Diane Pearson, In Memoriam


So very sorry that wonderful Diane Pearson, seen here on the left, with the equally legendary Patricia Robins, has died.

Best Selling Novelist

Yes, she was a genuine, gold-plated, international best selling novelist. Her greatest work, Csardas, was called the European Gone With the Wind.

It was reprinted a couple of years ago. And, in spite of her increasingly debilitating illness, Diane saw no reason not to give one of her justly famous parties to celebrate.

It was a lovely summer evening, she was on gossipy top form and the new edition had a spectacularly beautiful cover. One of many delicious memories I have of Diane.

And Editor …

Diane, who had done most jobs in publishing before becoming Senior Editor at Transworld,  worked with some Seriously Big Names, including Barbara Cartland, Joanna Trollope, Kate Atkinson and Terry Pratchett among many, many others. In 1994 she was the British Book Awards Editor of the Year.

And President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association

It was to the huge advantage of the UK’s Romantic Novelist Association, therefore, that she became their 3rd President in 50 years. In that role she wore both hats, representing writers and also the industry, from whose ranks the RNA has many distinguished Associate Members.

Diane was the longest running president, clocking up 24 years. She only retired in 2011 when she began to feel unwell.

I had the very great pleasure of working with her on the RNA’s 50th Anniversary Celebratory Memoir. Fabulous at Fifty. I would trawl through the archives and come up with suggestions. She would consult old friends and colleagues for contributions. Then we would have a salad, open a bottle and she would reminisce, while I took notes, enchanted.

It was an education, though probably less than half of the stories made it into the book. For in some cases she knew where the bodies were buried. She was immensely kind, however, never harsh or censorious. She might murmur, “Probably not tactful to say that,” when, in my ignorance, I came too close to pressing on an old wound or lifting the veil on a rumoured scandal. And she was very funny.

Wonderful Writer

She was a wonderful writer. Her Csardas was one of the most exciting epics ever, a worldwide bestseller, and one of my keeper novels from the first time I read it, long before I knew her.

And the beautiful short story she contributed to the RNA’s 50th Anniversary Collection recalls both her own travels in Hungary during the worst of the Cold War and also what a master she was of  the space between the words..


A Fabulous Friend

She was a true friend to generations of aspiring and published authors, ready to advise if asked and to support whether her advice was taken or not. She was wise, witty and – with 60 plus years of experience of what British publishing has to offer in all its weirdness – immensely tolerant.

She always fed me champagne. Indeed, she collected antique champagne coupes, the ones that are supposed to be modelled on Marie Antoinette’s breast. And I never left the bar or her house in Clapham after a session without having had a great time, a good laugh and in receipt of perfectly-judged and generous encouragement as well.

It is a huge sorrow that she will now never see my current work in progress, a novel that I thought was too big and grown up for me and Diane disagreed. Quite forcefully. Still makes me laugh.

A woman who put heart into you. What a loss.


Sloppy Genre Novels, a Reader’s Perspective

sloppy genre novels NY Times Book reviewIn a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review a well known British novelist is scathing about what she calls “sloppy genre novels”.

I’m currently in Reader Mode. (I’m editing. That always sends me to reading for consolation.) Writerly reaction will have to wait.

But Facebook has shown me that several genre novelists have raised an eyebrow at this apparent attack.

The phrase is racy and moderately memorable. Memorable enough to make it into the puff paragraph, anyway. It is, alas, imprecise.

Attack on Genre Novels?

sloppy genre novels blow landingThe art of the insult, of course, is to leave third parties in no doubt of what you think. In particular, you want to ensure that those whose efforts you have under your cosh are quite certain that the blow has landed.

This phrase doesn’t.

It begs the question:

  1. are some genre novels sloppy and some not?
  2. is the quality of being sloppy an inseparable accidens of any novel which may be sorted into any genre?
  3. is there a sloppy genre? (Possibly what Webster’s dictionary defines as “romantic in a foolish or exaggerated way” and what my friend Professor Brainstawm, whom I have mentioned on this blog before, would call “a bit soppy.” I interpret this to mean that the work deals with human emotions, particularly love, which the characters articulate in a fashion that sends your Restrained Englishman into an agony of embarrassment. Bless.)
  4. does sloppy in this context mean one or all of: careless, slapdash, messy, excessively casual, inattentive, showing a lack of care, attention or effort?

Material for a good argument, maybe, but a bit specialised and likely to end inharmoniously. I’m going to dump this debate in the trash can without regret.

Reader of Genre Novels?

I’ve been reading fiction a long time and I think of books first and foremost as individuals. Like many readers, the only genre I really notice is Harlequin Mills & Boon. And that’s because the books come in a uniform, like air crew.

What’s more, when Amazon tries to persuade me that I’d like more of the same genre, I give a hollow laugh. The theory seems to be: read one Italian detective, read 50 of the blighters.

I mean, you’d laugh if someone said, “You like this Asian thirty-year-old who reads Patrick O’Brian and does parkour, so you’d like all these other Asian 18th-century-naval-fantasists who jump over bits of urban architecture for fun,” wouldn’t you? I mean one Nelson wannabe is enough for anyone.

So if I read Harlequin Mills & Boon I might feel a bit put off by this hectoring Brit telling me that it’s bad. But otherwise, I’m probably not going to identify as a reader of genre fiction.

Reader Seeks Book

But what I am still looking for is what the New York Times “By the Book” format promises me – word of mouth reading recommendations. And not one of the books which she mentions comes out of this interview as really mouth-watering.

