Farewell, Micky Jones
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
Surfing around the net in pleasant, post-Christmas idleness, I came across a sad piece of news: Micky Jones, guitarist of the Welsh rock band Man, died back in March. He wasn’t exactly a household name, but he was the guitarist who gave me more pleasure than any other, including all the big names – Page, Hendrix, Slash, Zappa (who said Jones was one of the ten best guitarists in the world) etc.
The best concert I ever attended was given by Man – at Exeter Uni, some time in 1973. My favourite rock album remains their live set from a concert at the Roundhouse in June 1973. The album features just two tracks: the band liked to ‘jam’, to play long improvisations. This may sound like a recipe for self-indulgent misery for listeners, but when they got it right, they were fabulous. The jams were always pretty tight, and much less indulgent than a lot of rock at the time: for example there were no long breaks featuring one instrument, while other players all sloped off the stage for a quick smoke, a common feature of many early 70s rock gigs.
So why weren’t Man better known? I think the main reason is that they were unable to keep a consistent line-up for more than about five minutes. Jones was the one fixed point, around which a whole solar system of musicians revolved. Every Man fan has their favourite line-up: mine featured Jones, keyboard player Phil Ryan, Will Youatt on bass, another guitarist called Tweke Lewis and drummer Terry Williams, a magnificent player who went on to work with Dire Straits. There are many, many other combinations to choose from. Another reason is that they didn’t really care about fame: I think they were happiest playing to audiences in small venues – especially in their beloved homeland, Wales. What other band would have released an album called ‘Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth’?
I once met Micky when Man came to Walkern Rugby Club, near Stevenage, in the 1990s. They played a fine set, and in the interval I saw Micky at the bar and brought him a pint. I thanked him for all the pleasure he had given me over the years, and he smiled and shrugged, adding: ‘It’s what I do’.
And now he is gone. Micky Jones never compromised his approach to music, which meant he never achieved stardom – which I suspect this modest, talented man would have hated. Instead, he made music that means a lot to a relatively small group of people. That’s a fine achievement.
Happy Birthday Stairway to Heaven
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
40 years ago – well, 40 years and a couple of weeks – Led Zeppelin produced their great fourth album, at the centre of which was Stairway to Heaven. In other words, the song is as old now as Mood Indigo, On the Sunny Side of the Street or Sleepy Time Down South were in 1971. 40 years before Led Zep IV (or ZOSO or whatever you want to call it) appeared, the music world was mourning the deaths of Bix Beiderbecke and the man who was arguably the founder of jazz, Buddy Bolden. The names of these great patriarchs of jazz sound biblically ancient, while Zeppelin are still being listened to by twenty-first century kids (OK, not every kid, but many, many more than listened to Bix in 1971…) History doesn’t go in nice straight lines, but in leaps then quiet bits, in punctuated evolution.
Of course, certain themes recur across these time-chasms. Excess, for example. Bolden, Beiderbecke and Bonham – three fine musicians destroyed by alcohol. What was totally new about Zeppelin was the amplification technology that allowed them to play to tens of thousands of people in giant venues across America. That and their post-gig behaviour, of course – which I think is related to the stadia: there must be something deeply unsettling about having that level of control over that number of one’s fellow human beings. (What, exactly? It’s an area of psychology not well enough understood.)
Reading about the Zeppelin roadshow now (in Hammer of the Gods), I’m reminded of the rather daft anarchy of the early seventies. The sixties party was over; Margaret Thatcher hadn’t come along to knock economic sense into our heads. The old blues misogyny is lurking in the background – there’s more than a bit of Spinal Tap in Zeppelin. But the music lives on. I’m amazed how well (most of) it still works – especially Stairway. Happy birthday!
Two stories from 1960
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
I’m clearing out my parents’ old house at the moment, and have today been going through old books. They were great readers in youth and early middle age, but a kind of terrible gloom settled over them in later life, and they didn’t buy a lot after about 1975.
So the collection is a fascinating journey back to a bygone era, to an old middle-class England that seemed wonderfully sure of itself.
