Archive for May, 2013
Indeed, here are just the first ten reasons not to be jealous of writers.
1. They have bad backs. Maybe not the debut writers, but by the time of their third or fourth novel, they can hardly walk. This is why Margaret Atwood has to be winched everywhere with the aid of a helicopter. It is why Salman Rushdie is eight inches shorter than he used to be. It is why Julian Barnes always clenches his jaw.
2. They are depressed. Writers are miserable. Think of some of the saddest people in history – Woolf, Plath, Hemingway, Sexton, Poe, Tom Clancy – and ninety per cent of them are writers. They write because they are depressed. Even Dan Brown is depressed. Every single person you pass in the street has happier brain chemistry than Dan Brown. Probably. That’s why he has to hang upside down like Bruce Wayne between paragraphs. Possibly. And why he believes life is a kind of Countdown Conundrum designed by Dante or Da Vinci or albino priests. Possibly. And look, US website health.com says that writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to lead to depression. So be jealous of happier people, like undertakers and debt collectors. Being a writer is deciding to live your whole life as if it was soundtracked by Radiohead.
3. They are lonely. Ever wonder why a disproportionate number of writers are on Twitter and Facebook? Because they are the loneliest people in the universe. Some days, if there is a delivery, I will feel elated for having spoken to the man from DHL about the weather. I occasionally even try and keep him on the doorstep and pretend I like football.
4. Financial uncertainty. Writers don’t get fixed wages. They have no idea when their next cheque is coming in, or how much it will be. Generally, it takes a long time. For instance, I am still waiting for a third instalment of an advance I signed for in 2003, and which I spent in 2002.
5. Other writers. One of the very worst things about being a writer is the existence of other writers. There are literally thousands of writers out there, and many of them will have better Amazon rankings than you and be placed in more prominent places in bookshops. Other writers win prizes and climb bestseller lists and are photographed at all the right events. Other writers are probably having a whale of a time, naked, rolling around on the floor, glugging absinthe with other naked people while they scream Beat Poetry up at the ceiling.
6. Self-importance. If you are a writer you are spending weeks at a time burrowing deep into your own psyche, shining a flaming torch into its cobwebbed corners. And so there is a severe risk of being a bit of a shy, self-important tosser that no-one wants to speak to at parties.
7. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. E L James. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Gillian Flynn. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. Dan Brown. (Bookshops.)
8. Writer’s block. I was going to add to this point but I couldn’t think what to write.
9. A writer gives up having a life for twelve months and comes out at the end of it with nothing to show for it but a one-star Amazon review written by someone in Idaho called JesusRainbowUnicorn who doesn’t like the reference to ‘acts of a sinful nature’ on page 439, third paragraph, second line.
10. Other people are not happier than you. This is especially the case with writers. Writers are never happier than you. Writers are always worrying about deadlines, editors, agents, royalties, book covers, public readings, blog reviews, whether they should move to NW1, lack of invites, the future of the book, unanswered emails, that retweet they shouldn’t have posted, updating their website. They are paid to be misery guts. Paid to wallow and absorb into themselves on gloomy voyages towards the ego. So yes, this weeks tip -don’t be a writer. If anyone has to be self-important and miserable and paranoid then I think it should be me. Now, if you’d like to excuse me, I’ve really got to go and stare out of the window for five hours. And maybe cry some pompous, Keatsian writer tears.
Come and see me rambling on about The Humans at three events this week:
Wednesday - 7.30pm – 9.30pm, Bookswap event, Big Greenbookshop in Wood Green, London with Andrew J. Lambie. Held at the Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey Road and the ticket price includes a buffet, provided by the pub.
Thursday – 7.30pm, Bookseller Crow event, Crystal Palace, London. It’s £3 and includes a free drink – book your ticket here. It’s also the 16th anniversary of Bookseller Crow, so do come along and celebrate. Here’s the very fine window display that was done by local artist David Vallade:
Hopefully see some of you there!
This is the book I am most proud of.
It was the first idea I ever had, but it took me eight books to get to this point. This story needed confidence because a) the narrator is an alien, and people might dismiss it because of that and b) I knew it would be emotional to write.
It is a book I will never be able to write again.
