My reading fest in Spain was highly enjoyable, though I preferred my old favourites to the new voices I took along. Margaret Drabble’s Sea Lady is an absorbing and evocative read. No big surprises in the plot, but a sheer delight for the beauty of the language and the air of quiet reflection, which is also what I’m admiring in Penelope Lively’s Making It Up, a collection of short stories loosely based on her own life experiences (or what they might have been). These are measured and mature pieces, picking out the little things that make people tick, and evoking times and places faultlessly. Her Imjin River is one of the most understated and moving accounts I have read of a young man who finds himself unexpectedly in a war zone, while The Temple of Mithras, a sideways look at the underlying tensions on an archaeological dig, is hilariously believable.
Writers like these, whose place in the literary cannon is already assured, remind me that good writing doesn’t need the bravura effects and hectic plotting that appear to be obligatory for anyone looking for a foothold in the market. And I envy them, not just for their skill, but also because I would like the time and space to follow my own writing instincts, which I think may be those of an ‘old’ writer rather than a new one.
On a different tack, I’m also feeling a bit cross with Macmillan New Writers. Being somewhat underwhelmed by Playing with the Moon I decided to check on how long ago it was since I had submitted my own MS – answer, many moons indeed. Re-reading their submission guidelines, however, I discover that no rejection letters are sent out. Well, pardon any lingering taste of sour grapes, but exactly what would it cost to send out a standard rejection email? Like any novelist, I am used to rejection, but to be completely ignored – isn’t that plain rude?
BTW my flash fiction on Pygmygiant is here.