The business of writing.
I spent last weekend at Neuilly Plaisance, a pleasant, affluent town on the outskirts of Paris, as a guest of the Mairie. Each year the town hosts a crime-writing festival, to sell books, to involve schools in the business of the Ďpolarí and to raise money for local charities. I wasnít quite sure what to expect Ėperhaps something along the lines of CrimeFest in Bristol, with panel discussions and author interviews. In fact all the writers present had a more direct role in the selling of their books. It was like a mass signing, which lasted for two days, and stretched my schoolgirl French to its absolute limits. I was very pleased to have been placed next to a charming professor of English from the Sorbonne, and delighted when my publicist from Belfond turned up to keep me company.
Over the weekend, we chatted to the readers who wandered past the stalls, and of course to each other, especially over the very good lunch provided for the authors in the local school canteen.
Whenever writers get together they talk about publishers and the business of selling books. It seems that literature in France is supported by central government in a more direct way than it is in the UK. But for me the most striking difference is that very few French authors have agents. World rights are held by publishing houses. All the writers I met were desperate to be translated into English. How could they introduce their work to British publishers? Without an agent battling on their behalf at Frankfurt and London, this must be incredibly difficult. And Iíd feel very isolated without an agent to represent me in negotiations with publishers. An agent keeps us away from the dirty side of publishing; she allows us to maintain friendly relations with our editors even when tricky negotiations are going on in the background. My agent gives me the freedom to concentrate on my writing.
Thatís what Iím dong now. Iíve just started a new Vera Stanhope novel. As usual I have no plan or plot and Iíve become aware how organic, how completely random, the process is. Halfway through the second chapter I came to a stop, with no idea what would happen next. In desperation I wrote: ĎConnie looked up to see a visitor at the gate.í That moved me on. I had to think about the visitor, who he was and what role he might play in the book. Iím still not quite sure if heíll be a major player, but in writing about him, Iíve learned a lot more about Connie, who is one of the central characters.
Next weekend is the CWA conference at Lincoln. A chance to catch up with old friends, this is always a friendly and relaxing occasion and Iím looking forward to it. Then itís immediately on to London for the Book Fair, where Iíve a day of meeting with overseas publishers, supported and organised by my wonderful agent. Iím glad Iím not writing in France.