Tuesday 28 June 2011

Professor Sutherland Among the Ghosts

Coming across a witty article in The Spectator by Professor John Sutherland entitled "Among the Ghosts", reminded me of the last time I heard him speak on the subject on Radio Four's Today programme, when John Humphreys and his production team were obviously hoping the Professor and I would fall out on the subject of whether ghost-writing is a "capital crime" - even the Professor had to admit that it was not that, although I think he said he found it a bit "iffy".

He seems to have been giving the subject a bit more of a ponder since then. He's obviously still not our greatest fan, but he now seems to be giving us little more than an old fashioned and kindly meant professorial cuff around the ear. He seems more saddened by the low motives of those who hire us than he is with us the ghosts.

When we were set to spar with one another by Mr. Humphreys, a reluctant pair of pit-bulls, the Professor did say in a rather despairing tone that in ghosting the motive was "always commercial".

I can't argue that that is not true, I'm just wondering if it is such a terrible thing. Most writers earn virtually no money at all from their books and have to rely on other ways to pay their mortgages, feed their children and put something aside for their old age. So they turn to journalism or they teach or they have some other expertise which they write about, (John Mortimer and the law, for instance, or the many "gurus" and "experts" on everything from medicine to gardening who fill our media).

If you want to be a professional writer of books, but do not want to rely on a university, the BBC or Rupert Murdoch for a pension, then you have to look for ways to be paid for your daily labours. We are scribes in the marketplace, selling our wares to anyone who cares to hire us in just the same way as artists might sell their skills for painting portraits. Undoubtedly the motive we have in selling our skills is commercial. The alternative, I think, would have been to have seen my children starve.

Monday 27 June 2011

Writing Workshop in Zurich

I have been invited by an interesting organisation called nuancewords.com to do a workshop on writing non-fiction. The event is being held in Zurich on the weekend of October 1 -2 and there will be a fiction workshop going on simultaneously with Amanda Hodgkinson, author of "22 Britannia Road".

I know from my in-box just how many people there are out there who have a strong idea for a book and just need a bit of guidance on how to turn it into a reality. So, if you fancy a weekend in Switzerland why not bring your idea along and we'll see what we can do to help?

Thursday 16 June 2011

Unwarranted attack on the Society of Authors

I have been startled to see an unwarranted attack on the Society of Authors on the Bookseller website by Gregor Dallas, an historian who is standing for election to the Society's Management Committee.

I have also had my name put forward for the Committee, but I would have felt defensive of the Society even if that were not the case, since I have always found them to be unwaveringly supportive of their members.

Mr. Dallas's complaint is that the Society does not stand up to the big publishers and try to influence the books that they choose to publish. The thought of an organisation with such a vested interest actually having the power to influence the books that people get to read is positively Orwellian.

Authors as a breed do tend to live a little outside the bustle of mainstream life and we are not always the best judges of what sort of stories the vast majority of people want to read, hear or watch. It is always good to listen to the paying customers. When Shakespeare sensed that the groundlings were growing restless he was always very quick to adapt whatever work he was presenting to them. The big publishers spend their lives trying to divine the tastes of today's groundlings.

There are an infinite number of ways of bringing books before interested and relevant readers that do not involve the "Big Six" publishers or supermarkets or even W.H. Smith.

Long may the Society of Authors continue its good work in helping its members to survive in the jungle of modern publishing.