ACW

ACW

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Authors Searching For Love: Like a Fairytale Castle in the Mist?

I've attended many author events in bookshops and at Literary Festivals. Once I attended a talk by Joanna Trollope at Waterstone's. Joanna spoke to a bookstore packed with her fans. As I watched Joanna and listened to her I became aware of a rapt, almost religious fervour among her audience, mostly women. Everyone in this room loved Joanna Trollope and her contemporary novels; they were hanging on her every word, and the intensity of the atmosphere was almost tangible.

This kind of love is probably what many aspiring authors seek. But in recognising this, are we  pursuing a castle in a mist? The castle above is Neuschwanstein, the most famous of King Ludwig's three castles, and the one most often identified with  fairytale vision. King Ludwig himself wanted to live in a fantasy medieval world, and he had the money to bring this about... until the Bavarian government went into panic mode after he sunk deeply into debt.

We have a dream. We want to be popular and successful authors. But is there a difference between "popular" and "successful"? I'd love to know what ideas you have on this. When I was a child I admired Enid Blyton's stories and aspired to her level of popularity as a writer. What I really dreamed of was the state of being a "much-loved author".

People talk about "loving" their favourite author as if they had a personal relationship with them. This of course applies in other creative fields too. There are those who love Mozart, adore Beethoven, or are deeply devoted to Bach. This love is totally regardless of what they were actually like as people. And the same applies to authors.

But is this a desirable thing to aspire to? Are we living in a fantasy world when we dream of this? Should we not rather focus only on saying what we have to say, to the highest standard possible, and leave the reaction of others to the realms of the unknown? If success and popularity come - all well and good. But until or if that ever happens, it is no concern of ours.

I'd welcome your comments on this.


10 comments:

  1. I think when I say 'I love Maggie O'Farrell' - to pick one author - I mean I love her writing. Having said that, if I were at a writing festival and she were speaking, I would definitely go along out of curiosity. Who's the person behind the writing? How did she get started? How does she keep her motivation? There's a certain fascination for those who've achieved something we want for ourselves, I guess.

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    1. Yes that is right. If I were to get the chance to hear Phil Rickman speaking, or Susan Howatch, I'd be there in a flash. Loving those authors means loving what they write about, feeling that I share with them some kind of "take" on the world. I would feel very disappointed if either of them turned out to be unpleasant people, rude or selfish or callous or insensitive or arrogant. There does seem to be an unconscious drive to love the people who create the things we love. In "A Fault in Our Stars", John Green exlores the idea of a young girl who idolises an author, then meets him in real life, and he's horrible. I must admit I did find that very funny, especially in the film, when the reclusive author Peter Van Houten was played by Willem Dafoe.

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    2. I alternately loved and cringed at that portrayal of Peter Van Houten, in both book and film. It is an excellent warning to us all!

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    3. I think it’s very natural to want to love an author whose work has meant a great deal to us. My two top guys are Tolkien and CS Lewis. I’ve read a fair amount of biographical material on both men and I still love ‘em!

      Apparently The Lord of the Rings is a favourite with Neo-Nazi communities because they (mistakenly) believe it promotes the glorification of ‘white’ European culture. This is nonsense: a) you can’t read LotR that way and b) Tolkien was vehemently against the Nazis and wrote a splendid letter once to his publisher condemning anti-Semitism. But it’s depressing to think of racists appropriating my favourite book– ugh.

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  2. I think we can aspire that our readers might be touched or moved by what we've written, by our characters and their situations or dilemmas. I guess this can create the illusion of an emotional bond between reader and author, in that our feelings have responded to something out of their imaginations. We feel we "know" an author because we assume they've bared their heart and soul in their writing. A great question, Sheila!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Philip. Yes I think we do assume authors have bared their hearts and souls in their writing, yet this does not necessarily translate into their own moral character as people. I can think of the example of Charles Dickens. The moral, spiritual and psychological messages in his novels were so powerful, especially in "A Christmas Carol." Yet he himself did not treat those closest to him in a way which was compassionate and caring. Also Tolstoy treated his wife quite badly later in his life. Yet his novels have such an intense level of moral integrity. A third example is Enid Blyton herself - she didn't treat her children particularly well. I confess to feeling a strong sense of disappointment when I learned all these things about those authors. And also Philip Pullman. I loved "His Dark Material" trilogy but I dislike his views on religion and feel he's missed the point; also I feel mystified that he holds such views when he has written such a tour-de-force of the imagination, blending into his fiction elements form our greatest creative geniuses (e.e.g William Blake).

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    2. I had the chance to chat with Philip Pullman in Oxford a few years ago, and found him very personable. I think the venom against religion in his writing might partly be explained by his being the son of an Anglican clergyman.

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  3. What good thoughts. It too was a childhood fantasy of mine to be a Very Famous and Much Loved Author.

    Fame and fortune are very rare for authors and can also bring unwelcome attention. I have in mind some of J.K. Rowling’s more obsessive fans, who have turned very nasty about a) her political views, which she mentions frequently on her Twitter feed; and b) their opinion of how she tackles things in her stories. Readers are perfectly entitled to disagree with an author, of course, including an author they admire and love. But sometimes passionate fans cross a line. Rowling's very fame and fortune can make her vulnerable to abuse. Especially these days, when people live out their lives on the Internet ...

    I echo what Philip said about the illusion of an emotional bond between author and reader. It helps I think to be a little bit detached from the artist. Take Wagner: awful man with horrible views but his music is incredible (well, I think it is).



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    1. Yes I do agree excessive fame and popularity can have a very dark side. Personally I think JK Rowling would have been wise not to enter the arena of strident views on politics and current affairs, with some of her waspish comments on Twitter. And yet, it's something she cares about, and feels strongly that she wants to use her fame to be heard. I can understand that too, because often those of us in obscurity can long that our voices might be heard, and that others might care about our opinions. Re. Wagner, yes, I agree; his music is sublime, and I find it difficult to reconcile that with elements of his character.

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    2. Apart from her silly spats with Piers Morgan (!), and having to walk back a comment on Trump, I'm pretty OK with Rowling (or any other author) expressing political views online. Authors have lives outside their writing life and if they have a thick skin - which you surely need if you're going to be controversial on Twitter - then all power to them. I have to say that personally though it would be WAY beyond my comfort zone!

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