Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Other Side of the Coin is Indifference.

Just as I embark – well, in 18 months time – on the next stage of my writing career, I am continually reminded that publication (unless you are a c’leb) is no passport to fame. Not that I want “fame” per se. To keep a roof over my head and the wee man stocked up on x-box games would do for me, thankyouverymuch.

One story I heard recently demonstrated the issue of a general public indifference quite wonderfully. It concerns the poet Norman Maccaig, who at the time of this story was deemed to be one of the foremost poets in Europe. Our Norman was accosted by a neighbour as he walked home. The reported conversation, which I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing might have gone thus.

Neighbour says while brandishing his copy of The Times – it says in here that you are a poet.

NM – yes, so it does.

Neighbour – so you’re a poet.

NM – aye. (He might even have nodded)

Neighbour – one of the best in the world.

NM shrugs

Neighbour -  Could I have a look at one of your books?

NM – aye.
And later on that day NM obliges by handing in a copy of one of his collections.

A few weeks later Norman is returning home when he is once again accosted by his neighbour.
Neighbour – here’s thon book back you gave me.

NM – what did you think?

Neighbour opens the book. Locates a poem and says, see that one? That one there. That was the worst.

Another demonstration of the general lack of interest in writers was demonstrated to me on Saturday night. I was on my Xmas night out with some colleagues and during a lull in the conversation I thought I would indulge in a spot of namedropping to a couple of ladies sitting by my side.
Me – I had lunch with Ian Rankin yesterday.

Lady 1 smiles and says – oh right.

Lady 2 smiles, looks blank and says – who?

Me – Ian Rankin.

Lady 2 still looks blank.

Lady 1 looks at lady 2 – you don’t know Ian Rankin?

Lady 2 shakes her head – no

Lady 1 – you must know Ian Rankin

Lady 2 – no, I don’t.

Lady 1 is working up some enthusiasm – surely you know Ian Rankin.

Lady 2 – I’m sorry, I have no idea who he is.

Lady 1 – Ian Rankin? He’s the bank manager down at....she looks at me...does he work down in the Borders somewhere?

Me with a big grin – aye, he works out of Rebus branch.


  1. With you on those goals. Fame is uninteresting to me. Roughly equivalent replacement of my current salary would be super.

    And has for the stories? haha No doubt.

  2. Oh dear, dear, dear dear, dear :o) That Maccaig story is brilliant.

  3. The irony, Nevets is that you need a certain amount of fame to get sufficient readers to replace salary.

  4. Michael, my advise is:

    1. Think of yourself as running your own business...because you are (and you'll be able to claim expenses against your income to prove it). It's down to you to make a success of it, not your publisher. If they work their butt off and help you make a success of it then that's great, but never assume that will happen.
    2. Get out there. Keep getting out there. Don't ever let people forget who you are and that you're available to appear at book festivals.
    3. Hone your presenting skills. People will only come to see you if they're going to get more out of doing so than they could have by staying in, sitting in front of the fire and reading your book. Why do people flock to see Christopher Brookmyre? Because he's funny...oh, and writes books too.
    4. Don't put advise like this on someone else's blog because you could probably include it in a book you could sell to budding and debut authors!

  5. Donna, and I didn't even make it up.

    Keith, when's your "how to..." book coming out? You speak much sense, sir. And if anyone's going to know, you will. Thanks for popping by.

    Nevets, you speak Scots!

  6. @Michael - A work in progress, brother.

  7. Oh, dear is right! I've had many conversations like that here, some of which it wouldn't be wise to repeat...

    Until I put them in a book. Ha. Great advice.

  8. Writing can be a passion, a compulsion, a job, or all three at once I suppose. As I continue to dance between sampling authors I will READ and those I will LISTEN to through Audio books I'm finding my relationship to their words varies considerably. I'm always intrigued by the degree to which my various reader friends and I are shaped and influenced by the books we read. Sculpting with words is powerful stuff!