Monday, 1 October 2012

Daring to be Different

It was inevitable that J.K. Rowling's decision to move away from Harry Potter and write something very different, The Casual Vacancy, would receive a huge amount of media attention, quickly followed by extremely mixed reviews. I've not read it as yet, though I've just read a depressingly negative review of the book in The Sunday Times. I'll return to the topic of negative reviews in the next day or two, but my theme today is the author's need to vary what they write.

Rowling could, quite safely, have written another book in the same vein as the hugely successful and enjoyable Harry Potter series (I've only read a couple, though I've seen most of the films, and I found them highly entertaining and well deserving of their success.) But it's entirely reasonable that she should have felt the urge to try her hand at writing a very different kind of book, and I'm glad that her new publisher has encouraged this. (Her new editor, David Shelley, was by the way the person who encouraged me to try my hand at a new crime series with a rural setting, so I have him to thank for the inspiration for the Lake District Mysteries; until then, I'd only written urban books, but David had faith that I could write a different sort of book, and to this day, I'm grateful for the confidence he showed in me.)

Just as, for instance, Paul McCartney can never escape the Beatles, but sill keeps writing fresh, and often inventive music, sometimes with great success, sometimes not, other artists and authors who have enjoyed success with one type of work, like Rowling, may come in for criticism when they move in a fresh direction. But a truly creative person is bound to want to keep stretching their talents in fresh directions.

Reginald Hill was a strong believer n varying what he wrote from book to book and his works included war-time books, spy thrillers, sci-fi and psychological suspense as well as whodunits . Until late in his career, he never wrote two successive novels n the Dalziel and Pascoe series. And his work remained fresh and exciting till the end of his life - largely as a result of this restlessness, and reluctance to write, continually, "more of the same".

At a much less exalted level, I feel I've benefited from writing two stand-alone novels, as well as my series books. And I'm tempted to try something different once again in the next  year or two - perhaps after one more Lake District book. Mind you, I 'm not sure what it would be as yet! Whether any resulting effort would achieve publication would be uncertain (not something J.K. has to worry about, of course) but I do believe that fear of failure, or bad reviews, should not deter a writer from avoiding the trap of formula. It's got to be a good thing, in the long run, to have dared to do something different.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I agree with you completely about the value of varying what one does. Whether or not Rowling's The Casual Vacancy is successful or not, I give her credit for stretching herself. And - erm - you are going to continue with your Lake District series for more than one book aren't you? Please?

seana graham said...

That's a very thoughtful post, Martin. Working in a bookstore as I do, I'm watching the Casual Vacancy phenomenon fairly closely. I wasn't ever a Harry Potter reader myself, but checking in on the Goodreads comments, I think that many of the people who are fans of Rowling as a writer, as opposed to simply being fans of the Harry Potter world are happy with the book. The others are disappointed. On a very pragmatic level, it hardly matters if she succeeds or not. But on the sheer writerly level, it must take an enormous amount of guts to put something so different from HP up for scrutiny.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Well said, Martin. I saw the TV interview with J K Rowling and it didn't make me want to read her new book. Those who have read it are very divided in their opinions. But, none of this makes it right to criticise her for writing what she wanted to write and more of the same does eventually become boring (to write and to read) - I'm all for variety.

Ed Gorman said...

The New York Times' number one Hatchet Killer took the Rowling novel apart. Predictably. The other reviews I've seen have varied from moderately favorable to very favorable. I admire Rowling's courage. She had to know that numerous reviewers would be gunning for her. One cautionary about writing different kinds of books. I did this for years and one of the knocks I got from publishers was that I hadn't establish a strong enough identity in any one genre. Excellent piece, Martin.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these very welcome comments.
Margot, you are very kind! I have no plans to end the series at all, but I do think it will benefit if I follow Reg's advice to vary the diet a bit!

Martin Edwards said...

Seana, Ed - very good points about courage, something writers do need!
And Ed, despite what the publishers said to you, you have managed to create a reputation for versatility combined with quality to be proud of. Not that this always translates into mega sales, but still impressive.
Margaret - yes indeed. I'm sorry I missed the interview.