OF WRITERS AND EDITORS

Of course I think the invasion of privacies is an awful thing. It is why splits, in relationships, marriages and so on can become a war zone of loyalties, especially over friends. It was also one of the reasons I had such difficulties with a ‘best friend’ and author when, among an arena of friends, he started breaking my personal confidences. Everything is context, and any author is obliged to have a public profile, but when you hear things about your private life being discussed too, from your own agent, when you had held privacies and tenderness rather deep, you can suddenly find yourself in the most awful place of personal invasion, with no defence whatsoever. It can be rather terrifying, as imagination runs riot, and I was always too prey to judgements and opinions. Some defence of that deepest, most wounded place can become ferocious. Others may gloss any seriousness, in terms of ‘oh we’re all going through it’, when I didn’t know what they were going through, and perhaps that is humanly true, but rarely do people know the hinterland, or can actually stand in other’s imaginative shoes. What may be water off a duck’s back for one person, can become emotional life or death for another, and shame is a real mark of failure.

Very much without any angry search-light of blame, a book, especially fiction and fantasy, is also a place of potentially massive personal invasion. Because a writer is putting themselves into their work, putting themselves on the line emotionally, and hopefully any real judgement or exposure of that only comes on finishing a writing journey, and testing it on ‘the world’. In fact, no author can afford to ask for too much help from any editor, because no editor should be expected to carry the weight of getting any book right. Trust, yes, guidance yes, a good sounding board, but not too much responsibility. It is why a writer cannot really drop the ball, but also why the right flow has to be in place at the very start of a project, in either the hope or knowledge that an author can get through. Sometimes things are actually just situational, without being anybody’s fault, but what is really worth doing at all, without peace, without happiness all round, without the right spirit? There is also considerable difference between an almost completed work and a commissioned work too, but blocked energy, personal or creative, can and does spill out in many ways. Many very wrong ways. Yet equally, people can in fact lose a capacity for relationship, for very particular reasons.

Martin Amis called a novel a physiological act too, not just the assumption you will or even can deliver the goods, ‘we paid the money now where’s the product?‘, and sometimes it can be a rather dangerous exercise. Perhaps there are no exact rules, but surely any author of standing, or especially experience of big books too, is the very person who knows or hopes for the right conditions needed. ‘Gnothi Souton’ was the prescription over the gates of hell though, ‘Know Thyself’, and anyone of real responsibility does hold their life, work and reputation in their own hands. For writers poised between living to the full, and living outside experience, so commenting too, it can be awful if the waters of life flow away and they just don’t know why or how to stop it, but watch in horror. But as grief is a journey inside, forcing a difficult communication with the outside world, and often making people drop every day responsibility, so too is a novel a journey inside, sometimes deep into ‘the past’, or possible futures, a journey through everywhere. I know how a project can consume completely, making my life jumble around me, until it’s done and balance is restored.

If the journey of Phoenix Ark Press, so grandly headlining itself The Storyteller’s Publisher, is a kind of story, or if a blog is a kind of published book, even happening in realtime, hopes, feelings and intentions change, as they change for all of us. There are other writers here, if I ever coax them back, but perhaps a danger is a blog becomes like a novel written into the wrong place again. Fiction must be careful of getting too close to fact, because fiction is a vital translation of ‘reality’. The first advice I always gave to younger writers though was be ambitious, and the greatest drive of inspiring fantasy is surely towards very happy or startling endings. But it does take love to write a book, balance, safety, good energy and the right intentions, so always begin again, and again, with good and inspiring intentions, if you can. I never used to talk about myself much as a younger man, very selfish business anyway, while a great lesson for me is to put my command of language and scope of feeling into good books, while really learning how to be silent, straight and peaceful in reality. But there’s something else Jonathan Franzen said about writing, namely write as if you are just talking to a friend. Perhaps I’ll add a friend you are allowed to be angry with, sometimes, but wish you had never lost. I now understand the seriousness of the frown on the face of a powerful publisher I met in New York once, at a party, yet think nothing is inevitable and perhaps we also create the culture as we experience it, in fear, forgiveness, generosity or in courage.DCD

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