Guilty Pleasures

Observatory, Reading & Writing, The Arts

We’ve been talking about what the general public chooses to read, see and do (see Simple Dismal comments).

It’s incredibly important for anyone working in the public arena to understand that the public does not like what we may like, and to understand why. ‘Popular appeal’ is a phrase that holds a lot of meaning. Katie Price, Cheryl Cole, Peter Kaye, Subo and Jedward and Jeremy Clarkson, they’re all popular names for a reason. They strike a basic chord in people’s lives.

But they also have something in common; they reach the public on a variety of formats. Publishers are desperate for authors who aren’t just authors. We need to be on TV, or be like our characters, or be in movies, so that we have ‘cross-format appeal’.

But we fiction writers are just storytellers. As a writer once said, ‘I don’t perform, except at dinner.’ Personally speaking, I’m happy to get up in front of audiences, travel to far-flung venues to meet librarians and blog on a daily basis. But we don’t get paid for doing this. It’s easy to allow your writing job to become a 7-day week, and I often work for 16 hours a day. But the financial rewards are poor – the national average amount of money a writer makes in a year is £7,000.

So we do toilet books, TV spin-off books, articles, anything to continue. However, a day spent in a bookshop tallying what the public buys would shock you (I know, I’ve done it). People buy Jeremy Clarkson, Jamie Oliver and silly gift books at a ratio of about 20-1 against fiction novels.

That’s fine – I never set out to conquer the world, and I won’t turn out the kind of supermarket thriller which has a poster reading ‘He has 12 hours to find his missing daughter’ or ‘A gruesome new serial killer is on the loose’ because it would cheat my regular readers. But the crucial thing is not to assume the moral highground. I have nothing but respect for those who reach the mass appeal market, and often wish I could do it.

We all have guilty reading and viewing pleasures – mine include Viz, Glee, comics, cheesy horror films, chillout CDs and Norman Wisdom. But I think there’s a balance to be struck. I know people who are horrified by the fact that I like Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan, while not liking Wagner.

But I’ll keep an open mind and try anything, then choose what I choose without apology – the key is not minding when others do the same thing.

10 comments on “Guilty Pleasures”

  1. Andy says:

    I like David Eddings. His books are what I term “Junk Food Fantasy”. Once you’ve read one set, say The Belgariad, you can usually pick up any book he’s written and in five minutes understand the roles the characters play and what the plot is. But I liked reading them, they were comfortable, undemanding. I do eat junk food on rare occasions, and I do like it (mind you, not even I could stomach The Redemption of Althalus, it was dire). I also liked the “War of Powers” series by Robert E. Vardeman and Victor Milan, trashy but entertaining.

    I, er, also have a fair collection of Jeremy Clarkson books, I’m not proud of it, but I do. They’re in the bathroom, next to the loo.

  2. Steve says:

    Mass market fiction? Not so much. Cheesy horror and scifi movies, Yeah! Love the Hammer films. I don’t remember if “The Raven” was Hammer or not, but Price, Lorre and Karloff together? Wonderful stuff!

  3. Donna says:

    The names you mentioned, Katie price and jeremy, I have never heard of them. Oh well.
    I love Bryant and May and I have a bunch of favorite authors, to numerous to name.
    Keep doing what your doing..your doing it well

  4. Alan Morgan says:

    Katie and Jeremy are a pair of famous (albeit not across nations it seems) detectives who have caught the zeitgeist of modern British culture of late. Katie is a sort of bristling girl detective cum underwear model. Jeremy is a world weary homosexual and failed rally driver (there is always a car chase). They hate each other but this is where the sparks fly and indeed the humour lies as they alternately swan and clump through a sureal world of 60s tropes, early Genesis tracks and plastic surgery. The BBC keeps on producing endless and increasingly unlikely productions of their adventures though on tele the cases revolve around their fashion house – the show is called Top Gear. The pair are famous also because their author (Hampton Wick) is actually the name used by a lot of writers, including in the past Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Kim Newman, Ray Mears and yes someone whose blog you might well know…

  5. Helen Martin says:

    With that list of contributing authors there should be some good writing. Or does writing dreck come under the heading of guilty pleasure?

  6. admin says:

    Alan Morgan is being very, very naughty, Helen. He is as we say ‘winding you up’.

  7. Alan Morgan says:

    Lightly taking the mickey is one of my guilty pleasures.

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    That and working out what to spend the royalties on from the new blockbuster brick ‘Stephen Fry And The Temple Of Prada Equation’. Planes won’t actually be able to take off at Heathrow next summer.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you, Chris. Imagine me sitting here with my innocent eyes wide and my mouth drooping open in awe, just waiting for the next winding up to happen. The perfect target. Rotten job but someone has to do it.

  10. Steve says:

    Why Helen, I think you’re as tightly wound as one can get without damaging the main spring!
    Said with much love, of course.

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