At the moment I’m reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which is one of those books that won’t appeal to many people, but will appeal to those people more than generic wide-appeal books will ever do. Which is incidentally what I want to achieve with my novel.

Reading the book gives me some ideas for minor little gags to put in my book. Chapter eight features a scene in a bookstore, and the idea occured to me of calling it “Book’s” or something similar, which would seem gramatically incorrect until the store owner turns out to be Mrs. Book. (I would have worked on it to make it somehow less naff)

The problem with these “little touches inspired by something outside of the story” is that, to me, they thoroughly interfere with the flow of the book. It’s as subtle as a brick in a quilt — everything is consistent and comfortable within the world until, oh wait, there’s this big lump that doesn’t really quite belong. I think Terry Pratchett is guilty of this a lot, and he is, sadly, probably my favourite living author.

The important thing, for me at least, is to refrain from indulging in this, hard though it may be. Part of me may be saying “but it’s a nice little touch that’ll appeal to X demographic”, but I have to counter this with “but it’s a touch that could apply to any book at any time and not specifically this one, and you only want to put it in to feel clever — these things will be obvious to the (intelligent and astute) reader, and they’ll think less of you for it.”

I do respect the intelligence of my readers. Unlike, for example, my favourite living author, but I won’t go into that.

What I find most irritating, and here I’m thinking of examples from different author, is when the author knows they shouldn’t include the little gag or whatever, and tries to justify it by pointing out how reluctant they are to include it. Obviously they have the same idea as I do about incongrous cleverness, but they really need more self-control — including by way of apology what shouldn’t be included is disingenuous and annoying.

Oddly, if an idea bubbles out of my subconscious I’m much more inclined to work it into the story somehow. For one thing I don’t feel smug and clever because I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The other thing is that ideas from my subconscious always seem more ‘artistically correct’ — things I could never consciously have thought of always do. I’ve already called the bookstore “BoysInBerries” — the name came out of nowhere and doesn’t have anything to do with books, but it’s an irreverent, slightly homoerotic non-sequitur and that’s good enough for me.

(Incidentally, here’s an example of why Pratchett irritates me: in one of his books, someone substitutes the word ‘ambience’ with the malapropism ‘ambulance’. Which is amusing, except that Pratchett italicised the word ‘ambulance‘. I’m not sure whether he was determined to draw attention to the joke, or wanted to assure the reader that he himself wasn’t getting the words mixed up, but there’s nothing worse than a gag that says: “LOOK AT ME, I’M A GAG!”)