Topic: The Long Walk Home: A Literary Memoir by Jane Williamson

Topic type:

A Jane Williamson entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Do authors dream of electric books? Yes, they most certainly do. At least in this day and age, where the e-book has the potential to revolutionise the literary industry.

For me the e-book signifies power to the people. A small-timer like me can write their e-book and make it available for all the world to download – either by using a publisher or by doing it themselves. The problem then becomes, not how do I get an agent or publisher, but how do I attract readers? How do I compete with the other five million books on Amazon and Kobo?

I don’t claim to have the answer to this question. Social media can help with promotion. Online reviews as well as reviews in traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television all contribute as do word of mouth and literary prizes. When I view the statistics for my website, I see that the vast majority of the people who have come to the site have found me via Facebook. I’m not into Twitter and I don’t use Facebook to convey details of my every action, as glamorous and exciting as that would be (Woke up, ate breakfast, sat at laptop. Walked to beach. Walked home from beach. Ate lunch. Sat at laptop. Ate dinner. Slept. Repeat ad infinitum.)

I do, however, use Facebook to create online book launches, complete with virtual canapés and champers. For me, Facebook and e-books are a way to cut through some of the snobbery that has traditionally been prevalent in the industry. It also speeds things up a lot. No longer, do I have to submit a manuscript and wait and wait and wait for an acceptance. Via Facebook I have managed to befriend over two thousand people, most of them writers.

Chances are there’s an inverse relationship between Facebook friends and real ones. But, even better, at least four of those writers have been invaluably helpful to me, and I, in turn, have tried to be helpful to them. Ola Rhodes and I swap stories via Facebook and provide comments and advice on each other’s work. Murray Alfredson, in Australia, is currently reading my novel, An Imitation of Life, about an insect-eating giantess and providing valuable editorial tips in time for the release of the second edition. Jan Needle, in the UK, has a new imprint Skinback Books, to which I intend to submit a novella I am currently working on.

These new relationships would never have occurred if it were not for the advent of Facebook. And, via good old Facebook, I have re-met Catherine Chidgey, whom I originally met at a writer’s conference in 1998 and she has agreed to work with me on the second edition of my novel, Hilary and David. Some authors love the limelight, but for a Janet Frame-style troglodyte like me who loathes being lured out of her bat-cave, the e-book/Facebook combo suits me down to the ground.

It’s shark on shark action as writers compete for readers. I’m not sure what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey tells us about today’s society. That there are a lot of sexually unsatisfied women who are turning to mummy porn to fulfill their needs? Maybe today’s women are so busy juggling career, family and all the other demands made of them that all they want at the end of a hard day is to come home from work, sink into a hot lavender-scented bath and lose themselves in a good porno. Maybe it’s women’s revenge. Porn has traditionally been made for and consumed by men. Maybe the tide, the tables, are turning. Women, too, are claiming their right to be titillated.

Myself, I would squirm if I had to write soft porn. I’m a nice middle class girl, with two and a half degrees who writes what I suppose you would call ‘literary fiction’, although I am against such classifications myself.

For me the rise of the e-book is extremely liberating. If I fall out with a publisher, it’s not so disastrous. I can always upload the book to Amazon and Kobo myself, or partner with somebody running an e-book imprint. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t make any money doing all of this. My last royalty cheque came in at the grand sum of twenty quid. I put it towards my new Ferrari. The one I’ll buy when my next royalty cheque (for forty quid) comes through the post.

So, why do I continue?

I don’t have the answer to that question either. I’ve been writing fiction since my teens. Like most writers, I’ve also worked either full or part-time for a lot of my life to support myself. I’m so full of ideas you could wire me up like one of P.K. Dick’s precogs and make movies out of my thought-dreams. In fact, I’m sure somebody would have done so by now, if they thought they could make money out of it. And if they thought they could get away with it, without having Amnesty International beating down the door.

In fact, I make so little money, that I might as well give the damned books away for free.

Then we have the rise of the blog. I will try and impart some useful advice to all you wannabe writers out there. Don’t bother. Do you really want to be a thirty-eight year old loser like me, stuck at home all day, churning out crap that nobody wants to read, let alone pay for?