One book that I at first thought was a send-up but now seems to be at least half-serious is Noblesse Oblige, a series of essays about the aristocracy – how they speak, live (etc.). The tone is humorous, but essentially deferential. There’s a long essay about ‘U’ (posh) versus ‘non-U’ speech – my parents seem to have used the former, though we were not aristocrats.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the book is its sense of permanence – the social order is taken for granted. It might be a source of some amusement, but there is no question whether England is going to continue to be run by ‘U’ amateurs – of course it is!
The edition is dated 1960. In the same year, The Beatles made their first trip to Hamburg and came back to Liverpool a tight, creative unit. On 27 Dec, they played a famous (to Beatle aficionados) gig at Litherland Town Hall, where people realized this wasn’t just another covers band but something very special. Change was in the air…
A Night at the Opera
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
Last night, a rare treat: a visit to the opera. More specifically to Don Giovanni, done by English National Opera.
It was a marvellous evening full of different emotions. Some of the arias were deeply, timelessly moving. Some of Jeremy Sams’ translation was witty and totally 21st century. There was pathos, especially where a scene in which Giovanni tries to seduce a maid had been changed into a solo piece, so we got to see that, behind the mask, Giovanni was looking to recapture some lost early love. And the ending, where the Commendatore comes to drag Giovanni down to hell, brought the simple thrill of being totally seized by great music: real goose-pimple stuff.
The programme notes got me thinking about Giovanni and his character. The notes rather made him out to be a pleasure-seeker that we could secretly admire, then also enjoy seeing his destruction and come away from the show knowing that we are wise to rein in our pleasure-chasing instincts after all. But I don’t see him as this. To me, Giovanni doesn’t want pleasure, he wants power. He is a narcissist, whose great passion in life is controlling others. Women he controls with sex; men with bullying, money or deceit. The scene where he says how much he enjoys seeing Leporello suffer is just as instructive as the ones where he lies to and seduces women.
A problem for the modern viewer is that modern aristocrats don’t command the automatic respect, and even fear, that they clearly did back then. If I were producing Don Giovanni – hardly a likely event! – I’d set it in a world of gangsters. There is – I believe, anyway – still a rigid hierarchy in that world, based on ruthlessness and cruelty. The rather fawning attitudes of Leporello, Zerlina and (some of the time) Masetto fit perfectly into this. Ottavio, who calls himself a friend of Giovanni, could be one of those stupid posh people who think it’s cool to hang around with low-lifers.
I’d play the piece as a dark meditation on narcissism and cruelty, with a few comic interludes, rather than a comedy – though Wolfy called it an opera buffa, which was essentially a comic form. That’s the way they liked it in the nineteenth century – Baudelaire, for example, saw Giovanni as the classic literary model of evil. (I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not really a reincarnated Victorian…)
And I’d end the piece where Giovanni is dragged down into hell – there’s a kind of coda where various loose plot ends are tied up and a rather obvious moral drawn (don’t do bad stuff), which is a bit camp for the way I like the piece.
But however it’s played, it’s still utterly amazing music – Oh, and tremendous storytelling from da Ponte (the changes the characters go through…) I look at the picture of Mozart in the programme, a funny looking guy, rather juvenile and earnest, and marvel at how the music he wrote in 1786 still moves me so deeply today.
A website on opera buffa: http://operabuffa.com
English National Opera: www.eno.org
Players vs. Gentlemen
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
I’ve been reading ‘Blokes’ by David Castronovo, a New York based Professor of Eng Lit. The book is essentially about the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the late fifties, though he does extend his study to Philip Larkin and Ken Tynan and to modern ‘blokeish’ authors, AA Gill, Nick Hornby and, of course, Martin Amis. He also points out that ‘blokes’ have long featured in literature – Chaucer’s Miller, Tom Jones, the critic William Hazlitt, Sam Weller, characters from Kipling.
He’s a big fan of the Angry Young Men (a term I use for convenience, not one Castronovo particularly likes). He admires their ‘struggle to live vitally’ in a starchy and smothering environment. He contrasts them with the ‘gentleman’, a type that he sees as hollow and lifeless, snobbish and inauthentic. Graham Greene is a kind of turning point, in books like ‘England Made Me’ (1935) where the gent was clearly shown up to be a loser. The War gave the gent a bit of a boost, but the game was up, Suez being the coup de grace for this endangered species.
