By chance I happened to see an interview with John Grisham on TV, and found myself riveted by this charming and enormously successful writer. His books are not quite my cup of tea, but I found my attention drawn to his account of his recent novel, in which he tried to stay away from his usual subject of lawyers, crime and legal issues and focus on a story about books, publishing and writing.

Grisham has published over thirty novels, almost all of them bestsellers, so he must know a thing or two about the subject. He wrote the book, he claimed, to cock a snook at the ‘literary mafia’ which describes his books as fit only to be read at the beach. And so he wrote about a scenic spot by the sea. A ‘beach book’ to end all beach books.

As a result, I ordered the book from Amazon, and all I can say is that I was not disappointed. The novel has pace, interesting and varied characters, and a series of situations that keep the reader’s interest. For me, as a writer, it was particularly interesting to read Grisham’s insights into the pitfalls that tend to beset writers who are not careful about such matters as ‘starting a book with a prologue that leaves the reader hanging, then goes on to chapter 1, which, of course, has nothing to do with the prologue,’ and so on. Never mind that Grisham does just that in this book, this is his alter ego poking fun at his own writing style.

But Grisham’s bookseller character has many more insights to impart about writing. Amongst other things, he says: “Another mistake is to introduce twenty characters in the first chapter. Five’s enough and won’t confuse your reader. Next, if you feel the need to go to the thesaurus, look for a word with three syllables or fewer…Please use quotation marks with dialogue, otherwise it’s bewildering…Most writers say too much, so always look for things to cut.. I could go on.” The point he makes about quotation marks is very valid, and I still remember being reprimanded by my English teacher in high school for using single quotes instead of double. That was a long time ago, but it seems that it’s a convention that serves a function and should not be neglected or ignored.

‘Camino Island’ contains much more than a few rules for writing, and the situations that are described are more than enough to keep any reader’s attention riveted till the end of the book. I promise to try to apply Grisham’s rules in my next book, while in the meantime I was able to enjoy the story of ‘Camino Island.’ To give the bare bones of the book, a young writer suffering from writer’s block is recruited by a mysterious company to find information about a character who appears to be a perfectly sane and sensible bookseller but is suspected of dealing in stolen books and manuscripts.

True to form, the denouement took me by surprise even though the idea was lurking in my mind towards the end of the book. Contrary to expectations, the prime suspect manages to get away with the loot, but at least in this book there is less of the violence, murder and mayhem that generally abounds in books of this kind. All in all, a rollicking good read as well as a tutorial for aspiring writers.

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