Paper versus PC

Something I get asked about a lot is whether I write on paper or on the computer. The answer is that I write on the computer, partly because I’m lazy (and so have no wish to spend time typing up handwritten stuff later), and partly because that just works better for me. I wish that I could write on paper. Somehow it seems more writerly to be sat there with a pen and notebook. Very Austen-ish and Bronte-ish and Poe-ish. But, quite aside from the fact that my handwriting is almost illegible, even to me, and that I would almost certainly lose the notebook eventually, the main problem I have with writing on paper is that it’s too difficult to move paragraphs around or rephrase sentences. You end up with a lot of messy crossings out and scribblings. I can make notes on paper happily enough, but actually writing part of a novel directly onto paper is something I find quite trying.

Recently, though, I’ve been forcing myself to write on paper sometimes for the simple reason that I can then go out to the garden. This is nice because it means that Moose can run around and release some pent up energy. It’s also good because I can be working whilst at the same time eating ice cream and drinking beer. Or wine. But not too much beer or wine, obviously, because writing when you’re drunk doesn’t tend to yield particularly good results. Ahem.

Anyway, the point is that working in the garden with sun and ice cream and beer, at hours that suit me, is one of the great things about being an author. I cringed recently when I heard of a company that insists their employees raise their hands and ask permission to go to the toilet in order that the time they’re away from their desks can be timed. Eh? What? Seriously?

I still prefer writing on the computer because I hate having to waste time typing up stuff later. But I’ve found that I can write on paper if I have to, as long as I have a really pretty, girly notebook, and a funky pen. Thankfully, having been to America recently, I am well stocked up on funky pens, including some particularly cool ones from the Rainforest Cafe. 

On a related note, I can’t write if there’s music on, and I certainly couldn’t write in a coffee shop as I know some other writers do. I need quiet because I need to be able to think, and I generally can’t do that if there’s too much going on around me.

Lex Trent is the exception to the above. I’ve written scenes for Lex whilst on a packed train, on holiday, and various other noisy, public places. This is not something I would ever usually be able to do but Lex comes to me so easily that I believe I could write a Lex Trent book on the walls of a cave using nothing but a stick of charcoal. He takes over my head so completely that I’m simply not aware of anything else that may be going on around me. Lex aside, though, much as I have enjoyed being all Austen and stuff, writing in a notebook underneath the pear tree in the garden whilst the dogs enjoy a rare bit of sunshine, and the tortoises walk mashed up bits of food around their pen, I still would take the PC over the paper every time.

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The Great Gender Debate

Recently I have been thinking about this question of gender in relation to authors – and science fiction authors in particular. I’ve read that J.K. Rowling was asked to use her initials rather than her actual name because her publisher was worried that teenage boys might not pick up a book that had been written by a woman. This seems a bit mad to me. I would never be influenced to buy – or not buy – a book, based purely on the author’s gender.

Having said that, I do remember being quite disappointed when reading the marvellous Falco books in my teens to discover that Lindsey Davis was a woman. Since her first person narrator was male, I think I was sort of hoping that Lindsey Davis was, in fact, Marcus Didius Falco, and that when I looked him up online there would be a dashingly handsome author photo that I could drool over. I found that I read the books in a slightly different way once I knew the author was a woman.

I was also taken aback on first discovering that the Madeleine Brent books were actually written by a man (Peter O’Donnell). The author’s gender shouldn’t overly influence the way you read a book but, for me, I find that it does have some impact, if only at the back of my mind. After all, you usually find some of the author themselves in their work. If there was a novel currently in the shops that had been written by the first ever alien novelist then wouldn’t that change the way you read it? Wouldn’t everyone rush out to buy it simply because it had been written by an alien?

When people see my name, they usually expect me to be a man. Indeed, there was this one time at school when a French exchange teacher refused point blank to let me into the classroom to take my French oral exam because she said that Alex Bell was next on the list. I finally got through to her that I was Alex Bell, but it took some rather emphatic insistence on my part.

My full name is Alexandra, but no one has ever called me that (except for this violin teacher I had once who simply could not be dissuaded from it). It therefore never occurred to me to be anything other than Alex on the books. Because my name is gender neutral, I’ve never had to worry about someone declining to pick up one of my novels in a shop because they’re put off by a female name. I was glad that Gollancz didn’t overly market me as a female author, for the simple reason that I just don’t think it’s relevant. It’s like saying: “Here is a great new book that has been written by – wait for it – a person with green eyes!” Well, so what? I feel that if gender is made a big thing of in the marketing, it’s like saying – this is a great book considering the fact that it’s been written by a woman.

So I’m glad that I haven’t really had all that much of that as most people don’t realise I am not, in fact, Mr Bell. But one thing I have had quite a lot of is all this “young author” business. When I first started sending work to agents and publishers when I was eighteen, I never put “Miss” or “Ms” on the SAE, and I certainly never mentioned my age. This was simply because I wanted as much anonymity as possible. I was quite dismayed when my (now) agent first phoned me rather than writing because the cat was then out of the bag. If the agents/publishers didn’t know anything about me then they would judge my work on its own merits rather than judging whether it was any good for a woman, or for a teenager. I wanted to be judged as a writer only – not as a female, teenage writer.

I believe that readers and reviewers can sometimes be unduly influenced if they know too much about the author. For example, I’ve noticed that a writer’s age is only mentioned by a reviewer if they already know that the author is young (I’ve seen this in reviews for Christopher Paolini and Cecelia Ahern’s books as well as my own) – i.e. because the reviewer knows that the author is young, they can’t help but see youth in the writing.

It puts me in mind of a gag Candid Camera did once where wine connoisseurs were invited to try several different types of wine and comment on them. The connoisseurs discussed at great length which wine they felt was superior and why only to find out at the end that each of the five was, in fact, exactly the same wine. They only found differences in them because they expected to. One might even go so far as to say that their desire to appear sophisticated, and come up with something to say about the product, prevented them from seeing it as it really was. I can’t help thinking that if an older author was mistakenly marketed as a young one, then critics would still say things along the lines of: “A good novel, to be sure, but the author’s youth/naivety shows through from time to time” etc. Perhaps that is overly cynical of me, but I doubt it. 

In short, then, I don’t believe there’s anything at all wrong with reading a book in a slightly different way depending on whether the author is a man or a woman, but I don’t think a reader should become so preoccupied with the author that they start reading things into the novel that aren’t there.  And if you’re browsing in a bookstore and you put a book back on the shelf simply because of the author’s gender then, I’m afraid, you are a total moonfruit.


Delayed Publication Date For Lex Trent

Sad, but true. For reasons relating to the book’s cover, the publication of Lex Trent versus The Gods has had to be pushed back. It was originally supposed to be published next month. Now it looks like it will be early next year. Things move slowly in the publishing world, y’know. Like a tortoise. Although, having said that, I count tortoises amongst the creatures in my menagerie so I can personally attest to the fact that they move pretty damn fast when they want to. But I digress . . .

It seems like a very long wait to me already with this book because I actually wrote Lex before I wrote Jasmyn. But it will be worth it. I love the Lex Trent books more than anything else I’ve done, or tried to do, so far. Perhaps it’s because they’re humorous and so I get to write them in my own voice, as it were, rather than from the point of view of one of my characters. But when Lex finally comes out, everyone will love him. Everyone. Everyone who is not a sad little gnome anyway. Aha ha.

More details when I get them.