They Don’t Get Out Much

Reading & Writing

Some authors treat public events as pyramid-selling sessions

In yesterday’s Comments section, Ian Luck possibly overestimates the ‘incestuous circles’ in which writers move. In my experience very few of us even speak to each other. It’s true that there are a small handful of writers who make up for their woefully inadequate books by glad-handing ‘the right people’ and chasing awards, but all writers have different approaches to how they treat their peers.

The incestuous circle belongs mainly to the literary writers, because they’re often invited to review each others’ work, and either praise or vilify, the latter leading to what the press always call a ‘spat’. Popular writers are much more insular, partly because they’re geographically spread out. Still, their paths cross at launch parties and literary festivals, in Harrogate, Cheltenham and now in London.

This leads to surreal scenes; you usually end up in a local theatre, walking through under-stage corridors lined with photos of those who have performed there (there’s inevitably a photo of One Direction). Before I went on at Somerset’s literary festival I ended up in a green room with Michael Portillo, Polly Toynbee, Harry Hill and Joanne Harris. Finding common conversational subjects was tricky. I suppose we could have made it more awkward by inviting Nigel Farage and Emu.

Suzi Feay (left) has reviewed for everyone from Time Out to the Financial Times, and frequently conducts her own on-stage interviews with writing’s big guns. An accomplished author in her own right, Suzi’s repository of strange stories about authors’ social habits would make a great book.

Some authors (not too many here, but I’ve noticed quite a lot from the US) treat public events as pyramid-selling sessions, sitting behind stacks of their own books and weaving their titles and characters into every Q&A reply. This technique doesn’t really work in the UK – we’re not natural sellers, and tend to be more concerned with creativity than selling units, which we regard to be the job of the publisher. Do US publishers push their authors harder to sell?

Genre writers are super-friendly, probably because they don’t get out much. Some of them are deeply, deeply strange. Their on-the-spectrum sociability takes the form of food, alcohol and then more alcohol, for which the Spanish have a word – sobremesa, meaning the part after lunch when you sociably sit and drink with friends.

In an attempt to remedy this insularity, last year I attempted to set up a rolling writers’ group which could casually meet in pubs to discuss, well, anything. It proved almost impossible to get everyone into one place – and when I did succeed in getting a few writers together they talked about everything except writing.

I should have been prepared for that. Writing is such a personal, unsharable thing – we’re not scriptwriters, all mucking in together. It’s our very insularity that attenuates our style. So we nod to each other across rooms, wracking our brains to put a name to a face and not worrying too much if we can’t. The one time you’ll find us being truly sociable is with readers.

17 comments on “They Don’t Get Out Much”

  1. Bronwen Rowlands says:

    Those pants! Are they sparkly?

  2. Ken Mann says:

    I’m guessing there was more of a writers community when fiction magazines were big.

  3. Peter Dixon says:

    The internet and mobile phonery, tweets and all that stuff prevents sociability.

    Authors are part of a theatre of the arts which includes poets, producers, artists, journo’s, musicians et al.

    I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the infamous Algonquin round table where some of the best wits in the (then) world got together because they enjoyed each others company and played off each others strengths. I can’t see such a group getting together regularly, in a club, in person ever again.

    The Establishment tried and the Groucho Club had a go but somehow the idea of clever and / or witty people getting together socially has been lost.

  4. Ian Luck says:

    Peter – one of the cleverest and wittiest people ever has to be Groucho Marx. And we all know his feelings on belonging to things.

  5. Martin Tolley says:

    Bronwen, I think (hope) he’s just been painting his flat…

  6. Brooke says:

    “Do US publishers push their authors to sell…” Duh! Why do you think I’m always on your case about lack of push for your books? A friend’s book is being published in late 2020; I and everyone he knows has already received a personalized email requesting pre-order.

    Did you finally lay the CHriste zombie to rest? Her enduring legacy? To put people off mystery novels and thus depress sales.

  7. Jo W says:

    Wow,Chris, where did you find those rahnd-the-ahzes? Were they from a catalogue? Did the tallyman call?

  8. Brooke says:

    Aologies for grammar in second sentence.

  9. Peter Tromans says:

    Ian – as one of the least clubbable individuals, I have tended to follow Groucho’s principle. I’m not sure that it’s a profitable one, but it’s better to gain that one than to abandon many others through not following it. Yikes, that’s sounds as if it needs a bigly.

    As for publishers pushing authors, they are in business to make money by selling books (unless the book business is only a front for …) and they are good old American capitalists.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    So the sparkly jeans are still around. Nice photo. People do what feels right; it’s difficult to create a humour forum because the purpose is staring you in the face all the time. We have a BookCrossing group that occasionally discusses books. No, usually discusses books for a short time at some point in the evening, but always discusses everything on our collective and individual minds. It’s what people do.

  11. admin says:

    Rahnd-the-ahzes, Jo? Where were you brung up?

  12. Jo W says:

    Bermondsey! Where else?

  13. Brian says:

    So Helen remembers those jeans as well. I remember seeing the photo and admin’s description of the DSquared glitter jeans shedding a trail wherever he went. A quick check showed that that particular post was made on 2 November 2010.

    While I was at it I tried to find admin’s post with accompanying photo proving male tourists dress as toddlers. Alas, I couldn’t find that one.

  14. Jan says:

    Are they your painting the ceiling trousers or are they really sparkly?
    They do seem to have taken the eye of your blog readers. They really are proper shockers

  15. Ian Luck says:

    I was tempted to comment about those sparkly strides – and was struck by the memory of a photograph from when I was about 12. I’m wearing a pair of cherry red Lionels, with purple inserts near the bottoms. I don’t look at all self-conscious wearing them. So I’ll keep schtum.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    That picture was 9 years ago?! We must have very persistent memories.

  17. Wayne Mook says:

    Don’t worry about meeting other authors, just as long as you keep writing. I’m afraid we reading are rather selfish things. 🙂

    s for selling books at meetings & such I don’t mind as long as my questions get answered.

    On previous posts you mentioned writing about fake news, I can’t help but tie it into false memories and the nature of reality; or it could be the set up for a wrong man tale, only this time a crime that never happened, now how do you prove a crime never happened, unless it’s a smoke screen for another crime.


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