Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?

Oh, dear. You didn’t read yesterday’s excellent advice about how to deal with a new author, did you? Or perhaps you did but, in a weak moment, you discussed someone’s new book with them. To their face. In a way that may have, for the best of reasons, given them the impression that you have or you are about to actually read their work

The easiest option is, of course, to read the book but time is short, life is busy, and it hasn’t happened. But you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings, especially if they have abandoned all pretence of civility and asked you outright if you’ve read it.

Perhaps you said you were going to read it. Several times. And now the dreadful moment has arrived. Luckily for you, I am a dreadfully cynical flim-flam artist and humbug, and I can help you to successfully convey the impression that you have read your friend’s book.

Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?

  1. Oh God, oh God, how do I start? She/he is waiting for me to speak!

    The first thing to remember is that authors often release lots of details about the book in order to get people to read it in the first place. Synopses, titles, blurbs and the like are rich veins to mine for those who are looking for useful guides to the content.Remember those nouns you remembered from when you foolishly asked what the book was about? Let’s say that you remember the term “Soviet Union”.

    “I hadn’t thought about the Soviet Union in that way.”

    (This is technically true. You hadn’t thought about the Soviet Union in any way but, boy, are you thinking about it now.)

    This will probably generate a large volume of additional detail from the author, which you can then noun-mine for more helpful sentences.

    (Some authors are difficult and will ask ‘In what way?’ because they wish to defy the conventions of decent society and demand actual information from you. Feel free to fake a seizure, collapse to the floor, and then never see them again. If you are in a relationship with them, this may not work as well.)

  2. What if I don’t remember anything?

    This is trickier. You’re going to have to make general statements that are true of any good book.

    “I couldn’t put it down!” is true if you never picked it up.

    “The ending was great!” The author wrote the ending. Chances are that she or he liked it too. If the author follows up with “You didn’t think it was too (insert adjective here) “, simply smile and shake your head firmly. “No, I never thought that.” (Because you never thought about it at all.)

    “After this book, I’m really keen to know what you plan on writing next.” is sneaky and effective as hell. Most authors are thinking of the next book when other people are doing things like talking to other people, breathing, or putting their clothes on. In describing the next book, the author may well refresh the details of the current book you’ve forgotten, which allows you to noun-mine. See Point 1.

  3. Whew! I have some nouns again! What do I do now?
    Most people love their characters. If you can remember anything about the characters, talk about them. Characters mentioned in pairs are usually at least compatriots and possibly lovers, although they could be adversaries. But they have a connection.

    You: “Really interesting interaction between Kerry and Bosco.”
    Author friend: “Bosco was a lot of fun to write.”
    You: “I can believe that!”

    Are there interesting places? A convenient picture on the cover? A hint in the title? Talk about places.

    “What made you think of St Paul’s?”

    “I love London as a location.”

    “Earth is a good planet to write into books.” (This last one is possibly a little too general and may not work for science fiction and fantasy. Tread carefully if there are spaceships or dragons on the cover. Run like hell if there are spaceships and dragons on the cover.)

  4. I don’t think she or he is buying it. What do I do now?

    Right now, you’re probably wishing you read the book. Generalisation hasn’t worked and the spectre of doubt looms. But we are steeped in blood so far that, were we to go no further, returning would be as arduous as going onwards. We have entered the Heart of Darkness and you can’t stop now.

    Are you the devil?

    No, but we have summer houses in the same tax haven. Moving on. You are going to have to quickly come up with a reason to whip out your phone and go to the website for the work, or find any reviews that have been published.

    For example, from this site advertising a recently published and excellent work, we find the text:

    Kerry and Bosco have powerful allies: Williams and Fauve, London’s most unusual booksellers, and Doctor Jenny Cavendish, the deadliest archaeologist in England.

    Now we can quickly form the following questions:

    “What inspired you to make Williams and Fauve booksellers?”
    “Come on, confess, how much Indiana Jones inspiration is there in Doctor Cavendish?”
    “They’re an unusual ensemble for protagonists. What made you think of that?”

  5. I don’t think you’re a nice person at all. This is a shallow attempt to make me feel that I can fake my way through knowing a book and my author friend has seen straight through me. High level generalisations and embellishment of facts are not sufficient at this level of communication! Nobody trust this man! He is a mountebank and charlatan! And I suspect he is an incarnation of evil. But I still need his help in resolving a situation. What can I do now?

    Probably the best thing to do is to actually read the book. If you don’t have one of your friend’s books to hand, may I recommend “The Curse of Kereves Dere“, available from where many good (and any number of terrible) e-Books are sold?

    You are a true fiend.

