-master little scamp.

But the main reason this infernal book was a weight in my bag for so many weeks is this: it’s incredibly long. The thing comes in at about 700 pages, and these are bigger than normal pages with smaller than normal text.

I did a very rough estimate of the word count, and reckon it’s somewhere in the region of 280,000 words. The average book, by contrast, is somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000, depending on genre etc.

As a consequence, it took me two months to crawl past the 500-page mark. By that stage I was thoroughly sick of the sight of The Historian, and only finished it out of a sense of duty. This is not to say it’s bad – au contraire, it’s a reasonably well-written, evocative, gothic-horror sort of thing, which I normally love.

But it’s not natural to spend this long in the company of one book. My ideal runs to about 200 pages – roughly of a length that you’d finish in three or three-and-a-half hours of solid reading.

Metered out into ten-minute snatches here and there, and maybe a half-hour in bed over a few nights, this means the deed is done in about a week, which is perfect. Just long enough so you feel that sense of satisfaction on completing the job, but not too long that you start to forget how the book began in the first place.

This became a major problem with The Historian: after a while I could barely remember what it was about, where it started and who any of the characters were, because it had been so long since I was introduced to any of them.

(Though this may have been as much my fault as the book’s, because I have a notoriously feeble memory. Things just leak away or something.)

But as I was saying before being rudely interrupted by myself, The Historian is far too long. And it’s not alone: way too many books are now way too long, so much so that I can barely muster the energy to finish them.

John Lanchester’s Capital, for instance, released last year, was one such: I did read the whole thing, just about collapsing over the finishing line that is the final page, but that was probably only because I was being paid to review it. Otherwise, not a hope – I’d have given up somewhere between page 7,123 and page 11,994.

I exaggerate, yes, but that’s what it felt like. And the funny thing was, the book was fine; actually pretty good. But man oh man, so looooooong it hurt.

What’s the reason for this? Do publishers feel they must give value for money? Do they believe that quantity (of pages) is equal to quality (of material)? Are they afraid that a literary version of Eddie Hobbs or someone will descend on them, ranting about rip-offs, for publishing short books?

(I’ll also tangentially note the amount of arse-numbingly lengthy movies in cinemas over the last few years. Keep it short, Hollywood! You only have the one good idea for this movie, don’t do the dog on it!)

I disagree with all this, I must say. For me, the words and ideas on those pages is what makes a great book, not how many pages there are. In books, as in so many things, less is more, folks, less is more.

 

  • Darragh McManus’ crime novel Even Flow, out on September 28, is available in bookshops and online, as a print edition or e-book. And it’s relatively short!

4-minute warning

I was featured in the Sunday Independent’s 4 Minute Interview slot yesterday, to promote Even Flow which is officially released this Friday. Much thanks to the paper, and journalist Donal Lynch; not so great thanks to whoever decides what goes up on the independent.ie website, because this hasn’t!

So, I’m posting it below…

What was the worst moment of your life?

When I was fully convinced that I’d never be a published novelist – that was one long, dark night of the soul.

What secret skill or talent do you have?

I do a decent Elvis impersonation on “The Girl of My Best Friend” – too self-conscious to ever unveil it publicly.

If there were one song you associate with your youth what would it be?

Smells Like Teen Spirit: I was 18, grunge ruled the airwaves and my affections, and everything was pretty good in the world.

What is your greatest regret?

Not learning to play guitar when I was a kid, and then forming a band in college – I almost physically feel the regret.

What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?

Watching the Twilight movies over and over, although I don’t really feel that guilty about it.

Who is/was the love of your life? 
My wife and child.

What is your present state of mind?

Mostly contented, mildly panicked (a low-level, ever-present panic is the default setting of the human animal, IMO).

What do you consider the greatest work of art?

Alto Giove by Nicola Porpora.

What living heroes or heroines do you have?

I’ll limit myself to three, though there are many: Aayan Hirsi Ali, Don DeLillo, Richard Linklater.

What’s been your biggest recession sacrifice?

Still driving a 12-year-old car with a bockety exhaust.

On what occasion do you consider it ok to lie?

When a kid asks you about Santa Claus, death, or any combination of the two.

What’s the sexiest quality in a man/woman?

Self-confidence in its purest sense, i.e. not brashness but being at ease in your own skin.

What are the consolations of getting older?

People indulge you more: bad dress sense, grouchiness, talking to yourself, bizarre views on how to fix the world, etc.

Which local star – in any field – should the world outside Ireland know about?

Chris Binchy – a really fine writer.

What’s your best chat up line?

Are you gonna go my way?

  • Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. His crime novel Even Flow, released on September 28, is available in print or e-book.

Balaclavas and veils

A pretty big day for me today: first I got my gratis copies of Even Flow through the post, and started to get properly excited about the book’s release on September 28. And it looks really cool! The cover should – hopefully – leap off the page.

Also got the front cover for my next book, The Polka Dot Girl, which is coming out next January. And here it is (click for larger image):

I like it: think it’s mysterious, sexy, shadowy and suggestive and a little bit spooky. Hopefully will entice readers in. Also hoping to lure a few easily confused 50 Shades of Grey fans into thinking it’s actually an erotic novel, not a Chandler-esque noir-style mystery.

Anyway. Onwards we go…