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The publishing world is atremble. Having recovered from the excitement of Dan Brown’s Inferno launch, eyes are now firmly on the release of The Next Big Sensation, which, it is hoped by publisher Jonathan Cape, will be Helen Fielding’s new novel Mad About the Boy, out in October of this year (presumably, the title is based on Noel Coward’s beautiful song, made famous by jazz vocalist Dinah Washington).

There’s no doubting that Bridget Jones’s Diary changed the face of women’s literature – some will argue, it is the ultimate ‘chick lit’ book, and certainly for many women it embodied the struggles they were encountering at that time in their lives.

It has been a long hiatus (nine years) since the last book, The Edge of Reason. Helen Fielding said of the gap in an interview for Radio 4’s Women’s Hour: ‘I sort of lost my voice with Bridget for a long time after the  unexpected success when it first came out. It was very easy to write and to be honest, then I got all self-conscious.’

But at last, an idea eventually struck. The new book is in diary format again, and the publishers have shared the following extract:

Wednesday 24 October 2012

11.27 p.m. Just presss d SEND. Iss fineisn’t it?

You see, this is the trouble with the modern world. If it was the days of letter-writing, I would never even have started to find his address, a pen, a piece of paper, an envelope, a stamp, and gone outside at 11.30p.m. to find a postbox. A text is gone at the brush of a fingertip, like a nuclear bomb or exocet missile.

DATING RULE NO:1

DO NOT TEXT WHEN DRUNK

I wonder just how much the digital revolution will feature in the new book. Twitter. Facebook. Texting. How these means of communication have transformed the modern romance!

What would you like to see in the new Bridget Jones novel? Here’s my wish list:

  • A more self-confident Bridget with less body image concerns
  • Plenty more funny mishaps
  • A frank and meaningful exploration of what it is to be a woman in love today
  • A fulfilling career for Bridget
  • Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver (of course!)

A new Bridget Jones film entitled Bridget Jones’s Baby is in development, according to media reports, but not at a point where filming can begin. There is media speculation over who will play Bridget in that film and if one is made of the forthcoming book, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking surely only Renee, Colin and Hugh can top the bill. Especially Colin…

I for one am very much looking forward to the release of the book, and I’ll be sure to review it on the website.

Being a published writer today means being within a competitive market – trying to stand out in a crowd with your words. But one organisation has taken this notion of competitively to new heights.

Yesterday I was fascinated to watch on BBC News an item about a new phenomena in the world of writing and publishing called the Literary Death Match.

The website for the movement explains what Literary Death Match is all about:

Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors (all representing a literary publication, press or concern — online, in print or live) who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges. After each pair of readings, the judges — focused on literary merit, performance and intangibles — take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.

The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.

Writing is still, silent, waiting patiently on the page to be digested. But this movement is taking writing into a new arena, bringing it to life audibly in front of an audience in a lively, humorous way. It’s melding the art forms of literature and performance (with a spot of the TV talent show format mixed in).

I’m excited to see any new development that celebrates books, that widens readership and that is passionate about innovation and creativity within the arts. In addition, I love the idea of writing becoming something aural, tying in with the traditional roots of literature in fireside storytelling. One of the authors interviewed by the BBC highlighted that she loved to read her work aloud – that in fact something is lost when it’s simply words on paper. I agree. When I write, I choose words not only for their meaning and their visual appeal on paper, but for their sound – there is a rhythm, a musicality to writing, I think.

Writing is, by nature, a solitary pursuit, and the Literary Death Match is a wonderful opportunity to step away from the drafty garret and really engage with readers. But my goodness, one has to be brave to do so! It’s fast-paced, furious, witty – truly a death match. Not for the faint-hearted, but I think those who attend an event must come away very impressed with the intelligence and strength of the contending authors.

Literary Death Match is touring the world, so look out for a date near you soon. For more information, visit http://www.literarydeathmatch.com. You may also enjoy watching some videos of past events: http://www.literarydeathmatch.com/audio-and-video/.

 

I was fascinated to read of research published in scientific journal PLOS ONE that has found that British writers today are less emotive in their writing than their counterparts of 100 years ago. Researchers examined five million books published between 1900 to 2000 to see how often emotive words – those that express love, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, anger and disgust – appeared. The study concluded that:

  • Those writing at the turn of the 20th century used 14% more emotive words than those writing at the turn of the 21st century.
  • Twice in the 100-year history the joy emotion peaked: after the First World War and in the 1960s.
  • Contrastingly, following the Second World War there was a clear increase in words conveying sadness.
  • Since 1960, fear-related words have steadily increased.
  • American English has become more emotional than British English in the last 50 years.

