"Jeffrey Archer, Matt Lynn, Martin Baker and Alan Clements launch bid to woo writers away from 'formulaic' American writing" is the headline of this ludicrous Guardian piece. The "reign of the production-line American thriller writers" that is being challenged is the crown held by the likes of James Patterson, John Grisham and Dan Brown.
While there is certainly some truth in what these British authors are saying about the contemporary book market (ghost writers, "factories" of teams producing books under one main author's byline, and so on), let's just take a closer look at the five principles of the group.
1. That the first duty of any book is to entertain.
2. That a book should reflect the world around it.
3. That thrilling, popular fiction doesn't follow formulas.
4. That every story should be an adventure for both the writer and the reader.
5. That stylish, witty, and insightful writing can be combined with edge-of-the seat excitement.
These principles are all fair enough if that's your taste, but the two authors of the "Curzon four" I have read certainly do not live up to them. In addition, there are many books that can be criticised along the same lines that are not thrillers: celebrity biographies and novels are ghost written, for example; Dickens and Zola followed forumulas; and Jane Austen did not reflect highly significant contemporary events in Europe (the Napoleonic wars).
But the whole enterprise is massively wrong-headed, and possibly just a marketing exercise to get some of these authors better-known. Nobody can tell anyone else what to read, or judge a book along the lines that these Curzon authors are doing. What one reader extols, another may not. The first duty of a book is not necessarily to entertain, if that isn't what the reader wants. Some readers enjoy formulas. And so on. The Curzon four should stop this moaning forthwith, and if they think they can do better than Patterson, Grisham and Brown, good luck to them. In the meantime, "sour" and "grapes" are two words that immediately spring to mind. If you disagree with me you are welcome to find out more about the Curzon group:
"Their not-entirely-altruistic plans to champion the cause of British thriller writing include a month-long debate on books site Bookarmy.com which will pit British writers against a yet-to-be confirmed American author; a poll to find the greatest British thriller of all time (early possibilities include The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The 39 Steps and The Ipcress File); a story competition for wannabe thriller writers; festival appearances; and a manifesto of five principles they hope will provoke debate. Promotions, blogs and live chats will be running throughout the year at a new website, greatbritishthriller.com."
All of these enterprises seem very positive and worthwhile; I only wish they did not originate in such apparently petty jealousy.