It contains all that I think about this weird and terrifying and wonderful existence. It is my attempt to show that through all the pain that comes with our existence, we have things that make all the darkness more than worthwhile.
This is my 80,000 word message to my suicidal 24 year old self. It was me, sitting down to write an advert for humanity. To put down, while I am here and alive, just what makes it so special to be here and alive.
I wrote it between January and June last year. On more than three occasions I got so carried away with the story I literally wrote all the way through the night.
It is now out, in actual existence, being read. And I am about 10 times more excited about this than I was 10 years ago with my debut. In fact, I might just faint.
I hate rules. This gets me into trouble sometimes. When I was 16 it got me arrested. (I stole a Crunchie bar and some wet-look hair gel from Boots the chemist. Because my plan was to give the Crunchie bar to my best friend Jonathan I thought this made me a kind of latter-day Robin Hood rather than the spotty small-town tosser in a Cure T-shirt I actually was.)
Anyway, I try not to be illegal these days, but I still have a natural aversion to being told what to do. And when you are a writer – a writer who wants to say stuff – there are all sorts of quietly agreed rules floating around.
Here are 10 rules I am starting to ignore:
1. DON’T USE CLICHES. An admirable rule, surely? Well yes, perhaps, but a cliche is sometimes a cliche for good reason. A cliche is often a universal truth. That is why people like it. And people often speak in cliches, so what then? Surely to write honest dialogue you are going to have to use cliches? The aim, I suppose, is to come up with new cliches.
2.DON’T WRITE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Michael Chabon: ‘All novels are sequels; ignorance is bliss’.
3. LINEAR IS UNCOOL. Maybe in the twentieth century it was saying something when you smashed a narrative into pieces and quoted Godard’s line about how it was good to have a beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. But the thing is, I think there is nothing cooler and more wonderful than a story, and a story that feels like a story. So here’s to beginnings, middles and endings in the right places.
4. IT MUST BE DIFFICULT. No-one admits this rule. Maybe I have imagined it. But I think there is a distrust of books that are easy-to-read. A belief that they should shut people out, because most people don’t know what is good for them. This is snobbery. I ignore this, and try and write with open arms. The aim for me is never to take a short cut.
5. TO BE SERIOUS YOU MUST NOT TELL JOKES. I like jokes. Shakespeare told jokes. Joseph Heller told jokes. I am going to tell jokes. Comedy is just tragedy that hasn’t come to fruition.
6. LITERARY FICTION IS SERIOUS, GENRE FICTION IS NOT. Lock lit fic and genre in the same hotel room with only one bed and keep them there and see what happens. Fun things, normally, though some people don’t like fun things. I do though.
7. ADVERBS ARE EVIL. They can be, but some adverbs sound wonderful. Sporadically. Unquestionably. Woefully. No words should be put in a ghetto. Language is a smorgasbord.
8. WRITERS SHOULDN’T SELF-PROMOTE. I have a novel out this week. It is called THE HUMANS. The Independent says it is ‘outstanding’. The Times says it is ‘funny, gripping and inventive’. You can see other quotes and buy it here. I live to write. It is the only thing I can do. If I was in any other job I would be expected to help sell something, so why not this one, the one that I am best at…? So I am not ashamed of the first half of this paragraph.
9. SENTIMENTALITY IS BAD. Why? Who says? Humans are sentimental. ‘Sentimentality’ as Graham Greene said, ‘is just the name for sentiment we don’t share.’ Why not be rose-tinted from time-to-time, if we are aware of it? I am someone who cried at ET and Casablanca. Sentimental things speak to a deeper part of us than brain-only stuff. Speak to the heart via the head. The things that are sentimental tap into strong emotions, and emotions are what it is all about. Emotions are the last things the androids will be able to replicate.
10. HAPPY ENDINGS ARE FAKE. Yes, we all die, and yes, life is messy, but who says art can’t be different? Not Aristotle. Not Shakespeare. A book can have a neat ending where everything is tied up. It can even end in a way that allows us to be happy and hopeful. Why not? It is a book. And the very power of a book, the reason we escape into them, is that they aren’t weighed down by the same rules that weigh down reality. Books don’t suit fences.