What Identity Crisis?

Cliché alert – ‘No two writers are the same’. OK, but there’s more because ‘No ONE writer is the same’ either. Here’s what I mean.

We all know the publishing business has changed significantly and increasingly quickly over the past ten years or so. When I started writing novels as opposed to plays, you polished your MS, printed out a copy (not cheap if it ran to 400-600 pages) and sent it out to agents and/or publishers. Postage wasn’t cheap either (you also had to cover the costs for its return if they didn’t like it). Then, through the (sometimes) months you waited for them to reply, you got on with the next novel. Meantime, you also had your day job and you were a husband, wife, lover, significant other, hermit, father, mother, son, daughter, outcast, or whatever other roles you chose or your social situation imposed on you. See what I mean? There were (and are) several people inhabiting your body. But, back then, the writer bit was just that – you wrote, sent your stuff away, waited patiently but eagerly for a reply, got rejected and did it all again or got accepted and wrote another one.

 

Today, though, even that writing bit has fragmented. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a serious mental condition and not a term to be used lightly but being a writer today doesn’t just involve the one role. There’s still the writing (the best bit), but there’s also:

  • the PR person, desperately trying to create and project a cuddly profile;
  • the fish out of water, trying to learn and apply marketing techniques;
  • the social networker, scrolling through tweets and Facebook comments with all the other writers;
  • the blogger, trying to sell books;
  • the harlot, willing to do just about anything to claw his/her way up the sales lists;
  • the reviewer;
  • and the unrecognised genius, whose novel will change the course of humanity but lies misunderstood in the depths of a computer.

I exaggerate, of course, but only on the basis of fairly common experiences shared by most of us.

 

But why am I saying stuff you all know anyway? Because what I’m really doing (with very little subtlety) is crawling towards a point and, en route, grabbing the chance to boast about yet another of my ‘selves’.

Several times, over the past few years, I’ve become an ‘award-winning author’ and, this month, I’ve been given another one – this time for The Figurehead. OK, trumpet blown, so what?

The first time, the news turned me into a six year old on Christmas Eve. And yet, simultaneously, I  rejected (and still do reject) the idea of ‘competitive literature’. Even though I know there are terrible novels out there as well as terrific ones, I applaud anyone who’s had the stamina and the commitment to actually write one and see it through to the end. But if I deny the competitive element, where do sales figures fit in? In the end, being able to add that little ‘award-winning’ tag to me and some of my books theoretically gives me a wee marketing edge. Reality-check, though: I’ve worn the tag long enough to realise that it is emphatically ‘theoretical’. It doesn’t sell any more books and seems merely to provide new opportunities for friends and family to find satirical ways of saying the words  ‘award-winning’:But it also opens up another tricky area when it comes to the various ‘selves’ I was speaking of (and at last we’re nearing the point. My awards were for very different books – a spoof spy/crime thing,  a stark revenge/vigilante story with a pretty chilling resolution, two historical romance/crime novels. So what does that make me? A funny man? A Romantic? A scary man? And what about the other stuff, the police procedurals, the non-fiction, the kids’ stories?

Years ago, my then agent, the late Maggie Noach, introduced me to someone as ‘a nice man with nasty thoughts’. Multiplying your ‘selves’ can be counter-productive because readers, naturally enough, like to know what to expect when they buy a book. If they’ve enjoyed your gore-saturated slasher mystery, they’ll probably feel cheated if your follow-up is a light-hearted romantic romp through the tulips. In a way, they impose an identity on you – and they have every right to do so. Ah, but what happens if it’s not you but the characters in the follow-up who decide that they’ve gone off the idea of sinking their fangs into lily-white necks and instead want to fall in love and settle down in a semi-detached in Cheltenham? Not much I can do about it. How confusing this writing stuff is.

(The above was written by award-winning author Bill Kirton.)

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