Why read fiction?

Many of us have different ways of learning about life and the world.  Some people particularly like to share experiences with friends; others have favourite TV programs to watch; and still others like nothing better than to read a particular magazine or newspaper.  Perhaps there are people who have a preference for a special radio station or program.  And, I’m sure you can think of other preferences.

How about books as a means of learning about life and the world?  Hmm.  Well, I’m sure there are people who would say ‘books are passe – they are obsolete’.  Are the social media (like Facebook and Twitter) making books a thing of the past?  Are the sales of books, including e-books, declining?  An article by Julie Bosman published in the New York Times last summer revealed that publishers sold 2.57 billion books, in all formats, in 2010.  This represented an  increase of 4.1% over 2008.  Not only did the volume of books increase over those two years, but industry revenues increased by 5.6% to $27.9 billion.  Interestingly, the growth of e-books was very significant: e-books represented 0.6% of the market in 2008, but they represented 6.4% in 2010.  Their market share will almost certainly increase again in 2012.

As an aside, I should point out that Sin & Contrition is available in various e-book formats (including Kindle).  Fishing in Foreign Seas is currently available in hard copy only, but I am considering making it available as an e-book.  Comments?

So, it is fair to say that books are not obsolete or dying out.  In his article “Is Fiction Relevant to the Real World?”, Sydney M Williams says: “There are people who never read anything but fiction. Nevertheless, it has always seemed to me that the addition of some history and biography helps broaden the mind. However, much of history written today has the purpose of furthering a particular political agenda. . . . In contrast, with fiction there is no hidden agenda. Its purpose is to entertain, but with the added value of providing insight to a complex and ever-changing world, and to the people who inhabit it. Novelists come with political agendas, but we know upfront what they write is fiction.”  He also says: “Novels have long been lauded as a form of entertainment that activate the brain, provide insight into character and present a version of events that we know to be fictional, yet are based on human emotions and reactions we know to be real.”

In her article “Your Brain on Fiction”, Anne Murphy Paul says: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”

The opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings is, in my opinion, an opportunity not to be missed!

Reviews: Fishing in Foreign Seas

The following reviews of Fishing in Foreign Seas have been posted on the Amazon sites:

by Kitty – ‘Book Lover’ (4 stars)

In his first novel Mr. Peace has spun a tale of the moral dilemmas confronting his protagonist both in his personal and professional life. Jamie Morrison, a likeable, intelligent, up and coming young executive with his company’s power generation group has the opportunity for the biggest sale deal of his career. The intricacies and machinations of closing the deal make for exciting and absorbing reading. Lots of tension there.

In the meantime his wife, who has played the corporate gypsy as he climbed the corporate ladder, finds herself living in a town where she feels she doesn’t fit in. Caterina is a stay at home mom with two young daughters and a Downs Syndrome little boy who keep her busy, but she knows something is missing. Tension at home, too.

As the business deal reaches its conclusion, Jamie discovers that it will only become reality if he does something unethical. Tempted by the attractiveness and sexiness of his personal assistant, he faces another dilemma, as he considers cheating on his wife.

In a delightful way, the chapters move back and forth from the present business dealings and home life to the story of their personal life. These chapters tell how he met his wife when he was a naval officer in port in Sicily. Seeing this beautiful woman at an opera, he manages to engage her in conversation and she later agrees to lunch with him. Her family owns a winery and he visits there. Their relationship develops into love. As her mother observes their obvious attraction and feelings and scared that they will marry and go to America, she warns her daughter about “fishing in foreign seas.” However, to no avail, as the young couple do marry. He leaves the navy, goes to work for a large manufacturing company, and they first settle in the Boston area. Other chapters detail their early married life, birth of children, and his progression in the company. As an aside, for those readers who only think Mafia when they hear the word Sicily, it should be noted that the chapters in Sicily provide wonderful insights into the history, culture and people of this island with which many readers might not be familiar.

Mr. Peace has created two very appealing characters in Jamie and Caterina. We are rooting for him to figure out how to “do the right thing” in business and for him and Caterina to solve this temporary glitch in their relationship.

At times it was difficult to keep all the business personages straight (perhaps too many?) and the footnotes were sometimes unnecessary and distracting, but all in all Mr. Peace has given us a good read.

by A S Burns (4 stars)

Mr Peace’s first novel interweaves two stories, the efforts of a large company (read Siemans) to win a huge contract for power generation equipment and the cross-cultural love story between a young naval officer and a Sicilian woman from a wine-raising family. The stories are interwoven in such a way that the past steadily creeps up on the present.