As I read the reports of the research, I found myself thinking that this pulling back from emotion must relate to the heady rise in popularity of the romance novel. Think, for example, of the steady growth of the British romance imprint Mills & Boon since its launch in 1908. For even if every other genre of book has become a little less emotional, I can’t imagine that applies to the romance genre. And so readers hungry for real emotion – passion, love, anguish, joy – turn to romance novels, where authors are free to express all and take the reader on a emotional journey.

Happily, for the romance reader, I think there is little difference between British and American romance novels in terms of emotion. Because when we pick up a romance book – whatever the nationality or place of publication – we want pure escapism. And to me, escapism must include a call to the emotions. Books provide comfort and release, and a means to learn, grown and process our own feelings. After a long, hard day, you may be tired of your own thoughts and feelings, but when you pick up a novel and slip into another world, the passion and joy and excitement – and yes, even the fear and anger – that you find there are cathartic.

Emotive books matter. If all you read is unemotive books then the entire point of reading is lost. As British writer William Nicholson wrote, ‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ So when we’re curled up in a chair lost in a romance novel, we’re really not lost at all. When we’re ‘indulging in pure escapism’, we’re not really escaping at all. In the world of the romance novel, the reader is no floundering ship alone in the ocean – she’s connected to the world, part of the world, tapped in to all the emotion running through humanity. The romance reader is one of those courageous enough to feel, and that’s something to be admired indeed.

As I see it, there are three types of writer:

  • Type 1: The writer who doesn’t write but dreams of writing.
  • Type 2: The writer who writes but doesn’t share their writing.
  • Type 3: The writer who writes and does share their writing.

Over the years, I have evolved from the first type, to the second and, finally – happily – to the third, and I believe I’m just one of many who have followed this course. Confidence, opportunity, will and courage play a part in becoming Type 3, but I also think that the digital revolution has been instrumental in creating a new wave of writers who are willing and able to share their words. Here’s how:

1. The digital revolution means we write more.

In days gone by, we chatted on the phone with people and we met up with them, and we occasionally wrote letters. Now, we text, we tweet, we post updates on Facebook, we blog – each day we shape words into meaningful communications. This is beneficial because:

  • The more we write, the more writing becomes a habit – the norm, easier.
  • The more we write, the more we build confidence – we can write; we do so regularly.
  • The more we write, the more we hone our style. Practise makes perfect, as they say.

2. The digital revolution means we read more.

Blogs, online magazines, online newspapers, websites, books on e-readers: there are so many more ways to access and consume writing now. And the more we read, the more we’re informed and inspired for our own writing.

2. The digital revolution means a wider range of writing is on offer.

No longer are media giants and publishers the gatekeepers of the content we read. We can buy a self-published book. We can read a blog written by anyone, on anything. We can sift through digital content to find all manner of viewpoints, and writing styles. Wonderful inspiration, and empowering for your confidence in your own, unique writing.

3. The digital revolution means we have access to many more mediums through which to share our writing.

Blogs. Twitter. Facebook. Wattpad. Smashwords. Amazon. The list is endless! Whatever your style or genre, whether you’ve written a poem or an article or a novel, you have a wide selection of options for how you share those words with the world.

4. The digital revolution means sharing can be on our own terms.

In times gone by, sharing writing meant traditional publishing – in a newspaper, for example, or a print book put out by a major publisher – or handing copies of writing out to friends and family. The scope for sharing was pretty narrow.

Now, though, you can be your own boss, and your writing can reach a wide readership. But every step you take in the sharing is on your own terms.

For example, say you’re a little wobbly about your writing. You want to share it, but you don’t want criticism. So, you can start a blog, disable the comments function and quietly put your work out there. You’ve published your writing!

Alternatively, you may decide to share a book that you’ve written for free in ebook format. Before digital, that was simply impossible. Now, you can offer your writing to the world as you like.

The verdict

The digital revolution may be something of a worry for publishers (well, except for Random House, which just posted record profits having sold 35 million ebooks of Fifty Shades of Grey). But it’s certainly not a concern for writers. In fact, every new development in the digital sphere is a leap forward in empowering, inspiring and diversifying the playing field for writers.

It’s an exciting time to be a writer, and I hope that every step forward we take into the digital world gets more writers writing. Because for a true writer, to write is to live, breathe, exist.

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