Friday, 22 February 2008


In a condition common to all writers I find myself desperate to get on with my novel just at the moment when I have other work to do. I do not resent the other work (editing another author’s book) as it is interesting (honest, guv). But it always seems to turn up just when I feel most inclined to plough on with my own stuff. And I suspect the second I finish the editing, I will turn to the blank sheet of paper to my right and sit staring at it in the abject misery that is lack of inspiration.

The weather doesn’t help. I just know that the second I finish the editing, the pleasant early spring weather will disappear and the village will be plunged into a scene out of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. I will have to pile on the layers and sit in a sleeping bag, feet wobbling on hot water bottle. Have you tried writing when icy blasts slice up through the carpet and sleet slides down the window through which gelid air leaks?

It could be worse. At least there are floorboards and a sleeping bag and hot water to put in that bottle. At least the sleet does have a window to slide down. And whoopee, the government has taken a sudden interest in the ‘creative industries’ (whatever they are), just like it took a sudden interest in ‘culture’. I suppose it makes for good headlines. But it has all the echoes of ‘Cool Britannia’ (and how uncool that was with all those sad arse ‘pop stars’ swanking around 10 Downing Street), and I bet little or no money finds its way to writers.

The whole thing is a con. It has nothing to do with nurturing creativity (otherwise schools would be properly funded and staffed and those actually being creative whether in the arts or the sciences would find support instead of being labelled scroungers along with the sick and disabled). It has nothing to do with culture (oh yes, that sound is me reaching for that much quoted gun). The government found that money was being made and wanted to get in on the act. But to be honest, politicians are people who couldn’t empty a full bucket of water if you explained to them in words of one syllable that the instructions were printed on the underside in big letters. They are like a pestilence. Everything they touch becomes diseased, covered in slime.

The opera and other centres of excellence (who decides?) will take on their apprentices (who decides?), there will be a photo opportunity, and then the money will slowly dry up. Besides, how many creative talents have been turned out through specific programmes of formal training or education? And please don’t go all gooey eyed and breathless as you mention UEA. It was good for a couple of years and has done nothing but turn out clones whose work is duller than the proverbial and less edifying than a copy of the Beano.

Creative talent needs a society in which their talent is appreciated (even if the work they produce is not always much understood); it needs a society that is far less obsessed with cults of personality, with celebrity, and all the endless tittle-tattle about people who are, basically, a waste of space. You cannot create this society by setting up a few apprenticeships and making crass statements about ‘culture’. The very fact that politicians have to talk about this makes it very clear they have not the first idea what they are talking about.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Laugh or cry?

I was directed to a short story today and read it with growing disbelief. I am not going to name names because the last time I did that I got jumped on by the faithful and called all sorts of nasty names. Suffice it to say this was a piece of genre writing by a BIG name. The story had appeared in one of the leading magazines in the field. It has been nominated (and for all I know it has won) an award.

The disbelief came from the fact it was a truly shite piece of writing. I don’t mean dire in an angsty-teenage-nobody-loves-me-paint-the-walls-of-my-bedroom-black kind of way. Awful as the finished product may be, such writing does have psychological merit for the writer (and their psychiatrist if they need one). This was shite in a way that was stunning. The piece lacked pace, the characters were… well who cares about them? The story was poorly constructed and full of false sentimentality. And the sentences were dull, dull, dull. If this had been handed me by a student I would have handed it back and asked them what they thought they were playing at.

And if it wasn’t bad enough that this was turned out by a BIG name, the other implications are terrifying. To begin with, the editor of a well known magazine thought it was suitable for publication. Perhaps the editor was out to lunch. Perhaps the editor was so pissed when they got back from lunch… Who knows what they were thinking, other than the fact that this was a BIG name and would help with sales figures. It is certainly happening in literary magazines. Where newcomers once stood a chance of having their work considered and showcased, they are being squeezed out whilst editors stick in any old garbage as long the author is well known.

Now, I know I am no literary genius, but I wouldn’t turn in a piece of work like that or expect an agent or editor to do anything with it except chuck it in the bin if I did.

So think about this for a moment. Authors and editors, agents and publishing houses, anyone who allows this sort of rubbish into print is sticking two fingers up at the reading public. Whether it is out of malice or, more likely, out of cowardice, I don’t know, but it is time it stopped. There are thousands of good writers out there, producing high quality work – short stories, poems, novels, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, radio plays, stage plays. And what happens? The shite gets into print because the gatekeepers (the agents and editors) have lost their bottle.

I know these people have to earn a living, I know publishing houses have to make a profit, but why are they trying to do it by flooding the market with sewage? The good books that do get into print (and there are many) are swamped, the good writers who are ‘unknown’ don’t stand a chance, the reading public are being insulted.

There are times when experimental, cutting edge work fails and we have to allow that. Anyone forging a new way of working, a new way of writing is bound, at the beginning to miss the mark. But their work deserves to be in print because such experiments help other writers to gain new perspectives and a new understanding of their own work. The work I saw today failed because it was lazy and contemptuous of its readers. And when that sort of work gets printed and nominated for awards, we know it is time for a revolution.