Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

All in the Title

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th August, 2017

titlesNewspaper editors have long realised how important headlines are as teasers to attract people to read the articles that follow, and the same is true of book titles. A title should give some indication of what the book is about, or at least intrigue, so that the person who picks up the book in a bookshop or looks at its entry online is then encouraged to read the back cover, or open the volume to read a sample page. So it is important for writers to give due consideration to what their book will be called. Sometimes titles write themselves; my first book was called The Great Wall of China because it was indeed about the Great Wall of China — something everyone has heard of, but few know much about. In contrast, my latest book, a childhood memoir, went not for the straightforward but for the intriguing: Eccles Cakes, not just because the first half covers my childhood experiences in Eccles, now a suburb of Greater Manchester, but because of the way that Eccles cakes were a comfort food for me at times of distress. Sometimes agents or publishers will suggest a change of title, or even insist on it, but writers should be prepare to fight their corner on what they want. Perhaps my favourite among all the books I have written was published in England under the title I had given it: André & Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Gay Art of Living, which did reasonably well, but the American publisher who brought out the US edition insisted on changing the title to André & Oscar: A Literary Friendship and the book sank like a stone Stateside. Some titles can be absolutely inspirational. My all-time favourite is Gone with the Wind — at once inviting and unforgettable.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_14?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=jonathan+fryer&sprefix=Jonathan+Fryer%2Caps%2C572&crid=17J72OLAVVX1N

Advertisements

Posted in writing | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

When Writing, Dislocation Helps

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st July, 2017

JF writingSome people might think it odd that I am writing about life in Brussels in the 1970s while currently based in Fortaleza, Brazil. But I have often found that dislocation can be a great aid to writing, be this memoir or other. It was the novelist Christopher Isherwood — who will appear in my new book — who first made me aware of this, when I asked him how he managed to write his vivid Berlin stories far away from the German capital and years after the events partly described. It’s all about digging into the deeper recesses of memory (in my case, supplemented by diary entries) and then reforming images and actions through words  in a way that can be transmitted to the reader and make a visual impact in their brain. If I were in Brussels now, for example, I would be distracted by aspects of the city in 2017 rather than the reality of 40-odd years ago. Photographs help when it comes to people, of course; in fact, they can be a fantastic trigger of memory. Then there is the matter of selection. Great diarists can write material that withstands the test of time, but most of us jot things down in a way that is neither literary nor necessarily very interesting to anyone but ourselves. When I kept those diaries (from the age of 16 onwards) did I realise that one day I would turn my hand to memoir? I don’t believe so. But something compelled me to write notes which were then put aside for decades. Maybe unconsciously I realised that my memory would need their aid some time in the future, some place else.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Singing for One’s Supper

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th May, 2017

JF speaking at Newham HustingsThis afternoon I spoke to Kingston U3A about my Life as a Foreign Correspondent — undoubtedly the most popular of all the talks that I have been giving since I joined the lecture circuit a decade or so ago. Most writers and many broadcasters sing for their supper in that way, whether for women’s clubs, Rotary Clubs and other professional bodies and U3A — the University of the Third Age, which has hundreds of thousands of members in Britain (the Kingston branch has well over a thousand). So whereas many people, not least the young, get their information and entertainment online or through their mobile phones or other post-modern platforms, others still want to hear stories from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And it is all about stories. Whether I’m giving a talk directly related to one of my books (such as on Oscar Wilde) or instead recounting my journalistic exploits round the world from the Vietnam War onward, or aspects of modern history and current affairs, such as the so-called Arab Spring, I paint a picture in words, exactly as I do when I am writing a script for Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. Well-delivered, the spoken word can convey so much, without the need for visual illustration.

Sometimes people ask me, “Why do you do it?”, in other words, give talks, which I do mainly in London and the Home Counties, though for several years I lectured on cruise ships as well. “Surely it takes away valuable time from your writing?” Well, yes, up to a point that is true, though writing is a very solitary occupation and it’s good to have a speaking engagement lined up that means I actually do have to shave, get fully dressed and go out into the world and converse with real live people. Besides, these days writers of books, in particular, are urged by their publishers to go out and promote the product, not just at literary festivals, but in other fora, as well as keeping up a visible presence online and on social media. Finally, yes, the money does help. Unless one is fortunate enough to pen a blockbuster, writers’ income from their craft has fallen sharply in recent years. A recent survey by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit, discovered through a survey that the average income of writers in the UK is £11,000 a year. That means many are having to survive on much less. So speaking fees (usually calculated on a per capita basis on the size of the expected audience, can make all the difference, even when the group (and therefore the fee) is modest. But I mustn’t grumble. I am one of those writers and broadcasters who actually enjoys giving talks, unlike some of my colleagues who loathe it. So my advice to fellow scribes is: don’t knock it. Be brave! Go with it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Literature in Britain Today