The gents vs. players stuff isn’t hugely original, but I still enjoyed the book. I like the Angry Young Men’s passion for authenticity and hatred of deviousness, their ‘gusto’ (Hazlitt’s term: the Ancient Greeks called it ‘thumos’). And the book is full of detail about the backgrounds of these writers. John Osborne’s family, in particular, seems hellish (in a very understated, Brit, passive-aggressive way). “Comfort in the discomfort of others was an abiding family recreation,” Osborne wrote of his mother’s family. His dad’s family was more lifeless and supine than spiteful. Both families had a ‘script’ about ‘coming down in the world’, and seemed to take pleasure in belittling the boy and stifling any joie de vivre in him. Then there was Philip Larkin’s dad, with his admiration for Hitler (he had a model of the Fuhrer at home, which gave a little Nazi salute when you pressed a button). The (Kingsley) Amis household was less full of undercurrents of malevolence, though his father was an unimaginative man given to deference to authority and ‘class’, and his mum an overprotective woman who collected “bunny rabbit ornaments”.
These soul-destroying environments had to be escaped from, and the Angry Young Men did it in their writing – especially when using humour. But did they escape it in their personal lives? I rather fear not. That’s the tragic thought unexpressed in but underlying the book – that Jansenist stuff: ‘Give me a child till he is seven…” (And he will either turn into a copy of what we want him to be, or react violently, erratically and in its own way equally inauthentically against it.)
That’s the downside with the Angry Young Men for me. They remained Angry and (emotionally) Young, rather than growing up and becoming adults. The old adage ‘the best revenge is to have a happy life’ applies here: if you really want to stick two fingers up to petty bourgeois whining and passive aggression, don’t just get pissed, brawl, tell people to fuck off, chase then drop women (etc.). Make a point of finding out how to be happy, and follow those rules.
John Halifax, Gentleman – a hero for our times?
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
In its day, John Halifax, Gentleman, by Dinah Craik, was a massive bestseller. People found in its hero a powerful role-model, an entrepreneur who achieves great success and at the same time lives and does business by a strong ethical code. The story is set in the years 1794 to 1834, but the book came out in 1856. So it’s over 150 years old: does it still have anything to say to us?
I think it does. Clearly the world it describes has long gone. It was a world of hierarchy, where sons were supposed to obey fathers, wives their husbands and apprentices their masters, and the penalty for failing to do this was severe. Dinah Craik seems to accept this, though she clearly also believes that obedience always has to be earned: though there was no alternative to the system, it still had to be made to work.
But the novel still speaks to this 21st century reader. John Halifax, the hero of the novel, has a number of virtues that still seem of great relevance. One is his complete refusal to indulge in what TA psychologists call ‘mind-games’. He will not be manipulated by people, and he will not manipulate. He plays by a fair, objective set of rules, and will not deviate from these. He is a man of total integrity and dignity – timeless qualities, surely.
In his dealings with his workforce, he is in the firm tradition of those great Quaker employers such as Cadbury and Rowntree. At one point, the business suffers cashflow (and waterflow – it’s a mill) problems, and he lowers his own standard of living rather than lay off his workers. Try telling that to modern ‘fat cat’ bankers and CEOs…
As an entrepreneur, he embraces technology, replacing the old watermill with the new steam power. He invests profits in the business or in land, refusing to join in fashionable speculative ventures – as a result, in the banking crisis of 1825 (they had them in those days, too, and actually worse than modern ones, as government didn’t step in) he rescues the local bank.
As a husband and father, he cuts a slightly stranger (to our eyes) figure. But he is always motivated by love for his wife and children. Wealthy Victorians hid their children in nurseries then sent them off to boarding school. John Halifax will do neither of these things: though he does have a ‘governess’ for his kids, they still play a big part in the life of his home, which he regards as a special, sacred place – another message that seems relevant, and even rather attractively subversive, to our world of ‘latch-key parenting’.
More generally, his morality is always tempered with humanity. At times when he goes off into an overmoralistic judgement, he is almost always pulled back, not into acceptance of their wrong but into taking a more Christian view – to err is human…
It is, of course, his faith that lies beneath his morality. Such an unshakeable faith belongs, perhaps, in a pre-Darwinian era (‘Origin of Species’ came out 3 years after John Halifax). To me, what is most impressive about John’s faith is his total lack of factionalism. He calls himself a Christian, not a Quaker or a Protestant or any other denomination, and always respects sincere faith in others. Such respect is as needed now as it was in 1856, maybe more so.
