Friday, 13 July 2012

Who do you think you are? N M Browne

As I sit here wearing full combat gear, chewing on a cuban cigar and fiddling with my moustache I am obliged to wonder if we give too much prominence to the character of the author these days. Do readers care and, if they do, should they?
 All this focus on the person rather than the work priviliges the charismatic, the beautiful the promotable and detracts from the only important thing, the writing. I know it’s all very well for people like me - as I toss my long blonde hair over my shoulder, cross my endless legs and readjust my generous assets so that I don’t show too much perfectly tanned cleavage as I type, but what about you ordinary authors out there? you middle aged women who’ll never see thirty again or all you men you don’t wear hats like Terry Pratchett, who lack beards like Philip Ardagh or teeth like Martin Amis - how will you fare in PR campaigns?

It is fair to say that even the relative anonymity of tweeting and blogging still promote the person above the work. I blame Enid Blyton and her children’s tea parties - her fantasy of what a children’s writer should be. 
For myself I don’t really care who wrote Shakespeare’s work -  all I need to know about the writer lies in what is written. 
 I’d rather know nothing than be forced to engage with the notion of the writer. I was very upset to discover that Richmal Crompton was a woman, that PG Wodehouse broadcast for the nazis, and that Orson Scott Card espouses dubious political views. Suddenly the work became something other than itself; I could not unknow its provenance. Frankly, I prefer ignorance and that has made me chary about finding out about the authors of books I have loved. I don’t want to know - the books are what matters and some writers really do more harm than good by revealing their true selves. 
 As I fold back my wings and clean my claws between words, I wonder if I should pretend to be someone else, someone human and if that might help me sell more books. Or if I should eschew disguises, expose my tail and neatly cloven feet and say to hell with it all. 
Read the book, damn you and leave the writer out of it!


Sue Purkiss said...

Couldn't agree more - great post!

Rachel Ward said...

Wonderful post. Made me smile on this rather grey morning. Now Blogger is inviting me to 'choose an identity..' Who shall I be?

Emma Barnes said...

I don't know what the answer is, except that having read this, clearly I need to grow a beard. Surely female author with beard will out-beard even Phillip Aardagh?

Off to google "beard growing cream".

madwippitt said...

With you on this one - I canm't remember who it was who broke the news to me about William Mayne, but I will happily flush their head down the toilet if they'd care to step forward ...

And in the meantime shall continue to annoy publishers who demand that they be allowed to publicise your entire life history plus contact details including addresses and insist on having photos with which to disappoint your sole fan!

Penny Dolan said...

Valuable points about the beauty of the writer - and the "pain" of their life story being more important than the power of the words on the page. Only hope someone is listening!

Btw, I was very disappointed by the way the recently deceased TVBookClub increasingly focused on titles written by yet another celebrity guest ( and best friend?) as well as the million-selling novelist slot. Each week the "Book Club" book seemed to become more of an afterthought as the inconstant panel on the sofa seemed to give up suggesting they'd even fully read the "Read" in question.

Nicola Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Morgan said...

Oops - as usual, clicked send too early!

I think it's a myth that you have to show it all or any part of it you don't want shown. This blogging and tweeting etc is about communicating and connecting, regardless of whether it's writers or bakers or gardeners or secretaries. I'm active on twitter, blogging, FB etc but trust me: none of you know a single damn thing more about me than I want you to! What you see is true and honest but it's only a part of me and my life. As far the parts of my life that I spend online and allow to be seen, well, it's not a single minute more than I want to.

As for discovering things about a favourite writer that we didn't want to know - I don't think there's much new about that. I agree - it's annoying/disconcerting etc.

I personally like what we can do on twitter etc. I like it not as a writers but just as a person. But I do control it, much more than it might appear, and that's just the same as how we control what the world sees in face-to-face situations, too. Also, publishers tell us to do this stuff but actually we can say no :)

Stroppy Author said...

I am of the view that the writer is irrelevant (or at least uninteresting), but I am beginning to think that's a view held only by writers!

I've been running a reading-aloud/practical criticism group for the Royal Literary Fund for the last year and my group of readers ALL want information about the writer. I will never give it in advance - not even the name - as I want them to respond to the text rather than what they know or think they know about the writer. My PhD was mostly on anonymous texts, so dealing only with the text comes naturally. I wonder if it's an issue of confidence? That readers feel 'knowing' the author gives them 'clues'? Or just that as writers we know there is nothing magical about us. We also perhaps like to think our works are more separate from our own characters than maybe they are.

Nicky said...

I don't think the issue is so much about privacy - I agree you don't have to reveal anything if you don't want to - more that publishers etc tend to focus on the writers more than the books - maybe its easier and requires less thought? Dunno.