Tag Archives: tom sharpe

When you are a famous author…

Blott on the landscape and Granchester GrindPhil: While tidying a pile of books the other day I notice a couple of Tom Sharpes and realised there are lessons to be learned. Between publication of “Blott on the Landscape” in 1975 and “Granchester Grind” in 1995, things changed as Mr Sharpe became better known.

First, he got to write more. Blott is 238 pages, Grind weigh in at 490. Could the later book have been exposed to less editing ? Reading it, I think so. I bet had it been the first book, we’d have lost about a third. Not that this would have been a good thing, when you are in Sharpeland you want to wallow around a bit and enjoy yourself, but it isn’t as tight a story. New authors don’t get that much leeway and publishers don’t have a large audience waiting for the latest edition who will delight in a high page count.*

Which brings me on to the second point. By the 1990’s people would buy a Tom Sharpe book. They didn’t care much what it was about, they just knew they would enjoy it. Hence, the name of the author is considerably larger than the title of the book. On the spine, the font is so scrawly, you can barely read it. The placing on the cover is interesting too; Blot has title followed by author and then a quote from the Observer review telling the reader the book will be funny. Grind demotes the title to the bottom of the page with the author name filling the top quarter. The only extra text is “A Porterhouse Chronicle”, information that is only any use to the existing fan base who will already have read “Porterhouse Blue”

As an unpublished author, what I take from this is that our book has to be tight rather than long. No lovely, but unimportant expositionary paragraphs. If it doesn’t add something, take it away. Also, it would help to become famous. If a name in big print sells books then it would help if that name belonged to the nice man off the telly or the pretty lady in the newspaper, not some ned who you’ve never heard of.

 

*Younger readers will have experienced the same effect with the Harry Potter series. Book 1 could have been squeezed into a Tweet: speccy kid goes to magic school beats baddies with spells and meets friends who will look good in the movie. Book 7 on the other hand used more paper than every edition of the bible combined.

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Cartoon characters in fiction

Phil: As Candice wrote on Tuesday, we have gone to some efforts to make our characters realistic. They are then set lose in our imaginary world, which itself has some basis in reality. Although some of the ideas are preposterous, we’ve tried to root the story in the real world so that you can really imagine the things in the book, happening in real life.

But is this the only way ?

I’ve been reading a bit of Tom Sharpe, specifically the follow-up to Porterhouse Blue; Granchester Grind. We both love a bit of Sharpe and much of our style of humour owes a bit to his writings. I’d not read him for a while until I tripped over a second-hand copy of the book and couldn’t remember it at all. As I read, I realised I had been this way before but still enjoyed the journey.

Like a road trip you make every day on the bus, each time to travel you notice different things. At first you concentrate on the route but eventually you take a good look at the scenery. As I read, I noticed something I didn’t the first time around – Tom Sharpe characters are unreal.

It’s not just the names, although Edgar Hartang and Lord Jeremy Pimpole are two of the more sensible and pronouncable in the book, but that they simply don’t behave like real people in the real world. What they do do is behave like  people in the world created by the author. This world is a cartoon version of the world we live in most of the time. Imaging everything turned up to 11 and you get the idea.

Thinking about it, all of Mr Sharpe’s books are like this. By varying degrees, every single character and every single situation is a cartoon. A very funny cartoon but a cartoon none the less.

It’s a litery equivalent of a Tom & Jerry film. Here, the mouse can hit the cat with a frying pan and watch his face change shape to match the pan. And then the chase continues. We know this doesn’t happen in real life but in “Tom’n’Jerry” world, all those pesky laws of physics are suspended and so you really can survive that plummet into the crevice.

So, is all our effort to give characters back stories for nothing ? I don’t think so because the full-on Sharpe isn’t our style of writing, but it’s certainly interesting to realise that he has a style and examine it.  As a writer, this is a bit like standing in the wings watching a magician at work to find out how the tricks are done. Great fun, but you should really go and watch the show from the cheap seats first to see the how it is meant to be enjoyed.

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Rutting in Rutland

Map Addict by Mike ParkerPhil: Early on in our writing process, we were establishing some characters and Ms Nolan produced a wonderful description of how one of the main characters met his wife. He is a buffoonish slightly aristocratic chap, she is a good, solid, tweed clad, wellie wearing gal more interested in breeding cattle than children.

The action took place at a hunt ball and involved comedy clothing, projectile vomiting and some hot portaloo action. It was funny, very funny indeed, but as a well brought up lad, I wondered if it was a bit over the top. Think the more outrageous Tom Sharpe stuff rather than fluffy Mills & Boon. Maybe I just don’t get invited to those sort of parties, but I have been in the odd temporary toilet and never found them enticing. Is it different for country folk ? I don’t recall anyone in The Archers going all gooey at the smell of Elsan blue rinse.

Then I read the excellent book “Map Addict” by Mike Parker (no relation) which contains this passage:

I knew I had to take a trip to Rutland the day a mate told me that it was the wife-swapping capital of England; the Land of Rut indeed. My friend lives about fifteen miles away over the Leicestershire border, and told me of Rutland residents in her social circle who regularly find themselves at parties where a fumble in the hot tub is just for starters. These Rutlanders are commendably lacking in coyness, as you’d expect from people who spend large parts of their lives hanging around in the company of toms of quivering horse-flesh and randy dogs.