In fact, I so profoundly disagree with one of her points, that I wrote a sort of refutation of it seven Sloppy genre novels Hot Water PGWyears ago! If I were going off on holiday to France and wanted, while lounging by the pool, to read about the pre-war drinking class of American expats on the Riviera, I would not choose Tender is the Night. I’d go for Hot Water  by P G Wodehouse.

Professor Norman Geras invited me to write a review of a novel of my choice on his wonderful, quirky, humane blog. He’d had some distinguished guests and even more distinguished book recommendations, so I was particularly gleeful that he accepted PGW. Hot Water, as I said at the time bears comparison with the Fitzgerald in many aspects. And, unlike the semi-autobiographical shenanigans of Fitzgerald’s joyless alcoholics, it is a delight.

sloppy genre PGW But, if you won’t take my word, take the Master’s. It was, wrote PGW on publication, quietly satisfied for once, “A corker. There isn’t an incident in it that doesn’t act as a delayed bomb and lead to an explosion later.”


Small, Select Genre

PGW, of course, virtually created his own genre. Arguably he was joined there by successors Tom Sharpe and the wondrous Terry Pratchett. And not a sloppy book among them, in any of the meanings of the word.

Hot Water. You won’t regret it.

Discoverability and Reviews, from the Reader’s POV

reviews reading with catReaders don’t talk much about discoverability or even reviews, I find. Writers, of course, worry about them all the time.

I’m both. But I read more books than I write.

Heck, I read more words than I write and I’ve been motoring at 3,000 words a day for a while now. That’s gross, you understand. In every sense of the word, probably, though I’d prefer you to interpret it as the opposite of net.

Reviews and Recommendations

As a reader, I like recommendations. Not reviews so much. Well not big ticket reviews in the Grown Up media, anyway. I slightly mistrust them. There’s always the feeling that the reviewer is writing with one eye on the book and the other on his own credibility with fellow critics. Continue reading

A Sideways Look at Regency Life — All At Sea!

figure contemplating slightly stormy sea

When we read fiction set in the Regency period, we often come across references to sea journeys but, usually, they’re over pretty quickly. On one page, we’re at Dover or Harwich or Falmouth. A paragraph or two later, we’ve arrived at our destination and the story continues. (Not in all fiction, of course. Who could forget Mary Challoner’s horrendous cross-Channel trip in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub? Still, at least Vidal proffered a basin at the vital moment.)

Nowadays, our ships have GPS and radar and even engines! 😉 So this modern figure, staring out over a slightly stormy sea, has little to fear from going on board. But what was it really like, making a sea voyage on one of the Regency’s relatively tiny and fragile sailing craft?

Let’s take an imaginary sea journey…

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Rose and the Panther — a Cautionary Tale of Workshops

As some of our readers will know, Sophie and I gave an editing workshop — complete with black  panther — at the RNA Conference in mid-July 2017. (Fantastic conference, by the way.)
About 70 people attended. That’s a lot — we normally limit our workshop numbers to 12!

sparklers in the hands of a loving couple

Our topic was editing to add Sparkle to our writing in order to hook and hold readers. Since we only had an hour, rather than our normal 2 full days, it was more of a twinkle.
But it was fun. And we hope that those who attended found it useful.

We certainly did. It taught us some salutary lessons which I’ll share in a moment.
First, let me introduce you to Rose… Continue reading

Considering Cliché: A Writer’s Unforgivable Sin?

The very first piece of advice that I remember anyone giving me about writing was, “Avoid cliché.” I was ten. I had to look up “cliché”. So now I have a question.

Dickens father of clicheA cliché is a word or phrase so worn out by overuse that it has deteriorated until it is meaningless. It may once have been striking. Today it is white noise.

The gentle reader ignores it. The ungentle critic berates the writer for laziness and lack of originality.

Dickens got away with “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done,” because he thought of it first. After that it became popular, then heard widely, then untouchable by any writer with pretensions to respectability.

Cliché, the Reader’s Friend?

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Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?

Less? Or fewer? This Pedantique-Ryter post is dedicated to that Disgusted of Chelsea (no names, no pack drill) who had this exchange on Twitter recently, after shopping in Marks & Spencer:

exclamation mark in fire for less or fewerDisgusted of Chelsea:
My faith in @marksandspencer is shattered, I tell you, shattered. Their ad at checkout:
“Less worries. More sandcastles.” AAAARGGH.
Is there anything we can do to help?
Very kind but am in shock. Civilisation tottering.
Ideally change wording to “fewer worries” or “less worry”?
Probably not cost effective?
We’re sorry you don’t feel we’ve got our ad right.
We’ll share your comments with the team. Thanks
It’s like a needle under a nail to me.
Team could try Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage?

Civilisation tottering? Well, maybe DoC’s irony went a bit far there, but Pedantique-Ryter admits to feeling the needle under the nail, too.
Fewer? Less? Are they interchangeable? If not, how and when should they be used?
Read on to find out the Pedantique-Ryter answer. Continue reading

Magic Moment and Creative Chaos

Mysterious woman in magic moment

I’ve always been fascinated by the chemistry of the magic moment and the creative chaos out of which it so often emerges in works of the imagination. And I mean always.

Long before I analysed A-Level texts or read any of the learned works on story structure, I knew there was a point in my favourite fantasies where time seemed to slow. Everything became both more meaningful and more mysterious.

They were the places in the book which I re-read, again and again. The moments I went back to in the CD. The words I waited for, breathless, in the theatre.

 Amid Nonsense

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