He also follows that most important precept, that morality is first and foremost a tool for living one’s own life, and only secondly a tool for judging others (and certainly not a means for scoring points off others). It’s easy to slag off other people and appear virtuous – a trick perfected by the media, then as now: at one point John Halifax is sniped at by the local newspapers and ignores it.
Of course, anyone determined to belittle this book can easily do so. The protagonists are either ‘too good to be true’ or rather melodramatic villains. (The only person to cross from the ‘bad’ side to the good is a relatively minor character, Lord Ravenel, who ends up renouncing his title and going into good, honest business.) But so what? All books follow literary conventions of some kind, and this one follows the convention of the era.
The author’s view of what people can become and how they can do that is limited by the beliefs of her time – but so are most authors’ such views. We just don’t see our own limitations so clearly, that’s all.
The more I read this book, the more I like it, and especially the main character. This is ultimately a book about what it means to be a ‘big’ person. Brave, principled, sincere but also full of life: Halifax isn’t just a dry old stick spouting Victorian platitudes, he’s a man who lives fully. And through his actions, he energizes others. When he leaves his house to search for his son, ‘the life and soul seems to go out of it’. He is what psychotherapist Neville Symington calls a ‘lifegiver’.
Modern literature tends to prefer ambivalence and outsiders. But in the end, we all have to make a decision: do we live by the values we profess, and if so, how do we do so – in practice, in the real world, every day? John Halifax may belong to a bygone era, but of late I’ve found myself asking when faced by a decision, “What would John Halifax have done?” The answer is always illuminating.
Buy the book from amazon: http://tinyurl.com/39×5ox5
Piece on the book by American academic Sally Mitchell: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/craik/mitchell/3.html
Neville Symington’s site: www.nevillesymington.com
Farewell, Beryl Bainbridge
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
Beryl Bainbridge was a long-term friend of the Lynn Fiction Festival. She would be on the programme most years, either reading from another sparkling new novel or just getting involved in group discussions, where her down-to-earth views were always refreshing. But best of all, she was unfailingly herself – open, friendly, genuinely interested in everyone, as happy to talk about our families as about her books, ‘one of us’; the complete antithesis of a fearsome grande dame of Literature.
Her novels are full of a dark humour – death lurks somewhere in the background (she was first moved to write as a girl by seeing news footage of Nazi concentration camps). But in person, her humour was gentler. This is more a personal memory than a piece of ‘lit crit’, so I shall concentrate on the latter… At one festival, in one of those discussions about favourite writers which often degenerate into a competition to produce the most obscure Bulgarian post-structuralist, she trumped everyone with Rhoda F Comstock, whose ‘Like Flies to Wanton Boys’ is masterpiece of dark rural fiction. Or would be, if it actually existed. A friend of hers, the novelist Paul Bailey, was on hand to keep the joke running, and everyone (except a few people who didn’t ‘get it’) had a wonderful time. Apparently, there was a rather snotty article in the Daily Mail a few days later, saying how these devious highbrow authors had tricked an audience of good honest country folk…
Another time, Beryl admitted that as a drama critic she had ‘only once’ made up a play to fill her weekly column… Incidentally it was typical of Beryl to go on to say that she was very rarely rude about a production, as she knew as a former professional actress how much effort would have gone into producing even a turkey. A subtle hint that an evening could be better spent elsewhere was enough for her.
But now she is gone. The festival will never be quite the same.
A number of her friends from Lynn brushed the straw out of our hair and came down to London for her funeral. I’m not sure what Beryl would have thought of the cameramen waiting outside the church – an unnecessary fuss, I expect. Inside, there was plenty of fuss – but fuss of the right sort, in the form of a beautiful sung mass, in Latin. Alongside her capacity for friendliness towards anyone, however inept or flawed, Beryl had a strong sense of what was correct in procedures, manners and generally ‘how to do things’. She once got herself in trouble with the liberal establishment for saying people from deprived areas ought to have elocution lessons.