Lack of prudery, and an honset get-on-with-it lustiness, are undeniably central facets of the true rural existence – not the Move to the Country version, with its Chelsea tractors and stripped pine, but the real, horny-handed version, more Massey Fergusons and stripped housewives. Rutland, true to its agricultural heritage, just like to get ’em off and get on with it.

So, Nolan 1. Parker Nil

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What do you call a posh bird ?

Olivia Trumpington-Thomas was best described as “Good Country Stock”. Her passion was for breeding cattle. Belgian Blue’s were her favourites – although some had cruelly have suggested that the breeds square set stance and stocky features were not that different from their owner. She hadn’t really wanted to marry but her father had said that it was her duty so the task was set about with the same efficiency that she used when choosing sires for her livestock. The list of requirements was short, good temperament, reasonable features and respectable family lineage.

Phil: Olivia is the anti-Kate in our world. Everything Kate is, she isn’t. One loves the country, the other can’t stand the idea of mud on her shoes.

She doesn’t play a large part in our book at present, her first meeting (and mating) with Gareth was edited out as holding up the early part of the story despite being very funny. However, she does still pop up occasionally, mainly to help define Gareth for the reader.  The only problem is her name. You see we also have a character called Olive – who does play a big part in the tale. Neither of us had spotted the similarity between the two names but a couple of the test readers did and found it a touch confusing.

In our heads, there are very different people. We see them different and never confused them but if this book is going to be read by more than a small circle then these things need sorting out. Therefore Olivia needs a new name.

But what should it be ? We’ve bashed ideas around over tea and cake but can’t settle on one that seems right. It needs to be short, ruling out Jocasta or Arabella, the two poshest names I could come up with. The name must have gravitas and age too, Chelsea is too modern and to be honest, too chavy.

The Trumpington-Thomases are a very old family. They doubtless consider the Queen an icon but perhaps a little too German. After all, they can trace their lineage back many generations before her lot pitched up on our shores. They have a family pew in the local church and sit there every Sunday safe in the knowledge that their relatives are beneath them in the family crypt.

These are people who don’t consider fashion. Their gel will be called something traditional. She will live in a world of livestock, sensible shoes, voting Tory, tweed, titles, leaky old houses, aged Land Rovers and wax jackets that might come from Barbour, but because they last for years rather than trendiness. Years ago, she might have been a debutant but not one of the really pretty ones. Tom Sharpe fans should think Lady Maud rather than Pippa Middleton.

Anyway, you get the idea. We need help so are throwing the floor open to suggestions in the comment section please. Let’s see what the fertile minds on the Interweb can come up with.

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A good review

Book coverCongratulations, you have written a great book.

Steve Walton

Phil: Yes dear reader, we have had our first review. Unfortunately Steve isn’t an influential writer for the Times or some other important literary publisher. In fact he writes computer code for a living and it’s in that capacity that I met him years ago. We both worked for a vegetable research organisation and that, combined with the fact he’s on my Faceybook friends list, made him an ideal test reader or crash test dummy. I reckoned that he would be able to tell me if we’d got the scientists wrong. More importantly we are distant enough friends for him to be brutally honest.

As it was, he enjoyed the book. Twice. Or at least one more read through than I was expecting. Very decent chap that Walton.

Needless to say there were comments. Several typos (typical programmer, always with the details) and a feeling that we hadn’t handled the main character transition quite as well as we might. That’s interesting as of course we know her very well but some of the transition she undergoes through the story is obviously too subtle and needs another look at. Mind you, Steve said “The beginning of the book had a bit of chick-lit feel to it, for me.” which is what we were aiming for and as you can probably tell from his name and that fact I refer to him as “he”, Steve is no a chick.

Ever perceptive, he did make one point that made me really happy: “I liked the ending a lot, for me it had a real ‘blot on the landscape’ vibe about it (good thing). ”

Which is exactly what we were looking for. There are a couple of big set-piece funny sections in there. Much of the rest is funny too but these are hopefully the sort of pages you shouldn’t read while drinking or you’ll snort tea all over the book – just like sections of Tom Sharpe books. In fact Blott on the Landscape was one of the books I re-read while writing ours, so it looks like it might have worked.

Anyway, it’s time for more cakes and conversation as we digest this first dose of feedback.

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Holiday inspiration

Candice:  So time was coming to an end at said quango, leaving cakes had been eaten and the boot mark on my bottom was getting more pronounced as they kicked the contractors out of the door.        So I did the most essential thing a girl can do – went on holiday!

Now this was important on two levels – one ’cause I needed to top up my tan and two because  it was  a chance to get some inspiration.

As Phil has mentioned, the book morphed from being just Tom Sharpe style to chick lit plus humour.  Around 40k words had been written and ideas were still floating around but we both needed to think about how plot lines were created, characters fleshed out and how those all important clothes mentions fitted in.  So I popped off to Tesco and stocked up on some research – ie some chick lit for beach time reading.

And off I went for a long weekend in Portugal with the other half and got to grips with how it all works.  It really helped actually and sparked off some other ideas as to how this book would hang together.  Luckily, though computer free, I’d brought along paper and pen (stylish of course, the pad has drawings by shoe designers on it) to scribble down some notes.

By the end of my long weekend in the sun I’d drawn up a mind map of how the different parts of the story would hang together and what areas we were missing or needed to discuss; and two new chapters.

Research and a tan – definitely a long term goal for a full time writer!

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