Outsider Status

Reading & Writing

My brother Steven and I are similar in appearance but utterly opposite in personalities. He’s married with two daughters and lives in the Kent countryside with dogs and chickens and fields full of foxes and deer. I suppose he’d describe himself as a liberal conservative. His wife is an addiction therapist. The family loves cars, and none of them are really that keen on London. They work very hard for increasingly little reward in our pension-and-credit-shrinking world, and we all get on very well.

But at some level, Steven considers me abnormal, an outsider whose knowledge of family units and ordinary everyday life is on a par with his knowledge of Neptune’s surface.

I kept my old company entirely populated with outsiders (I hope you’ll get to read about it in the ‘Paperboy’ sequel ‘Film Freak’) but it has survived since I sold it by taking on more strait-laced personnel to suit these straitened times. If you compare my average week to my brother’s, I seem to have retained my outsider status. I’m happiest in the chaos of the city, freefalling into plans.

The mistake people often make is in assuming that outsiders aren’t as rigorous as their counterparts. In fact many of my friends work much longer hours because they are driven by personal passions, and virtually every lasting discovery in the history of the world has been made by those with outsider status. It’s very rare that conformists create change.

I made a list of all my favourite books and fond that the majority of creators fit the outsider category. But right now, outsiders aren’t terribly popular in the arts. Readers want Sophie Hannah and Lee Child, just as TV currently favours the comfort of the past. So I’ve conducted an experiment. Over the past year I’ve been working on several projects that may never see the light of day, but one of them is to write a mainstream thriller. I’ve now nearly finished it.

I’m doing this for two reasons; first, to see if I can write inside the borders of popular taste, and secondly to see if I can sell it. Of course, what I’ve found is that the book has turned out not quite as straightforward as all that. I set out to write a twisty thriller and think I may have ended up writing one of the twistiest thrillers ever devised. Next month it will go to an agent and be judged.

This isn’t a career change but an exercise in discipline. Depending on the outcome, I’ll know if I ever had it in me to be something other than an outsider.

10 comments on “Outsider Status”

  1. FabienneT says:

    Wonderful blog entry.

    To be an outsider, you need guts, and yes,”The mistake people often make is in assuming that outsiders aren’t as rigorous as their counterparts. In fact many of my friends work much longer hours because they are driven by personal passions, and virtually every lasting discovery in the history of the world has been made by those with outsider status. It’s very rare that conformists create change.”

    I agree 100%.

    HURRAY!

    One of my favourite quote is the one below and it summarises my whole life philosophy:
    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

  2. K. A. Laity says:

    I’ve been trying to learn to color within the lines the last couple of years as well. I suspect some of us are just constitutionally incapable of doing so, but I keep trying. Or find ways to locate enough of my tribe to make the work sustainable. Or just go on as I have been, I suppose.

  3. Stephen Groves says:

    A THRILLER!

    Thats a whole new section for the Library,at this rate Mrs STALKY will have to move into the loft.I wouldn’t normally mind but I’ve already allowed for the possibility of you bringing out a series of scratch and sniff Publications in the future.

    all best
    STALKY

  4. Helen Martin says:

    How could a conformist bring out something new? The mindset doesn’t permit it. Conformists aren’t always easy to live with, either, because, depending on the degree of conformity the have, they can never do anything even slightly daring. Was Alexander Graham Bell an outsider? He seemed to be a part of so much mainstream activity.

  5. Gretta says:

    The thing is, admin, that you might make a rod for your own back. What happens if the mainstream thriller becomes a runaway success, and the publishers insist that you keep writing that style at the cost of your B&M’s/horrors/autobiographies? Sod’s Law dictates that there’s every possibility.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    I’ve heard an interesting variation on the old saw: “Two’s company, Three’s a crowd.” It goes: “Two’s company, three adds perspective.” The third individual, I believe, can be a potential writer, artist, actor, scientist… a person who is distanced, or is able to distance him/herself, and through observation,reflection, and “play” can create. Such individuals seem frequently to be children of whom mothers say: “Plays well on his/her own” or “is so focused.” Many of these people appear to have had a serious illness/loss at a young age and have been forced into a period of reflection. With these things in mind, I believe it is next to impossible for an Outsider, or a distanced individual, to create happily to order, as the “play” aspect must soon become “work.” Not that being creative isn’t work, and work with a tough task master, but still it must feel like play, because the creator is discovering the story – under control – as it goes along. Happiness. The formula story has to be most unbearable, like jumping 30-40 hurdles on the same track, wearing the same outfit and shoes, and racing the same distance. Lee Child et al must really find writing tedious after a few novels. So, I wish you luck Admin, but being a most creative writer, I expect you may have gone a touch over on the twistiness; you were probably a bit bored with the “highway with mapped out cloverleafs” aspect of the standard thriller. I intend to order a copy the instant it has been picked up.

  7. Vickie says:

    If this is a “Richard Bachman”-type experiment, it may be a while before we find your Twisted Thriller. Needle in a…

    Then again, perhaps you will publish the experimental tome as yourself, in which case the usual Clump of Loyalists will grab it upon release. And then you can sit back and see if anything else occurs after OUR dust has settled.

  8. MsLeaves says:

    I’m an outsider and always have been, despite people often mistaking me for otherwise–at first. And whenever someone tells me that I “think outside the box” I always wonder “There’s a box? What damned box?!”
    I think it’s best to face the future with a sparking mind and a silly grin.

    As for thrillers–Yeah, very formulaic. Could use some shaking up and I’m happy as hell to hear you’re doing it.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    My comment at one point to a friend was that I “would like to see this box we’re supposed to think outside of.” No one has shone me yet. A friend wrote a song called Colouring Outside the Lines which encouraged that activity.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Excuse me “shown” not “shone”.

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