The novel I’m reading right now is Author, Author by David Lodge. It’s basically a fictionalised retelling of the last days of Henry James (whom I must admit to never having read, although he is the fictional Paola Brunetti’s favourite author – PB being the wife of the similarly fictional Guido Brunetti in the Donna Leon novels), and which delves into his life in an intriguing and interesting way. It is essentially (and I’m only halfway through) a meditation on how writers feel they’re competing all the time, not just with writers they don’t know, not just with writers who are friends of theirs, but with themselves (and with those who claim to purvey what’s good and bad in literature of any kind). It’s a reflection on how writers may perceive their powers to be waning when they don’t have the public success they crave, when they feel they’re not selling enough, when they see others (whose work they might feel is inferior to theirs) receiving high public praise and having better sales, etc etc.
It also reflects (or Henry James reflects, and David Lodge through him) on the peculiar occupation that writing (and actually, being a creative) is. We/they are contradictions, because we hide away in our offices (garrets/studios/study/living room corner – take your pick) and disappear from the world we live in into imaginary worlds which, although they cannibalise much of this world (and don’t make the mistake of thinking that each writer’s creation has one single character who is the author, because that’s a massively false assumption; all characters in all novels have one trait or another of the author in them, because authors have split personalities), are fiction and will always remain so, but at the same time we need the public, and are more or less desperate to be in the public’s eye, so we can be celebrated, adored, praised, accoladed, so we can make sales (and here bear in mind the average author in the UK grosses well below £5k a year), whilst at the same time opening ourselves up to public scrutiny, ridicule, criticism, and the danger of crashing and burning. And yet, just to add one more complication, many of us feel driven to write, because (refer back to those split personalities) it gives us an outlet for all the demons in our minds, it’s therapy, it’s a joy. Even just the handling of paper, the scrawl of a pen and the sound it makes on different kinds of paper (sometimes it’s wonderful to write on thick paper in large letters, sometimes it’s better to write cramped and tiny characters on paper thin enough to see through, sometimes somewhere in the middle, and, more often nowadays, for me, anyway, to clack away on my long-suffering keyboard and watch the words form in real time on the screen in front of me. Maybe, actually, that’s where the ultimate job satisfaction resides – just in putting those words, sentences, chapters, books, worlds together, even if no-one reads them. But … it’s never enough, is it?
All generalisations are false including this one. Perhaps all of this is just me.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 199
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