Exactly.

Enjoy your life, keep your day job, find a girl (or boy), settle down, have kids, raise a family, mow the lawn, go see a film, go jogging, do anything except write fiction. Because it seems to me that in this day and age, unless you can break into the Mummy porn market, you’re doomed. 

The writer treads a treacherous road.  The publishing industry is a fickle and capricious beast.  Who knows when and why doors will mysteriously open or mysteriously close? The writer does his or her best - writes part-time and works full or part-time.  Exhausts themselves for years, getting nowhere, and then suddenly, inexplicably, gets somewhere.  Katoshi, or death from overwork, could be a potential risk.  Many writers suffer breakdowns and spend time in mental institutions or hospitals for one reason or another. 

As Maggie Gee would say, it’s feast or famine. 

The dream can become a nightmare – the nightmare, a dream.  There are dark sides to the industry, which is, as A.L. Kennedy would say, full of opportunities for the unscrupulous to exploit you.  Not many writers that I know would fancy ending up as tabloid fodder, a literary Middleton.  Sudden success can bring unexpected side effects.  Many a young artist has found too much fame too quickly and wound up a drug and booze addled wreck. 

Yes, there are pitfalls galore.  The publishing industry is probably after young, beautiful men and women whom it can exploit, but what does the writer want?  Writers are shot at, spat at, verbally abused, threatened with rape and death – especially, funnily enough, the female ones.

In reality, as you get older, you realize that, as with any industry, an apprenticeship is served, a ladder is climbed and it is the people above you in the hierarchy, who make decisions about when to let you in or shut you out.  To be fair to antipodeans, it is more difficult for them to understand the social rules of the British upper classes and to fit in within that society than somebody who was born into that class, just as it would be difficult for a British upper class person to fit in if placed in a Kiwi freezing works – unless they could successfully master the Kiwi twang and be willing to don the appropriate overalls.

A young writer plays on the jungle gym, minds their Ps and Qs and hopes that they might one day be allowed into the big kid’s playground.  Unless, being a guppy, they are happy in the fish bowl and don’t want to go into the shark pit for fear of being eaten alive. 

Personality must also be taken into consideration.  Person X might love the limelight and relish media attention.  Person Y might hate the spotlight and choose to live a quiet small town life, tinkering on their books and making few, if any, public appearances.  Who wants what and from whom?  Who is a giver, who a taker?  At any given moment in time, friends could become enemies, or enemies, friends.  Innocence lost turns to bitter cynicism. 

A young writer might have a lot of talent, but be lacking in the diplomacy and social skills that come with a bit more life experience.  Person A might have had their innocence exploited by Publisher A and therefore be reluctant to deal with Publisher B.  There are the J.D. Salingers, who have one hit and then become recluses; there are the Atwoods, who don’t seem to mind the limelight, and the in-betweens, who do some, but not a lot of publicity. 

It’s a difficult but exciting road – full of risks and rewards, highs and lows.  A journey that some of us feel compelled to undertake.

Jane Williamson has lived in New Zealand and London.  She currently lives in the top half of the South Island where she enjoys gardening, walking and cooking.  Her favourite authors are Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson and Angela Carter.

Jane Williamson is a pseudonym for Laura Solomon, who has a 2.1 in English Literature (Victoria University, 1997) and a Masters degree in Computer Science (University of London, 2003). Her books include Black Light, Nothing Lasting, Alternative Medicine, An Imitation of Life, Instant Messages, The Theory of Networks, Operating Systems, Hilary and David, In Vitro and The Shingle Bar and Taniwha and Other Stories.

She has won prizes in Bridport, Edwin Morgan, Ware Poets, Willesden Herald, Mere Literary Festival, and Essex Poetry Festival competitions. She was short-listed for the 2009 Virginia Prize and won the 2009 Proverse Prize. She has had work accepted in the Edinburgh Review and Wasafiri (UK), Takahe, Bravado and  Landfall (NZ). She has judged the Sentinel Quarterly Short Story Competition.

 ----

This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/4YD3-JZEP

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion