Coming This Year: The Writers’ Service
I did an interview the other day in which I was asked if I had any phrases or watchwords by which to live, and I suggested two;
Nobody loves a good all-rounder.
No tombstone ever read, ‘This writer always delivered on time.’
By which I mean; it takes whatever it takes, however long it takes.
Most good writers I know can turn their hands to pretty much anything, so much so that many never settle to a single style or subject, and it eventually weighs against them. Here’s the delightful Joanne Harris talking about my writing;
‘Perhaps his deceptive lightness of touch is why the author, in spite of having won countless genre awards, has never received the mainstream literary acclaim he so deserves. Perhaps it is the mercurial quality of his writing that has kept him from settling comfortably into a niche. Perhaps it is the sheer scope and variety of his output that continue to defy categorisation.’
Had I known she was going to write that I might have added another point. ‘Perhaps no-one ever told him to be less scattershot and just concentrate in one area for a nice long time.’ I have always worked without guidebooks, classes, training or refresher courses, at speed. I’m self-sufficient but sometimes it’s good to have a little help, even if it’s just to point out what you’re doing wrong.
Take the case of the scurrilous Simon Raven. Despite just avoiding a court martial for conduct unbecoming, Raven enjoyed his army years and followed their instruction to be ‘brief, neat and plain’ in his writing. He was employed by the publisher Anthony Blond on the condition that he left London at once, as it was getting him into debt. After obeying the restraining order to live at least 50 miles away from London for the next 34 years, he eventually returned and died in an almshouse for the impoverished.
Publishers who once nurtured their writers rarely do so anymore. They loaned their writers money or places to work and stuck with them from early success through their weaker books in the hopes of a late masterpiece, for which they were often rewarded. Those days are long gone. The best way to write is as if you didn’t have a care in the world, then the thought of success doesn’t eat you up. I don’t actually care about existing outside of ‘mainstream literary acclaim’, because it leaves me free to do whatever I want. Although it occasionally galls to see someone who has written one very bad book being treated like an Egyptian deity.
Now I’m at Quercus, which adopts a hands-on approach with editorial style that I find very helpful and appealing, and I’m still with Penguin Random House, who let me write whatever I like in the Bryant & May books, so I consider myself lucky. But all writers need a sympathetic ear occasionally, and I hope to set up a regular writing class later on this year for those who are serious about choosing this as a career and would like advice.
I have a few ideas as to how to go about it, and will make plans in the months ahead, involving other writers to shoulder the task with me. Obviously it will have to be London-centric, but we may be able to come up with a system that can be shown online as well.