Tuesday, 1 April 2008

My Friend The Blogger

Tonight I've had cause to reflect that some of us are simply too nice. A horrid little word this 'nice'. I hate being nice. Let me be arrogant, deceitful, ambitious and only in business for the quick profit. I despise my own affability, my easy going nature, my reluctance to do harm. Let me make money and damn the consequences. I normally try to see only the best in others. From now on, I want to see lies. I believe everything that people tell me. Let me begin to doubt them. I also believe in the old myths about hard work being rewarded in the long run. I see that it's all folly.

It's not easy to write this evening. The tenses all feel wrong. The first person is far too remote.

You see, this all begins with my friend, another generally affable sort who also writes a blog, putting the finishing touches to a novel. A publisher asks to see his manuscript. Compliments are exchanged. An offer to publish the book is made. A contract arrives. It's far from a generous contract. People who know about these things advise him to send his manuscript elsewhere. I advise him to look for a better publisher. I tell him that the contract is not right right for him. But the writer is an affable sort. He wouldn't do that to the only people who have shown any faith in him. He's loyal, you see. He lives by certain old fashioned principals. I keep telling him are going to ruin him. Yet he's never been adept at putting a price on his own skills. He accepts whatever terms other people offer him. He often works for nothing. So he signs this contract despite the fact that he won't see any money for at least a year. Even then it might not be very much.

All this happens some months ago.

My affable friend finishes writing the book and spends weeks working on the final proofs which he duly sends to the publisher. All this time, he's struggling on very little money, falling deeper into debt. Then it all goes quiet. He hears the occasional bit of news about the book. He learns that an illustrator has been paid to produce a picture for the front cover. The artist earns money from the book. My friend, the writer, doesn't. But he's affable so he doesn't complain.

It all goes quiet again but this affable guy notices that his book is listed on Amazon and that makes him very happy. He rings me. 'It's going to happen,' he tells me. 'Soon.'

Today, my affable friend had a long and not particularly enjoyable day at work. He explained to me that the job is tough because it's mundane. It's slowly destroying the guy's spirit. I share his pain. I know what it's like. As you know, I am in a similar position. Yet he also tells me that he wants so desperately to escape the trap of debt. He's only working to keep up the repayments on the debts he's amassed after a long time studying and writing, neither of which have made him rich. Quite the reverse. He should just take a job, five days a week, and earn £20,000 a year. He's a bright guy. He has good qualifications. Probably better than 99% of the people in the country. But he just wants to write. He wants to make people smile because he truly believes that it is a moral way of living.

But it's still a struggle. He's only getting through the days because he knows that he's got a book coming out. He's not in the 8 to 5 rut because he thinks that he is really a writer. He believes in his own talent. He refuses to become the suit they force him to wear.

Only, tonight, he arrived home to be informed that his book is now not being published. 'It's complicated,' he tells me.

I reply that I should hope that it bloody-well is complicated.

But now he's angry. He's also in tears. Yet he's still affable. He says that he can't hold any of this against the publisher. He argues they were in a difficult position. I agree. I tell him that their business didn't have a sensible business model. I say that I didn't believe in the books they published. He admits that he too had doubts: that if they could publish 'those' books, was his own any better? That's as much conversation as he can take. I come off the phone having shared his agony and having felt his pain. I too shed a few tears before I sit down to write.

Now I am left wondering what he really feels. Disappointment. Anger. Frustration. Despair. Perhaps even relief? I suspect that he is beginning to think what he's always feared: that his book wasn't that good, that he's not that talented a writer, and that he's fooled himself for so many years. I should imagine that he feels embarrassed given that he has told people that he was having a book published.

If I were him, I'd try to stay calm and to use his anger to spur him on. He should write to the publisher and explain how he feels like he's been used. He should tell them that they took his dreams and did the worst thing possible: they made them 'almost' come true.

Tonight I've only managed to write because my friend has fallen silent. How I wish it were so very different.

10 comments:

elberry said...

Your friend should take heart that he has as amusing and devilish a friend as Richard Madeley to take his side.

i wouldn't waste words writing to the publishers. They're most likely vacuous Bridget Jones blondes who wouldn't get it anyway.

i'd take what wants to be said and refine it, make it hard and chiselled and ruthless, hold it in your mind as you would hold a sip of very good whiskey in the mouth...and then write with the old verve and a new ruthlessness.

The Twitch said...

...and there was I thinking your malady might have been the effect of a dodgy donner. Take Elberry's good advice Dick....chisseled and ruthless is the way to go...not forgetting the old verve and whiskey along the way..

The Twitch said...

....and a good book..... and a cup of tea.....

Richard Madeley said...

Elberry, I'm sure my friend is heartened. Unfortunately, he's not answering the phone or the door bell and I've been forced to ask Bill Oddie to come around and help me climb up to a back window to see if everything is okay with him.

Twitch, it's always good to know you're around. I'm going to go the chiseled and ruthless route and so is my friend. Judy is happy to go chiseled but not so happy with the ruthless. Oddie is happy with neither but he does have owls to keep him happy.

okbye said...

I would be writing that chipper letter to a lawyer. At the very least they need to release his book so he can find another publisher.

Bryan Appleyard said...

Your friend is a victim of a publshing industry which is run by Waterstone's and is, therefore, a craven and terrified producer of all that is safe and dull and seldom funny. Tell him to stick with it. It is a moral way to live.

mutleythedog said...

I do understand this all - I would like to make a living writing as well. But I have never been brought to the brink like you describe only knocked back at the first hurdle.... which is depressing enough, but I cannot imagine how much this one must have hurt. Have you thought of lulu.com?

Selena Dreamy said...

I say that I didn't believe in the books they published. He admits that he too had doubts: that if they could publish 'those' books, was his own any better?

A longing to be supreme cannot be a failing.

Writers are the conscience of humanity. That has often been said. They produce an image of life that is mesmerizing, often beautiful, sometimes surprising, and occasionally profound or even enigmatic. Everything in their art is a matter of inspiration. Be it substance or appearances, intellectual posturing, semantic tinsel, vanity or romantic intrigue, and everything, finally, is arbitrated by artistic ingenuity.

Writers are the seed of future man!

So much for the idealism! But the sordid truth of the matter is quite different, when the ethical life of an entire community has at length been resolved into a parody of itself by the increasing monopoly of commercial mediocrities in positions of absolute power...

Hence, writers must be survivors!

Dreamy

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