The Beacon


A few years ago I wrote a story for a collection of internet tales called ‘The Beacon’, about a son who posts an online message that lives on after his death and eventually reached his non-computer-literate father. Hold that thought for a moment.

I love London cabbies; they’re fast, smart and chatty – or at least they used to be before the iPod. But yesterday one asked me the question I dreaded. ‘So, what do you do?’

Admitting you’re a writer is like wearing a big badge that says Talk To Me. It’s my job to listen to other people. I’ve stopped listening to many people in media, though, because they don’t tell you the truth, they tell you what they wish was true. ‘I’m making a movie.’ ‘No, you’re writing a script and hoping someone will make it,’ and so on.

I try to talk to people in jobs that make them happy, not frustrated, and get a lot back. Yesterday I met the lady who looks after Health & Safety at the 02 Centre, a gentleman who explained the fastest way to teach Indian kids how many days there are in a month, a shopkeeper who had invented an impossible puzzle – and the cabbie.

I could have lied and said I worked in an office but I told him the truth. He replied, ‘A writer, eh? Yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that.’

There’s an old episode of Hancock’s Half Hour when someone asks Hancock if he’s a doctor. ‘No,’ says Hancock, ‘I never really bothered.’ It’s like getting that answer back.

In the last few years, the role of the writer has changed. It’s no longer something you get around to doing when things are a bit quieter, it’s not enough to write a book and send it off to a publisher. You are required to play a complicated game with the media that involves a lot of planning and projections, because the ground is shifting. Publishers do a lot of things for me, but the thing they do most these days is apologise. ‘We can’t’, ‘we wish’, ‘it’s not cost effective’, ‘it’s an uncertain climate.’ That’s fine, they try to help get me published and it’s all you can hope for. In England there was a long tradition of the Actor-Manager, and now there are Writer-Managers, but here’s the thing – the more a good writer does that isn’t actually writing, the worse s/he gets.

You may think it’s a shame the reading public buys stuff by Kate Mosse or Jeremy Clarkson instead of better books, but people don’t just have to do what’s good for them. They should be allowed to have a little fun, and if ploughing through a global potboiler makes them forget the cares of the world, that’s great.

So yesterday I made a decision, no more career micro-managing, no more presenting outlines and trying to guarantee profits to companies whose inner workings I’m not part of, I’m going to stick to the thing – possibly the only thing – I’m any good at; writing. If what I write ends up being published in the small press, or in a leaflet handed out by the nice lady from the O2 Centre, I don’t care. Somebody – hopefully you guys – will find it and read it.

To this end you should be prepared for a few experiments this year. I might try to sell a book online, or self-publish, or write a play. What I’ve discovered is that my readership – literate, liberal, considered, smart – won’t ever be as big as Dan Brown’s (who I’ve read and guiltily enjoyed, like eating very sweet cake when you really want to diet), but I think you will probably, hopefully find me and respond. Like the beacon in the story, I’ll continue transmitting and see what gets the best feedback. It’s time someone put away the bar charts and went with the suggestions of the readers, not the number-crunchers.

If that works for you, let me know.

15 comments on “The Beacon”

  1. Adam says:

    It works for me! I don’t know anything about the world of book publishing, but self-publishing/full ownership seems to work very well in the world of music. There are loads of excellent bands who have a loyal fanbase and record, publish, tour all under their own control without label interferance. Great example are ‘Show of Hands’, a westcountry acoustic/folk duo who have an incredible following, and sell out the Royal Albert Hall when they play there.

    Let us know the publishing medium and me and my friends will do the rest!

  2. Helen Martin says:

    We can follow you here. Just let us know what’s next.

  3. Mike Cane says:

    Got just one thing to say: IT’S ABOUT FRIKKIN TIME!!!

  4. Ah. Thank you. Your post gave me my breath back.

  5. Mike Cane says:

    Moments later, I’m back, with something else to say. Check out the posts of writer Declan Burke and the writer co-op idea. There are at least three of these I know of in the US, btw. With NAMES.

  6. Cliff Burns says:

    Ah, Chris, you’re a helluva writer and if you trust in your readers, never betray them with pedestrian prose or familiar conventions, I believe they’ll follow you through the gates of Perdition. The new technologies are rendering the old regimes and corrupted institutions obsolete. No more going hat in hand to editors (and agents), hoping they find something of worth in our odd, little stories. Bypass all of those sons of bitches and go directly to the people who matter most: your loyal, literate, discerning Readers. You’ve got the originality of vision and the talent to go a long way in the new paradigm. I shall continue to follow your progress (and your writing) with great interest.

  7. jan briggs says:

    wots all this old bollocks about then r u having trouble with your publisher_

  8. Vickie Farrar says:

    As Helen Martin indicated, leave clues re any non-mainstream distribution of your always-delightful writings. I live in the U.S. and I buy your books from (spending a ghastly fortune in shipping) so that I can get the true British edition (I also do this with a few other British authors, such as John Harvey; oh, dear, I hope that isn’t like mentioning Rubbermaid at a Tupperware party). However, living where I do, I am not likely to come across a leaflet handed out by the nice lady across from the O2 Centre (whatever/wherever that is…) and would be most appreciative if you would not be terribly discreet when you experiment with other venues. Thanking you in advance…

  9. Steve says:

    I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go – there isn’t an ocean too wide, a mountain so high it can keep – keep me away!

    Oh wait…that was a song, wasn’t it?

    Go for it Chris, we love your writing and will support you in any venue you choose. Or at least I will, I don’t suppose I should be speaking for everyone. Though if they disagree, they should be on a different blog!

  10. Alan says:

    The above have said it all, really.

    Just one thing? I also read Dan Brown – when I find his stuff in charity shops. Chris Fowler I buy from bookstores… I think your readers will follow along happily.

  11. J. Folgard says:

    I’ve been introducing two more friends to your work this year -notably Bryant & May- and they’re really enjoying it. It’s a small step but they’ve become regular readers -it was just a matter of exposing them to your books. I’m glad the PCU novels are published by a big-name house, it makes them easier to find & purchase, but we’re all willing to see what you might want to try elsewhere. Hey, I still got this spiffy graphic novellette you did with John Bolton years ago -Menz Insana! It may have been a “side-project”, but it exposed me to your writing back then! Cheers-

  12. I.A.M. says:

    J. Folgard, I envy you. I would love to have a copy of Menz Insana. Hell, even reading and returning it would be enough.

  13. Steve says:

    I introduce your writing to anyone I can buttonhole, Chris. Hell, I was talking to the Doorman at the Athenaeum and discovered he was a fan of mysteries. I forced a pen on him to write down your name. I expressed shock and dismay to the nice old man at Hatchard’s when I discovered they had only ONE copy of “The Victoria Vanishes”. None, after I bought it.
    The music world is just as frustrating as the writing world, so I’m very familiar with the type of idiocy you’re talking about. Creativity is in danger of being suffocated by piles of money. Or perhaps just piles.

  14. stonemuse says:

    Chris, we will follow your work however it is produced.

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