Who are you? Or as a writer, when are you, you?
Yesterday, on Desert Island Discs, I heard Lee Mack say that he hated performing when people he knew well, and who knew him well, were at his show. As long as his family and/or friends sat at the very back of the venue, preferably out of sight, he could pretend they weren’t there. He could carry on being “Comedian Lee Mack.”
Later, he said he worried when people who think they “know” him from his appearance on TV and Quiz Shows turn up at his comedy gigs. The “Would I Lie to You Version” of Lee Mack, with all the swearing edited out, wasn’t the person they’d meet in his Live Show tour next year.
There may be people who are completely one and the same in real life and show life. Sarah MacIntyre may sit at home, drawing in her sketchbook or or ipad, wearing a vast oceanic wig and dreaming up more SeaWig stories.
Philip Ardagh may constantly speak in surreal, combative twitticisms while strolling through the lost Victorian streets and poorly lit alleyways, sharing strings of world weary observations with his hero Eddie Dickens.
Historical fiction author Caroline Lawrence may talk to herself in Latin as she wraps herself in her Pompeian toga or, more recently, practice quick-gunning on handily empty hooch bottles.
But I don’t think so.
The Showtime Author is - usually - a kind of creation, a personality developed and angled to attract the spotlight, not the whole self. Furthermore, pushed to the highest volume, Showtime Author can also be a danger, a diversion from what life as a “real life author” is like.
Publisher’s publicity teams, the media, schools, teachers as well as children and parents love those writers who are larger than life and who can entertain, maybe, hundreds of children. But that Author is a simplification, a writer that's not quite real, a distortion of the role.
Because super smiling Showtime Author isn’t the one who does the writing, or draws the drawing. The Working Author - imo and all that - tends to be a solitary, slightly tetchy creature, mooching around, thinking writing thoughts, mulling over words or plots, rehearsing lines or scenes or testing out characters in their head.
Working Author is the one who sits at the book, who persists when they could be doing other things. Most of the time, they are not really that bothered about interacting with ANYONE other than the shadows in their heads. It may even be best if they don’t appear anywhere, not without some tidying up or refocusing their attention.
Yet – and I wish some people in education would realise it – Working Author is the one who writes, drafts, rewrites and edits, the one who uses up long hours of life on making the stuff, on the art and the craft. They do the work. They put down the words.
Not the "Hey, I'm an Amazing Fun Guy", although the work has its own fun. Not the hugely social Showtime Author, entertaining vast assemblies, although there’s few things as satisfying as a brilliant break-through-the-log-jam idea. The Working Author who writes is, usually, a different kind of personality altogether. In fact, I'd almost say that the two rarely appear at the same time.
The hall is full. I can imagine Working Author - her, or him - sitting there in the shadows, away at the back of the audience, giving a knowing glance over the heads of all those gathered together that says “And that’s not even the half of it . . .”
Illustration by Peter Bailey from my book "A Boy Called MOUSE" (Bloomsbury)
PS. There is, of course, that other version - “Author as Ordinary Person” - the alert and often practical soul who deals with relatives and kids, shopping, poorly cats or dogs, visiting workmen, broken computers, post-holiday blues and more, while still yearning secretly – or not! - for a bit of Working Writer time.