Tag Archives: Anonymity

Writing for Posterity

The longevity of our books is something that few of us think about, in the dispiriting scrabble to get published in the here and now. As William Saroyan observed:

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.

Contemplating which successful and influential books published in the last thirty years will become classics, revered through the ages, it’s easy to be swayed by titles that sold in their millions, but surely there should be more to a book’s worth than earning money. J. K. Rowling’s books contain life lessons that will be relevant through time, whereas E. L. James output will swirl down the plughole.

A classic is a book that has never finished what it has to say.

Italo Calvino

A salutary thought is, that many books that are lauded as classics probably wouldn’t get published these days, initially rejected by literary agents, the gatekeepers of publishing, for being too slow to start, too long, too wordy with a confusing plot populated by unbelievable characters.

Image result for literary agent cartoon

What made me think of this post, was researching the life of a forgotten mid-20th-century writer called Robin Hyde. I came across one of her poems in a newsletter, which prompted me to order her only book in Cornwall’s library system. It’s a novel called Check To Your King, which was first published in 1936. It hadn’t been borrowed from the reserve stock at library headquarters since 1996. Robin Hyde had a sad life, but was productive as a writer, until she ended things when the struggle became intolerable.

She wasn’t as successful as she should have been for the huge effort she put into her writing, but even wildly popular authors disappear into the mists of time:

Some writers achieve great popularity and then disappear forever. The bestseller lists of the past fifty years are, with a few lively exceptions, a sombre graveyard of dead books.

Carlos Fuentes

With my own writing, any ambition I have is confined to maybe making a few quid, while entertaining crime fiction fans and making them think a bit about the issues I raise about life in the early 21st-century. The idea of writing for posterity, of being mentioned in the same breath as masters of the crime genre, such as Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard, is laughable to me.

How about you?

Will your gravestone become a place of pilgrimage for legions of loyal fans?

How do you feel about having your biography written by some nosy journalist?

Will your family be squabbling over the rights to your work, after you pass?

I like what one of my writing heroes Richard Brautigan said:

Becoming Invisible

I came across this quote from Philip Pullman, taken from his book of essays on storytelling Daemon Voices:

We who tell stories should be modest about the job, and not assume that just because the reader is interested in the story, they’re interested in who’s telling it. A storyteller should be invisible as far as I am concerned.

Image result for pullman Daemon Voices:

It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s admission, as found in her book on writing Negotiating With The Dead

There’s an epigram tacked to my office bulletin board, pinched from a magazine — “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.”

Image result for atwood negotiating with the dead

It’s inevitable that some of our personal views will permeate the text.

Some authors of fiction deliberately take a stance that reflects their attitude, be it political, feminist, about gender fluidity or man’s desecration of the planet. Consider Charles Dickens’ writing, which contained important messages about poverty, inequality and social deprivation, which was based on personal experience.

The problem with remaining invisible is that in these days of self-promotion, selfies and blogging, we’re expected to share our feelings about what we wrote. Even if we’re only in the spotlight for a moment, that interview or videoed appearance remains on the internet forever…we wind up haunting ourselves!

It’s often stressed that we need to develop our ‘voice’—our own distinctive style of writing, but how to do that while remaining invisible feels like a conundrum.

I typed The End of my fifth novel last December, which produced the usual happy-sad reaction, before embarking on a couple of weeks of editing—which wasn’t too arduous a task, as I edited as I went along. However, after reading Philip Pullman’s advice, I’ll be on the lookout for places where I intrude as an author. Certainly, I share some traits and attitudes with my protagonist detective, but I don’t want it to read like I’m being preachy, using him as a mouthpiece.

Writing in the first person inevitably makes your story sound up close and personal, but it’s quite possible to do the same thing in, say, third-person omniscient if you mistakenly have your character reveal information that they couldn’t possibly know.

How do you handle the problem of straying into your own writing?