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 writing.

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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