I've been doing a lot of thinking lately as one does when nothing much is happening in one's life. When it comes to my writing, what keeps running through the grey matter is the consensus of opinion from editors, agents and publishers over the year. What they boil down to in simplistic terms is that my writing is too literary for commercial fiction and too commercial for literary fiction.
In a nutshell. I'm stuck in the middle. And middle gets a bad press Middle class. Middle of the road. Middle England. Middle-aged Not exactly positive.
Oh and one agent told me I was a typical mid-lister. And we all know to our cost what happens to them now. Yes, quite.
I do understand what everyone means. I really do. Editors of both books and magazines have to be able to sell one's work. Most magazines and publishers' imprints are either commercial or literary Commercial books make the most money because shedloads of people buy them, read them and talk about them. I don't buy celebrity memoirs but millions of people do. It's all about ease of delivery and numbers. So no wonder Christmas is awash with them. What can I give my 13-year-old niece for Christmas? Oh I know. She adores Justin Bieber. Sorted. Mum never misses The Vicar of Dibley. She'll love a book - any book - by Dawn French.
I'm not knocking purely commercial fiction or the deeply literary. I read both and so wish I could do one or the other properly. What I'd give to be a best-selling author. Then again, what must it feel like to be wonderful Hilary Mantel and be awarded her second Booker Prize, not to mention those other prestigious awards? I would like to be talked about - not about my looks (in your dreams, love) - but my books. But if push came to shove I'd rather be literary than commercial. I'm not exactly on the breadline so while any money is always welcome and I sincerely believe all writers should be paid accordingly. Then again, I'd rather be presented with a good literary award than money. Mind you, both would be good.
I' have tried to write both kinds of fiction. I really have. I prefer accessible literary fiction - to read as well as write. I would like to call it intelligent fiction for women but that sounds pompous and patronising. I've never come anywhere when I've entered the most literary short fiction awards such literary short fiction prizes such as Bridport or Fish and Mslexia. I can't write convincingly about poverty, mental illness or drug-addiction or being an immigrant. I can imagine but these days that isn't goos enough because I am middle-class and therefore must buy The Daily Mail. (I don't by the way.) I'm not 'streetwise'. I can't write about any violence and child abuse makes me feel sick inside and so helpless. As I said in my last post about 'ordinary people,' that's what I and my family are. Ordinary. None of us have ever sat around at the dinner table discussing art or high literature but then we never went hungry and our food was good, if plain. None of ever felt the need to swear which no doubt is seen as prissy and judgemental. It wasn't and isn't. We just can't do it.
So I write about the kind of people I know inside out: family tensions, unspoken heartbreak, unspectacular disappointment and joy - all seasoned with a touch of gentle humour. (I have always hated slapstick even at the Pantomime.) I am interested in autism and other people who don't fit in the mainstream of society. IU can be on both sides of a crime. I share the victim;s anguish but also can see that the perpetrator may also be a victim. And that is unpopular with many. Anyway, although I come from ordinary stock, my family contains more than its fair share of autistic spectrum disorders, depression and even suicide, although this was always hushed up. We are generally quiet and introverted and are happy in our own company. We are close but we never gush or air-kiss.
In many ways, we are a bit like Tim Lott's family in his brilliant memoir: The Scent of Dried Roses. The publisher's description calls it "a resounding lament for small England." And although I will never write as well as the author, that's where I feel my writing is placed.
If I lean too far towards the most literary of fiction I start to feel self-conscious and pretentious and laugh at myself before someone else does. If I aim for the pure hearts and flowers of romanticism or glossy rom-com, I cringe. I can only write about those ordinary people in small England.( with the emphasis on historical) but not the extrmes of society. I don't write about kings or beggars. What's more it's what I want to write and enjoy writing and what I will continue to write and improve on. So there. All I need is more people to believe in me - apart from the lovely people who already do.
But I'm hardly 'high concept", am I? So I can't blame publishers or editors for thinking my output is neither one thing or another. Their job is to make money or they're sacked. |especially these days, they can't afford to take a punt on unknown writers unless they have a hunch they've found the new best-seller. And even if they do, they in turn have to please the men in suits.
So here I am. Between a rock and a hard place, betwixt and between, falling between two stools. In other words: Ouch!
|STUCK IN THE MIDDLE|