The contract acquisition story will be recognized as very close to reality by anyone with experience in this field of business, although it may challenge casual readers because of the large number of characters who make brief appearances and the footnotes needed to explain technical matters. The love story is followed from the first meeting of Jamie Morrison with Caterina Lo Gado at an opera performance in Sicily throughout the moves of the couple around the United States as Jamie pursues his career in sales. The descriptions of Sicilian life are enjoyable, and the undercurrent of sex present in the book is entertaining.

The conflict between a demanding business career and a fulfilling family life lies at the center of the work. Mr Peace dramatizes well the crucial choices that Jamie has to make when confronted with venality at work and temptation in his private life.

by E Consalvi (4 Stars)

This is a very interesting read, especially as it pursues two particular themes – a cross-cultural relationship, begun in the Mediterranean; and the workings of big business in America. Inevitably there are clashes between the values of a traditional society, and the very different values of the corporate culture. Tension, anxiety and self-doubt surface, and put strain on personal and business relationships. The passionate romance, which is central to the novel, is interwoven with the ruthlessness pervading the competition for sales and contracts. Very much recommended as a great read.

(For more information about my novels, see www.williampeace.net.  This novel is now available in e-book format for about $9.99.)


It’s often important, I think, to build up the level of suspense in a novel.  When the reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen, s/he will tend to want to read more, and will become more emotionally involved.  That emotional involvement usually means that the reader derives greater enjoyment from the book.

On the one hand, when the reader can predict exactly what’s going to happen, s/he will probably judge the book to be ‘boring’.  And, on the other hand, if the author uses too many devices to heighten suspense, or puts too many  twists and turns in the plot, the book (and the author) lose credibility.

Life is unpredictable.  We all know that.  So having some surprises in a book we read seems natural.  We all enjoy a good surprise, and a bad surprise can be quite stimulating, particularly if it isn’t real, and it’s happening to someone else (not us).

What kind of surprises could there be?  There are romantic surprises: will he or won’t he get the girl?  Court room surprises: will she or won’t she be acquitted?  There are business surprises: will it succeed or fail?  Sports surprises: does he or does he not win the medal?  And I’m sure you can think of at least a dozen other categories of surprises.

Another point to bear in mind is that surprises  don’t have to be binary: yes or no; win or lose.  Sometimes a surprise will come completely out of ‘left field’.  For example, you’ve been reading about Michael and Claire, who’ve just started dating.  The author leads you to wonder whether Michael and Claire will become a couple.  Sometimes you think ‘yes’ and at other times ‘no’. All of a sudden, Michael’s cousin, Jack, enters the picture, and sweeps Claire off her feet.  Then, you wonder what Michael is going to do.  Will he brood?  Will he try to punish Claire in some way? Or will he become the best man at the wedding?

So what are some of the devices an author can use to heighten suspense?

  • the structure of the plot can lead to uncertainty in the reader’s mind.  For example, in a murder mystery not enough evidence comes out that we know George is guilty.  Besides, there’s some evidence that Norman might be the guilty one.
  • what the characters do or say about an issue can influence our thinking.  What would you think if Norman hid a piece of evidence?
  • it’s not just the principal characters who influence things.  Suppose Margaret tells the police that she saw George do it, but you suddenly learn that Margaret and Norman have been having an affair.
  • mistakes can be made.  This is a device used frequently in operas.  For example in Il Trovatoreby Guiseppe Verdi, Count di Luna orders the  execution of Manrico who is his rival for the love of Leonora.  The Count finds out too late that Manrico was actually his brother.
  • miscommunications can take place
  • places can be different than what they seem at first
  • times and relationships  can be confused
  • and so on

I don’t know whether you have been watching Montalbano, the Italian series about the Sicilian detective Montalbano.  It’s currently running on BBC4 with English subtitles.  Montalbano is a very handsome, macho, detective who has an absolutely lucious girlfriend, and he always ‘gets his man’ because of his brilliance and his intuition.  My wife and I enjoy watching it.  I like the girlfriend.  My wife likes Montalbano and being able to watch a program in Italian.  We are both amused by the Sicilian culture on display: stupid Carabinieri (Italian police), for example.  But neither of us can follow the plot.  It has so many nuanced twists and turns that, unless you’re a professional crime detective watcher, it’s not worth following.


Finally, my new website is finished!

You can have a look at www.williampeace.net

The home page has my biography (and a picture).  Then there is a page for each of my novels, which includes the publisher’s short description and a synopsis of the book.  There is also a sample chapter from each book.

My third novel, Efraim’s Eye, which has just been published, will have its own page.  Then there’s a fourth (and a fifth) novel in the pipeline!

Please note:  Fishing in Foreign Seas and Sin & Contrition are now available in e-book formats for about $9.99

Tell me what you think!