Wednesday, 31 March 2010

When Publishing was a Different Animal

And I am not talking about the ninteenth century here, more like 1980!

I doubt I am alone among my author friends, in that we subscribe to the opinion that to 'learn the craft' is an important part of becoming a published author. This involves not only grammatically correct writing, but that to remain in one character's PoV for each separate scene, avoid gerunds, passive voice and the over use of adjectives. Lengthy descriptions and accounts of events, especially in historical novels, slows the pace and pulls the reader away from the story. The first page should begin with a shock, some kind of drama that propels us into the meat of the story and make the reader want to keep reading.

Any arguments so far? No. Because we have these 'rules' drummed into us from the first piece of work we submit to an editor. However, I am in the process of reviewing Cynthia Harrod Eagles' 'Dynasty' series of historical novels which were first published thirty years ago.

Publishing was very different then, where the emphasis was not on writing a technically perfect book, but an engaging, tense, fabulous story that takes the reader into a different world and time.

When Sourcebooks approached the HNR Blog asking for reviews, I was the first to put my hand up yelling, 'Me!, me!, me!' because CHE was the author who inspired me to write historical fiction myself. Reading them again from the beginning is an odd experience, for now I notice all those PoV switches [she head-hops within paragraphs], the passive voice and the dialogue tags that come before speech.

Saying that, this doesn't spoil the books for me in any way, for her characters are three dimensional, the stories still fresh, colourful and exciting and have more than one plotline running through them!! Also, she writes like this:

The dog whined and he was suddenly, horribly sane again. This was forbidden! She was his neice - what was he doing? he wrenched himself away, so abruptly that Nanette almost fell, lurched to his feet and took a blind step away from her, finding the chimney wall with his groping hands. The dog whined again and stood up, and she pulled it by the collar to her and fondled its ears to quiet it, giving Paul time to regain control of himself, to calm his breathing and his pounding heart. from 'The Dark Rose' published by Sourcebooks in July 2010

I may have got the technical aspect fairly straight in my own writing now, but when it comes down to it, I would love to be able to evoke deep emotion in the way CHE does. For me, this is what historical fiction is about. I am having a wonderful time exploring her early characters again, and I'm only on book 2! [Only another 30 odd to go]

My review of The Founding will be in on the HNR Blog in April and The Dark Rose in late June.


KarenG said...

Interesting idea about the changing nature of literary expectations. I just finished The Time Traveler's Wife and hated it because all the writing was stupendous the story structure bothered me beyond belief. It was completely different from anything I've ever read and not that effective in getting me into the narrative. Yet, it may be a forerunner of a new literary style, if it's successful enough. Funny how things change.

Anne Gilbert said...

A lot of this is changing fashions in writing styles, plus publishing house "needs" I remember that kind of writing, too. When I was "just a reader", I didn't notice these things, but I've tailored my own writing to current writing fashions, or tried to. Trouble is, I kind of tend to prefer the older style in some ways. One could argue that this style had a lot more emotional depth.

Jen Black said...

In the UK I've noticed a trend to re-publish "old" authors. Plaidy, Irwin, Barnes, and others, who all write in that old style. Perhaps in a roundabout way this will alter modern day perceptions among editors or whoever it is that accepts writers for publication. Perhaps the change is already beginning!

Anne Gilbert said...


You can get a lot of these "old" writers who wrote in an "old" style here in the US, too. I've notice Norah Lofts, particularly. I suspect, back then, style was less important than content or story.

Anne Gilbert said...


I sure hope it gets rid of those awful "half a face" book covers. I hate, hate, hate those! BTW, I'm glad to see reissues of these "old" books coming out, though I don't know if I would like to reread them. Yet.
Anne G