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th March, 2017

j-k-rowlingrsl-logoLiterature does not enjoy the same status in Britain as it does just over the Channel in France, for example. Maybe that partly explains why politicians are far more eager to talk about football in public than about books. Yet a new survey published by the Royal Society for Literature (RSL) this week suggests that three quarters of the British public does read literature (they were allowed to define for themselves what is meant by “literature”) and a significant proportion would like to be able to read more. More women than men consume literature, as apparently do white British rather than ethnic minorities; the fact that more highly educated Brits read more than those with minimal qualifications is hardly surprising. The most common reason given for not reading more is lack of time, though some people said they wished books were cheaper — a problematic response for the RSL as writers need to be able to make a decent living if literature is going to continue to be produced. In reality, according to an earlier survey carried out for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) writers’ annual incomes have fallen in recent years, to an average of just £11,000. The general public is more aware that a few authors such as J.K.Rowling earn millions, which is the exception rather than the rule. Interestingly, Harry Potter’s creator figured third behind Shakespeare and Dickens in the list of authors cited by respondents to the RSL survey as being “literature”. Otherwise that list of writers was encouraging eclectic, including a sizable proportion of foreign writers. But for me the single most encouraging thing about the RSL survey’s findings was that far from reducing people’s interest in reading literature, using the Internet seems to stimulate it.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why I’m Re-standing for the ALCS Board

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th December, 2016

alcs-new-logoTo the general public, ALCS is a meaningless set of initials, but for tens of thousands of writers in Britain (and beyond) who have signed up as members of ALCS the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society is like a fairy godmother who, year in year out, sends one a cheque (or these days usually a bank transfer), derived from secondary royalties from photocopying, retransmission of audio-visual material and other such sources, the bulk of it channeled to ALCS from the Copyright Licensing Agency  (CLA). Anyone who works in universities or the NHS will probably have spotted CLA notices next to their photocopiers. Rather like Public Lending Right (PLR), which pays authors modest sums for loans of their books from a representative sample of public libraries, ALCS works on the basic and important principle that writers should be paid for their work. But ALCS is not just another writers’ organisation; it is a highly professional organisation, which is what it should be, as it has a turnover of more than £30 million a year. Like any reputable company it therefore also has a Board, which in ALCS’s case has a number of Non-Executive Directors who are elected by ALCS members — over 90,000 at present, though only a small proportion of those usually take the trouble to vote in the annual election of Non-Execs. Having come to the end of my three-year term on the Board, I am standing for re-election this month (as one is allowed to do, just once).

ALCS, in common with the creative industries, is facing some critical challenges, no least from the uncertainties generated by Brexit and the digitalisation of so much content. In tandem with CLA, ALCS needs to investigate new revenue streams, but it also needs to keep abreast of legislative changes, at both the international and European level. One of the things I have found most satisfying about being a Board member, given my political experience, has been working with the Executive on some areas of what is effectively lobbying, to help protect writers’ rights. That has meant being one of the ALCS representatives on the steering group of UKWriters, a recently-formed umbrella group that tries to ensure that writers do not lose out in a changing world. As it is, the income of most writers has fallen sharply in recent years, as was demonstrated in a study commissioned by ALCS. I have found it fascinating sitting on the Board itself, learning the dynamics of the company and collaborating with its dedicated staff. So, I would be very grateful for a vote from anyone who is an ALCS member. If you are, you should have received an electronic communication about the election (unless you opted for postal communications only) and voting is open until 23 December.writing

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time for a Novel?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd April, 2016

novel 1Having recently finished a childhood memoir, which I hope will see the light of day later this Spring, the inevitable question I now face is: what next? The big difference betwen writers and would-be writers is that whereas the latter can’t start, the former can’t stop. Of course, writing blog posts, tweets and Facebook entries is a useful way of dissipating creative energy, but for anyone who has actually had a book published — or in my case, a dozen — the compulsion to get cracking on something more susbtantial is irresistible.

Isherwood coverI had a complete break over Easter, while getting a couple of dental implants done, but I am now chomping at the bit, in more ways than one. As my childhood memoir ends with me just turned 19, in Karbala in Iraq, it might seem logicial to pick the story up from there. But I know that that is not what my impulses are telling me. Instead, I shall fast forward to the mid-1970s when I was in Brussels, initially wotking for Reuters news agency, subsequently freelance. The exact location of the action and the main characters are all so clear in my head, but this will be a novel, not a memoir, even if it is inspired by a lot of personal experience (rather like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, though I would be lucky to achieve anything like as good an end-product as his novels). I wrote a biography of Isherwood,.which involved two summers in California, interviewing him, while I was still based in Btussels and I remember him saying that having started his writing life as a novelist, he had ended up as a biographer and memoir-writer. My trajectory hopefully will be in the opposite direction, but here goes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Lake Victoria Hotel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th December, 2015

Lake Victoria Hotel.jpgLike many writers, I can only work well in the right environment. At the house in London, that is a small book-lined study on the first floor where I sit facing the window but with the curtains permanently drawn. But I’ve discovered as I travel literally all over the world on journalistic assignments or to attend conferences that there are some places where my writing mojo just kicks in. One of those is the Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe, Uganda, a stately old colonial establishment that has been tastefully refurbished, serves good food and has totally silent rooms, being set in spacious grounds. There is even an Olympic-size swimming pool below the restaurant terrace for sporting breaks. It helps that Uganda’s climate is benign; the temperature is a steady 26 degrees C or so at this time of year, with only the occasional shower. And there aren’t even any mosquitoes around. But of course it is the who really create the atmosphere, both the hotel staff and the local population of this sleepy town on the shore of Lake Victoria: courteous, obliging and always ready with a smile. Above all, they let guests like me get on with whatever we are doing without interruption, whether it is writing, reading or just thinking through the next difficult passage of a book. This afternoon I shall move on to Rwanda, but I will be back.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »