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Reviews: Books about Writing
Book Reviews:
   Conventional Book Reviews   (standard commentary/review of book) 
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       the concept is to give insights into an author's style, craft, and knowledge through selected excerpts.) 
The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club 
 Maeve Binchy (with contributions from ten other writers)
New York: Anchor Books (Random House), 2010
(expanded version of 2008 U.K. edition)

This book is for both male and female writers— though many of Binchy’s own works fall in the category of women’s fiction, many are also mainline. Her background in journalism, as writing workshop teacher, and as writer of both nonfiction and fiction are all evident in this volume. The first half consists of twenty short entries (based on a workshop she conducted at the National College of Ireland) that cover a range of advice. 

A short middle section includes useful suggestions for further reading. Next is a list of writing competitions and awards which includes long fiction and novels, short fiction, playwriting, and magazines. A list of helpful websites concludes this center section. 

The last half offers examples of both fiction and nonfiction. Seven stories show related references to the writing concerns they address (introducing action and characters, story beginnings, story ends, the story as a journey, etc.). In addition, there are twelve of Binchy’s columns from the Irish Times

Writing in a warm supportive voice, Binchy’s entries include tips about getting started, telling a story, the role of the agent, the role of the editor, the role of the publisher, and writing for the Internet. Other entries address  specific areas, such as short stories, tackling men’s fiction, writing murder, mystery and suspense, writing for children, and writing comedy. Offering other types of support are such entries as getting started, sustaining progress, finding your voice, the writer’s journey, visualizing success, the importance of language, the writer as journalist, and the role of  writers’ groups.

About editors, she writes, “There are many good reasons why you should learn to respect a good editor. . . . Editors are much more likely to be right about things, like our droning on endlessly or being too flippant or shallow or whatever, than our own nearest and dearest. Once you have gotten as far as having an editor, you’re in the home stretch. Handle editors courteously and with velvet gloves, and listen to every word they say."

On voice, she says, “I never knew what was meant by ‘finding your voice.’  Not for ages. But I think I know now. I believe it means finding a way that is comfortable for you. It’s finding the method to tell your story that seems natural and unaffected. That way you’re not going to get caught out all the time trying to keep up with some kind of style that you think may be appropriate. . . . If we admire someone a lot, then it’s tempting to think that if we, too, wrote like that we would be terrific.  Not necessarily so—we could end up just looking like poor copies.”

In a guest chapter, “Writing the Short Story,” playwright and story writer Ivy Bannister offers eight steps to a short story. In brief entries, she lists, 1. Identify your Obsessions; 2. Characters; 3. Focus; 4. First draft; 5. Research; 6. Producing a Polished Draft; 7. Editing: 8. Final Draft—and a concluding statement: “Finally, enjoy! If you don’t, your reader won’t.”

Another guest writer, novelist Marian Keyes, addresses “The Road to Success.”The good news is that there’s no big secret, and the bad news is that there’s no big secret. . . .  Brace yourself for a cliché—writing really is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.  Writing is work. Perfect characters, plots, and sentences don’t spring fully formed from the mind of a writer onto his or her screen. They are achieved only by time, patience,  thought and constant rewriting. . . . Write what you know—and if you don’t know it, be prepared to research it. “

Norah Casey,  on “Maintaining Your Motivation to Write,” advises,  regarding writers’ block, “Don’t underestimate the value of  ’thinking time’. . . .You will solve the problem more quickly away from the screen.” 

Elsewhere, Binchy  writes, “ Is it pretentious to regard your book as some kind’ of journey? I think not. We are different people when we finish a book . We have had to face ourselves, think about what matters to us  and what doesn’t. We have to face our own prejudices and attitudes. And maybe admit that we are more shallow or possibly more intense than we had thought when setting out. None of this is any harm.” 

In “Good Luck,” the concluding twentieth workshop-lecture, among other words, Binchy exhorts, “The idea of this book is to take the terror out of writing, to empower ourselves with the belief that we are as good as anyone else, with as much to say as the next person. The only thing that stands in our way is not saying it. “

- reviewed by Gloria T. Delamar 

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