We sang two hymns. ‘Dear Lord and father of mankind / Forgive our foolish ways’ is both childlike and deeply wise, two apparent opposites that Beryl managed to combine herself. ‘Jerusalem’ reflected Beryl’s traditionalist side again – though the hymn is also a call to renewal. Both hymns have tunes that are simply beautiful.
The priest gave a brief eulogy, centred on the Beryl he knew, a kind, approachable woman who was fond of babies and was greatly liked in the local community, by all sorts of people who had no idea she was ‘famous’ or a Dame of the British Empire.
After the service, a hired bus took us to Highgate cemetery – via Camden: in a moment of comedy Beryl would have appreciated, the bus turned the wrong way into Kentish Town Road and had to take a lengthy detour to make up for it. Finally we got there, and walked slowly up a winding tree-lined path past long-dead Victorians – Elsie, Albert, Jeremiah (and a family called Greatorex: why aren’t there names like that any longer?) – to her final resting place. There, as one does at funerals, we sang Rolf Harris’ ‘Two Little Boys’. We threw earth onto her coffin and muttered thanks for all she had done and meant. It began to rain…
Funerals are times for reflection, for celebrating lives as whole things rather than just public achievements, for remembering ‘what really matters’. In a piece in The Independent published that morning, Beryl wrote of her love of certain writers: Dickens, Shakespeare, JM Barrie, Dr Johnson. She wrote about her love for her family: her parents, her children and grandchildren, even an ex-husband who hardly seems to have deserved it. She concluded: “We should remind ourselves to the last breath that what mattered was tolerance, patience, regard and a love of a neighbour…”
We’re going to miss her a lot.
Beryl’s final piece in The Independent
More on the indomitable Rhoda F Comstock at:
Art and Magic
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
There can be few less original lines of argument than a middle-aged person saying that things were in some way better in their youth. Still, here goes…
Yesterday I went round the RA Summer Exhibition, something I used to do every year when I was in my ‘young man about town’ phase, but haven’t done these last 25 years. And I really did feel the art wasn’t as good as it was in the old days. Some old big names – Gillian Ayers, John Hoyland – still delighted, but very little else held and captivated me. In the old days, most of the art was representational or abstract.
Now, a lot more of the art seems to be concept-driven, in the sense of having a clever idea at their heart. The ultimate expression of this was perhaps a Tracy Emin, who’d written some words on a canvas – and was asking £125,000 for it.
At work, I am looking at ways in which the unconscious mind controls the conscious. Conscious thinking, it is turning out, is a much less powerful force than we like to believe. In decision-making, for example, the mind ‘decides’ – MRI scans show bits of the brain lighting up, as if in a debate, then one special area lights up, a few seconds after which our conscious mind says “I’ve decided.” In a gambling experiment, people learnt instinctively to avoid a duff pack of cards, long before they could verbalize this learning, and even longer before they could rationalize it.
Art, oddly, seems to have proceeded in the opposite direction. The paintings I remember from the old RA shows – the landscapes of Spencer Gore, Ken Howard’s quiet studios (the latter is still exhibiting: we’re not talking a totally lost art!) – moved by appealing to the unconscious. “Wow, that’s beautiful!” I thought, and just wanted to stand in front of it. Why? It didn’t matter why. Why was a silly question. It was beautiful, and that beauty was transfixing and transformative.
When I visit an art gallery, that is the experience I am looking for. I want to be captivated, to be drawn to something by a mysterious force. The experience of that force is a healing, enhancing thing: it makes me aware of something in myself that I do not usually notice or live by (something, incidentally, that I share with both the artist and other people who also find the painting captivating). I become bigger and nobler, and I have a new link with my fellow human beings, too. I feel lifted, fresh-spirited, delighted in a new way; I come away more alert to the beauty of the world and prouder of my capacity recognize this.
It is the skill of the artist to make this happen, and none of it has to do with conceptual cleverness or the intellect. I’m not saying that the intellect cannot deliver great things – I get a delight from a well-constructed argument. And I’m not saying that the two should never meet: architecture in particular seems to be a fertile meeting ground for the intellectual, conscious consideration of requirements, knowledge of materials (etc.) and the irrational, unconscious creation of beauty (actually, the most beautiful exhibit in the exhibition was a design for a bank in Kuwait).
