Thursday, 24 July 2008

Shadows and dust

On the face of it, a pretty straightforward question:
Why do you want to be published?

It was posed by a member of, a writers’ forum where I spend a bit of time each day picking up incredibly useful advice and information, and definitely not procrastinating.

There are several surface reasons for wanting to have books published (and, to a lesser extent, movie scripts produced). They include, in no particular order, to satisfy one’s ego, fame, money, the desire to entertain people and personal achievement. That’ll do for starters.

A quick glance at each:

Ego – there is nothing quite like the buzz you get when you see something you’ve written in print, and someone telling you they enjoyed it. Sorry, there are two things similar; one is the moment your shot hits the back of the net in footy, the other, well, that way leads to the patter of tiny feet (now just eight days away and counting, assuming Bump’s flight hasn’t been delayed and landing gear is in order).

Fame – linked to ego. I want people to read my books, I want my name to be known. Comes with the territory if you want to be a writer, although there are different levels – compare the metallic-catsuited Katie Price (granted, that’s stretching the description of a writer somewhat) and Thomas Harris, who rarely gives interviews, either in print or on screen.

Money – the idea of being paid for doing something you love? Absolute no brainer, assuming you can earn enough not to have to worry with the day job. And therein lies the problem. As only five per cent or so of authors earn enough money to live on, if money was my driving goal I’d be better off sending my CV to Sir Alex or plying my trade as a male gigolo. Either way, I wouldn’t be worrying the editor of the Sunday Times’ Rich List.

Entertainer – also linked to ego, this is over and above the simple elation of having your ego massaged. This is the knowledge that you’re making people happy, excited, petrified, sad, angry; in other words, keeping them entertained.

Personal achievement – as a writer, I doubt my ability. All the time. I’d started many projects over the years, not just in writing, but never had the wherewithal or the forward planning skills to complete a book. When The Manx Connection was published at the end of last year, the sense of personal achievement, and satisfaction, probably outranked all other emotions. It wouldn’t have mattered if every single reader had emailed me personally to say my writing sucked eggs big time and requested a refund. Ego would have taken a bruising, but I’d have still had the knowledge that I’d completed something that I thought was beyond me.

So, why do I want to be published? Take your pick.

But, as I said, those explanations are merely surface dressing. The real reason I want to be published lies deeper than that, in more ways than one.

I’m petrified of dying. Woody Allen can joke all he likes about not being scared of dying, just not wanting to be around when it happens. I am scared, and sure as hell don’t want to be around when it happens.

More specifically, it’s the idea that I might cash in my chips without leaving my mark on this world. Yes, you can be a nice chap and have great family and friends who remember you fondly when you’re gone. We all want that.

But this runs to the very core of how I view life. As the late great Oliver Reed said in Gladiator, "We mortals are but shadows and dust. Shadows and dust." We can leave children behind to carry on our bloodline, but in fifty years time (assuming I’m still in the game), will those who don’t know me through friends and family be aware of my existence?

If folk can walk into a library or bookstore several decades from now and pick up a copy of one of my books, and hold something which I’ve crafted, I’ll look down on this world (or up, as the case may be) and know that I made my mark, even if it was barely a scratch on the literary world.

Then I'll be able to say, that’ll do, Quirk. That’ll do.

Entertaining John this week will be:
Airman, Eoin Colfer


RubyTuesday said...

Hiya John, great post. I really enjoyed reading.

For me it has to be the money. Not in the earning a fortune kind of way, but in the being in the position to write all the time. If I was published then I could pick up some other writing related jobs that could keep the wolf from the door and not have to work at something else to pay the bills.

I don't really want to be immortalised, neither do I want to be famous, and I hate the thought of people reading things I've written... that thought makes me squirm.

I do love the thought that I might entertain... but as long as they didn't know it was me who wrote the book! :)

Lovin' the blog!

John Quirk said...

Shucks, Eve, thanks! I'll slip that tenner in an envelope and stick it in post...

I know what you mean, to earn enough from writing to keep a roof above the old head.

As for being immortalised, I hope that one day you'll just have to get over that shyness and reluctance to be known!


Crowe said...

There's another reason why one would want to be published and successful. If you love doing something, and want to do it all day every day, then ideally you want to earn a living from it, freeing yourself from the need to do anything else to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, where fiction writing is concerned this is easier said than done ...