    You misspelt friend.

    I know what I wrote.

Tune in next time for more useful advice from Nick Falkner, “Help! My author friend has asked me for feedback. What do I do?

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Words. Paper. Book. Yeah!

 

Help, I think I know a new author! #amwriting #amlaughing

There’s nothing worse than discovering that someone you know has become a first-time author. While many other life achievements can be dealt with by nodding and smiling, or saying “congratulations”, a friend’s authorship carries with it an implicit burden that you might have to read the work. Worse, this cannot be done passively, the easy out for a friend’s album. A newly minted band’s efforts can be smoothly dealt with by playing their oeuvre a total of three times. Once in the privacy of your own home to ensure that the contained sound does not frighten the horses and will not present any threats to the structural integrity of your home. Once at any party or gathering where your friend is present. Finally, you can reserve an extra special repeat play for the unlikely outcome that your friend becomes famous and you host a party to show how well you supported him/her before anyone knew who they were. But this is perhaps three hours of your life and all that is required is your presence, rather than your focus.

Books are not that easy.

In this inaugural set of “five by five” guides to enduring the 21st Century, Nick Falkner will help you to deal with the unrest and terror that often accompanies an outbreak of amateur literature.

Help! I think I know an author.

This can be a distressing time for any friend. Someone who you have known and trusted for years has, without consultation or apparent consideration, generated a work of fiction. Your lives and relationships are about to change.

  1. How will I know if one of my friends has become an author?

    Believe me, you’ll know. Between the casually dropped links on social media, the entirely new social media identities, and the invitations to launches, discussions or events, it should be hard to miss.

    Authors respond to polite social inquiry in curious ways. Almost any question can now be answered with “Oh, I wrote a book”. And will be.

    “I see that the Crows managed an upset win in the fourth.”
    “I wrote a book!”

    “Good lord, that was a terrible accident. Is he breathing?”
    “I wrote a book!”

  2. Should I ask what the book’s about?

    The answer to this varies. If the author has set up all of their promotional material or has a publicist then you will receive a smooth and polished answer to this question. If they are self-publishing or haven’t yet written their blurb, prepare for a stream of consciousness that attempts to make the book sound as if it is totally novel while still being comfortably accessible and is written well, but not too well, and it may be enjoyable to a range of people while not being populist. Watch the eyes. If the author’s eyes start to resemble those of a rabbit in headlights, nod sympathetically and offer them wine. The author, not the eyes. Possibly the rabbit.

    Some authors may actually tell you what their book is about. Fear these people as they may then expect you to remember whatever the hell they said. Focus on the nouns. “It’s about six decades of the redevelopment of the Soviet Union under the influence of the avant-garde, with mutants, genetically engineered computers and Alan Turing fighting Grace Hopper.” When next you see this author (if you choose to or the stars are unkind), asking “How’s that book about the Soviet Union going?” is a safe out. Following up with “I never thought of Alan Turing in that way” will probably get you a mention in the afterword, useful if the author ever becomes famous.

    If you do ask, prepare to receive an answer somewhere between four words and three days in response. Just hold on to the nouns.

  3. I think they’ve self-published. What do I say?

    Much as attitudes to cohabitation and reproduction have been a complicated issue in recent centuries, the question of authorial legitimacy mediated through formal publication is the new way to insult people by looking at something they’ve done and finding reasons for it to be diminished as an achievement. Even if the answer is not sensitive, the question can be loaded.

    From a social perspective, how it is published is something that you should wait for the author to offer, much like their preferred gender titling, the expression of their familiar name, or their favourite sexual position. If someone feels comfortable sharing this information, then they will share it with you.

    Trust me. If someone has received a $200K advance from Penguin/Random to write Thomas Dolby/Gary Numan teleporter slash then you’ll know about it. (See Point 1). (Sean, if you run with this idea, I want 10%.)

    Otherwise, simple congratulations on publication are always welcome.

  4. Oh God, do I have to buy it?

    No-one has to buy any book. Authors understsand this. Much as they would love to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and be name-checked with authors in their area, with great humility and reticence of course,  anyone flogging a book knows that the number of sales is going to be smaller than the number of people who show interest.

    But if you say you are going to buy it, then you should probably buy it. If you’re not planning to buy it, then there’s no need to make a big deal of it.

    “What the hell? Why would I buy that dribble when I could be reading something by a real author!” This level of frankness is unnecessary.

    Asking where it is available is probably enough and then you can quietly skim it in a store or download the sample to see if you want to buy it.

    eBooks are great because you don’t have to leave them lying around and it’s not as if most authors are insecure enough to go through your tablets and phones to see what you’ve downloaded. (That’s most authors. If you’re promising a leading Hacktivist that you’ll read her book, then you had better download it before the botnet runs a scan over your iBooks manifest.)

