Saturday, 15 January 2011
A Sort of Life - Celia Rees
At the end of his autobiographical memoir, Graham Greene says:
'For a writer, I argued, success is always temporary, success is only a delayed failure. A writer's ambition is not satisfied like the business man's by a comfortable income, although he sometimes boasts of it like a nouveau riche.
The writer has the braggart's excuse. Knowing the unreality of his success he shouts to keep his courage up. There are faults in his work which he alone detects...'
The real satisfaction lies in putting those things right, in other words in the writing itself.
Graham Greene was a great writer, one who understood not only how prose works, but the inner workings of those who produce it.
As I read this, I was struck by the truth of it. I'm sure there will be many who will deny it, but they know in their hearts that this is true. We ARE never satisfied. Once we are over the first great hurdle, that of getting our work published at all, then there are other goals to achieve: prizes, sales, money, fame, recognition. We need other people to recognise the worth of our work, and through that, ourselves. Even if we gain everything, prizes, fame, money, the whole works, then we still know that our star will inevitably fade. Success is fleeting, at best.
We now have more ways to shout, to keep our courage up. We can blog, tweet and twitter, post videos on YouTube. We can be out there, like barkers at some virtual literary fair, shouting out out wares, bidding readers to come see, come buy, know about us. I wonder what GG would think about all that?
Yesterday, I came across the wise words of another great writer: Margaret Atwood.
I was directed by Adele Geras to fictionbitch.blogspot.com where I found this quote from an interview in the Literary Review:
'...people are trying to pile stuff onto authors, like you have to blog, you have to have this, you have to have that. Various party tricks. You actually don't ... an author's job is to concentrate on the writing, and once the writing is finished what you essentially do is throw it into a bottle and heave it into the sea... There is still a voyage between the text and the unknown reader; the book will still arrive at the door of some readers who don't understand it - who don't like it. It will still find some readers who hopefully do...'
I guess people will say, she would say that, wouldn't she? Just as it is easy to dismiss Graham Greene's words - how much more successful can a writer be? But I don't think these observations come from self satisfaction and complacency. They come from the very things that make these two such successful writers: their powers of observation, depth of insight, honesty and courage to express thoughts that might be unpalatable, but are nonetheless true. The only real satisfation has to come from the words we put down on the page and the connection we make with readers, no matter how many, or how few.