SAMPLES > David Armstrong
Upon entering his local bookshop, disheartened
“midlist” writer David Armstrong happened upon forty-three ‘How To’ books on
writing and being a writer. Forty three! It’s no wonder that novel
enthusiasts have ideas above their station. The (somewhat lengthy) blurb on the
back leads one to believe that David has set in-mind the task of discouraging
anybody silly enough to want to be a writer. “Every week, agents and
publishers…receive hundreds of manuscripts from would-be authors. Of these,
fewer than one percent will make it to print.” Harsh stuff.
He writes about the misery and dejection that
he felt whilst trying to break through with his own writing career. The book is
written in short chapters, each in alphabetical order. Whether David felt this
was just an easier way to approach the book, or he wanted his readers to use it
as an encyclopaedic reference guide is unknown. But the fact is, even after five
published novels under his belt, David Armstrong feels he needs to burst that
delusional bubble of anyone thinking of writing a novel.
The problem I found was that the scathing
comments were few and far between; it just doesn’t come across as negatively as
I had originally anticipated. It’s less a book about non-tips (as it were) and
more an account of the author’s own struggle to get published. Amidst his own
regaling and experiences with being a struggling writer he tends to lose himself
in telling everyone his side of things. He throws in a “Don’t do it” or some
other dissuading comment as almost an afterthought, as though he forget half-way
through writing that he was trying to discourage people from even thinking about
On the whole “How NOT…” is a pretty good read.
David goes deep into the depths of the unseen world of publishing, agencies,
launch parties and writer’s circles that we mere mortals will probably never see
in our lifetime. The guy obviously has a lot more experience than most people
and it is refreshing to see someone talk about the gruelling process of writing.
Many times have I been into a Waterstones or some other popular outlet
and seen ‘How To’ books telling how we can “unleash our inner novelist” or
“write a screenplay in 24 hours”.
But whether he’s aware of it or not, David’s
non-advice book is actually filled with encouragement that is not only
realistic, but also honest. He may be a little down-trodden but even he can’t
hide the feeling of joy one gets when that long-awaited phone call comes
through, or a cheque falls through the letterbox; even if it’s only enough to
pay for a celebratory piss-up.
“How NOT to Write a Novel” merely lifts the
veil on the world of being a writer through the eyes of someone who has
experienced the ups and downs (mostly downs allegedly) and exposes the gritty
realism of what many of us perceive to be a rather glamorous lifestyle. But I
don’t think he succeeded in discouraging my own aspirations.
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