Today I took some flexi from work and went to see Minette Walters talk at Adelaide Writers’ Week. I’m a crime fiction buff and I like listening to writers talk about their writing. I got there a bit late – too late to get a seat under the marquee and actually see her face but I could see a silhouette in the distance and I could hear her fine.
Her first book was called Icehouse and it took her agent two years to finally sell it to Macmillan. She was lucky in that her husband was supportive, financially and emotionally, during this time and she’d also started her second book so wanted to concentrate on that if she could. With the 1250 pound advance she got she bought the entire set of Encycolpedia Britannica and used these until she discovered the internet.
She asked the audience for a show of hands as to who didn’t use email yet. I saw at least five people raise their hands and she told them that they don’t know what they’re missing and they should immediately go and use email, and the internet, as it’s such a rich source of information.
Minette described using email within her stories as a way of concisely driving the narrative forward. If she’d used dialogue and description instead of emails in the story it would have taken four times as much space to say the same thing an email did in one page. I can’t remember which book this is in.
She also said that by using emails in addition to the rest of the narrative she, in a way, illustrated her books. The sections that were emails were laid out as such in a different font to the rest of the story so they were immediately visually separate from the rest of the book.
Adult books published before the First World War often used illustration and when the War came along, wood had to be imported therefore paper availability was minimal and illustrations were left out. For example, the original Sherlock Holmes books were illustrated so we have a picture of him in our minds that we can capture in a glance that a couple of pages of words cannot do.
During these meet the author sessions people can get up and ask the author a question and one person asked her what motivated and drove her to be a writer. This is always the sort of thing I want to know about writers.
Minette said that she thinks writers have egos the size of the marquee she was sitting under (a large marquee) even though they might not show it. They have these large egos, especially published writers, because they’ve written something and think that people might buy and read it. I don’t know if this is true or not, perhaps it is to some extent. I think it’s also the need to write, write, write – which she didn’t mention. She did mention, however, that she’s always loved reading and loved books.