    Finally, if you do buy it, then let the author know. Don’t hire a plane to run a banner in the sky, perhaps, but do drop it in conversation. Beware. They will probably tell you about their next book.

  5. Why, oh cruel world, why? Why is there another book?

    I’m sorry to say that many authors are serial offenders. If the first book experience was not so horrible that the author has had to flee society to live in a yurt in the Tasmanian forest with a self-composting toilet that has a taste for blood, then she or he will probably try to write another one.

    Believe me, you’ll know when this happens, as the channel for “I’ve written a book” will now become filled with “I’m writing a book”.

    Botox is very useful for achieving the fixed, caring, but above all immobile expression required to deal with authors in this stage. Encouragement is welcome but take care as you may be asked to be a reader or, if your expertise is useful, to look over something for accuracy.

    At that point, there’s only one option.

    You’ll have to write your own book, as an act of revenge!

Up next

Tune in shortly for the next of Five to Survive guides for friends of authors: Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?

Work in progress

I didn’t make any of the prints available for sale because I wasn’t happy with where they had ended up. I’ve had a chance to rework the artist’s proof and this is on the way to what I wanted.

Vinyl plate, Gamblin black ink, Phthalo Blue watercolour, and gold leaf. Stamps yet to be cut and printed.

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After the smoke clears… #curseofkerevesdere

The launch party went amazingly well. I’ll post photos and the video of the speeches shortly. I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful friends and colleagues who showed up to help me launch the book!

Someone has already finished it and used the “hidden” trigger to ask for the next book! I’m amazed, flattered and surprised in equal measure.

This weekend is a quieter one, catching up on some art projects and resting a little. And then onwards to the next book!

Thank you for following me here, it should be a little more subdued for the next little while. But we’ll see.

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One. #curseofkerevesdere

I often say that my iPod is where music goes to die. The 70s and 80s strut and shimmy up against sparse electronica and grungy self-indulgence from the 90s onwards. The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Stockhausen segue to Nouvelle Vague, Nine Inch Nails, Bananarama, Hot Chip, Spiro and Bryan Adams.

I’m listening to Bryan Adams’ “Straight From the Heart” as I write this. Because, by happy coincidence, that’s what this whole project is about.

I’ve read history. I know what happens when people go to war. To the countries. To the people. I know that it’s not over soon nor does it end cleanly. To draw from the Princess Bride: “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

The Romans sacked Jerusalem several times, causing the Jewish population to flee over nearly a century of war and revolt, then merged what was left of Judea with Syria in around 135CE to form Syria Palaestina. We are still dealing with the repercussions of these actions, nearly 2,000 years later. Modern politicians are being forced to recognise that a wound which has endured for two millennia cannot be healed with an election cycle’s application of salve.

But, despite everything, despite the moments of horror, despite the terrible realities that many people endure, there is still enough to lead me to believe that we can have a better world. A beautiful world. A wonderful world for everyone. The fact that we haven’t managed this yet is not proof that we can’t, although it’s often an excuse.

I wanted to write something that shared my belief that humanity is a wonderful thing, with the occasional terrible person. I wanted to write something that said that we needed to think about who or what our real enemies are, before we sail back into war over issues that are dark reflections of negotiations between the powerful. I wanted something where the issues of warring humans are placed against a background of true threat.

When I read the writing of the 1930s, I noticed that many writers were coming to the conclusion that, despite the War of 1914-1918 being The Great War and The War to End All Wars, Europe was about to plunge back into war. And you could read the fear and despair as people desperately tried to stop the slide.

I wanted to write an enjoyable yarn with humour and adventure that carried a more serious message.

Together, we can defeat anything.

Launch is tomorrow. Enjoy the yarn.

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Oh, dear. Two. #curseofkerevesdere

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not ready for the launch. The prints are done but there’s still work to do. The long weekend, and associated shop closure, has set me back a few days and it’s a busy work week leading up to the day.

Claudia dropped by today and asked me if I was excited, then paused when she realised that I had totally put it out of my mind because the looming work calendar.

But she’s right. I should be excited. I’m about to launch my first book! Despite conflicting events that will take some people away who I’d like to have there, despite having friends all over the world who can’t be there, despite the fear that no-one will show up and I’ll be standing in an empty room. despite the gnawing feeling in my stomach that I’m indulging in hubris… I should be excited. Because this is an amazing thing and it should be exciting.

Wednesday’s resolution: Be excited by Thursday night.

 

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