Amanda Craig's piece about author behaviour at festivals with great interest and a certain gloom. It's a really excellent article, and well-worth looking at. Her sense of 'omerta' meant that no names were named, but it set me thinking: does this bad behaviour achieve anything except negative insider gossip, possible column inches and a reinforcement of the idea of the writer-as-hellraiser? And is that the point of it all--ie that bad publicity and bad reputation is better than no publicity and a boring reputation? Personally, I would rather have the no-publicity or gossip and a reputation for boring old reliability than behave in some of the ways which Amanda describes--but then maybe I'm old-fashioned in my belief that if you are invited to speak to a literary festival audience (or anywhere else), you should have the manners to do the job in a polite and professional way when you get there. Otherwise, you should simply say no to the gig.
Amanda also says "The trouble is that to write anything at all requires a degree of arrogance, and to think that what you've written is publishable requires even more." Perhaps this is true, but I prefer to call it self-belief, and I am going to go even further out on a limb here, and say that in my experience, children's authors are not, as a general rule, an arrogant bunch. This may be because--despite the Rowlings and Pullmans of our world who are the exceptions rather than the rule (and who are both, by the way, incredibly polite and professional)--writers for children don't generally get the slavish press praise and adulation which is heaped on many bestselling writers for adults. This is not a whinge, it is a fact. Children's books are still seen as 'not proper writing' by some. In my own recent (very recent) past, I was asked about how I was doing with my books by a medical professional who was treating me. When I told him that I'd had 12 books out this year, he merely said, "Oh. And when are you going to write a real book, then?" What he meant was an adult book. Nowadays, I don't suffer that kind of thing gladly, so you may be pleased to hear that I let rip, and told him exactly what I thought of his comment. He was very taken aback. My point is, many of us are subjected to this kind of attitude on a regular basis, and it is the biggest eroder of self-belief (or indeed arrogance) there is to realise that writing a book for the children's market seems to be not nearly as big a deal as writing one for 'grown-ups'. This despite the fact that some of the best writing there is today is done for young people.
But back to the "bad author behaviour".... When I did my Cheltenham Festival event last week, a whole school party crept in 20 minutes late (about which I had been warned, and was fine). The festival organisers asked, rather tentatively, if I would mind talking to the children afterwards. I said 'yes, of course,' and didn't think anything more of it--it wasn't their fault that they were late. We then had a fantastic 20 minutes together in the back of the bookshop after my signing session. The kids were all well-prepared, asked intelligent questions and were generally a delight to chat to. It was only afterwards that it was borne in to me that there had been considerable trepidation about my reaction to asking me to do 'extra'. My question is this: why wouldn't I? These kids are my audience. They buy my books. What did it cost me? Nothing. What did it gain me? A lot of goodwill, plus 25 kids who will remember their 'special author talk' for a long time (I hope), and want to explore more of my Greek myths. Being a prima donna diva would have gained me nothing except bad feeling all round--and that's why I can't understand any author who would disrespect their audience by being publicly rude or contrary or ridiculously demanding out-of season roses and gold-dusted chocolates and water from the backside of the world. To hell with it--I'd rather wither in an obscurity of good manners than invite the attentions of Nemesis by being so horribly out of touch with reality as that.