To me, all art is ultimately magic. That doesn’t mean it can never deliver a social message, simply that if it does so, it still must be magical. In books, it is that ‘I can’t put it down’ experience. This isn’t necessarily the easy pull of a thriller. I’m currently reading David Copperfield, and can’t be dragged away from the perpetual magic that emanates from its pages. In music, some stuff just compels me to listen.
Cleverness is no substitute for magic.
Having said this, I enjoyed my visit to the exhibition, and will definitely be going back to the Summer show next year. My daughter enjoyed it too, which is great. I’m not sure I agree with her judgement that the finest exhibit was the picture of a cat in a cowboy hat – but another great thing about art is that different pieces have different magic for different people.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for writing
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
I’m a little cagey about putting other people’s work on my site, not because I don’t like the stuff, but because of an old-fashioned concern about copyright. But I need to overcome this, so here goes…
There are loads of rules for writing, but my favourite set comes from Kurt Vonnegut, whose ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is dark but also funny – a mixture much needed in modern publishing, where humour seems to be out of fashion and pure misery in.
Vonnegut’s Eight Rules are:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things; reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I particularly like rules 1, 3 and 4. Number 8 is one I have problems with – I rather like suspense, and think it drives action. And a good twist and the end of a story is always powerful. The last few lines of ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’ for example. Or any ‘whodunnit’, of course. Rules are, of course, made to be broken – but maybe only by people who have first followed and understood them.
What sort of writer do you want to be?
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
What sort of writer do you want to be? The modern market seems to feature three types.
First is the ‘star’. JK Rowling is the obvious choice. This writer is ‘one of a kind’ and world famous. She can command any amount of money she asks. She has the enthusiastic support of marketing departments, who can try out new and imaginative initiatives.
If you want to be one of these, you either have to be an original voice (JK, Alexander McCall Smith – or of course JD Salinger, who died this week), often writing in direct opposition to prevailing ideologies (school stories, humorous crime novels, monologues…) or work your way up through the ranks of existing genres (Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell).
Great originals, it strikes me, found genres (Helen Fielding is a recent example).
Then there is the ‘solid pro’. I can’t think of a better metaphor – the professional who writes carefully within the rules of a genre, not venturing out beyond that and not really wanting to (or desperately wanting to, but aware, perhaps, how rare it is to be able to make a good living out of writing.)
For the marketing people, there’s a pretty standard formula for selling these writers and their books, which is determined by the genres in which they work.
For the writer who wants to become one of these, the trick is to pick a genre – ideally one that you like – master its conventions, and stick to them. A little pushing at the edges of the envelope is fine, but not too much.
Much so-called literary writing seems to me to be in genres, too, albeit of a more elevated type. Think ‘magical realism’, ‘Indian booker novel’ or ‘reading group book’. All of these seem to have pretty tight rules. Saying this horrifies some people, but Shakespeare was happy to write genres – tragedy, romantic comedy, history, sonnets, plus a few oddities like The Tempest.
Thirdly, there is the ‘niche player’, who writes for a small group of loyal fans. This is arguably the place for the true artist – but not if he or she wants to make a living. I learnt this the hard way with my Chinese detective series: some people loved them, but not enough to coax more than the measliest advances out of publishers, and it became economically impossible to carry on with the series. (To be fair to myself, I also wanted to write other things: If all I’d ever wanted to do was write Chinese detective stories, then I’d have found a way of carrying on doing them.)
Marketing departments have no budget for these writers. Many aspiring writers feel that a niche player is all they want to be – but the problem for them is getting anyone to notice them. The economics of publishing aren’t exactly favourable to this kind of writing venture. The way to sell it to a publisher is that you are a potential star – as was JK, when the first volume of Harry Potter landed on the desk of her editor at Bloomsbury. But as everyone is doing that, it’s not exactly an easy trick to pull off.
The other route for someone who wants to stay out of the genre trap is to self-publish. But this is something of a graveyard for fiction writers – self-publishing is best for non-fiction writers (who have a ready ‘market’ of enthusiasts for whatever they write about) or, at a pinch, novelists with a strong local feel.
Maybe it’s best to slot into a genre and try and expand the edges a bit. I guess that’s what I’ve ended up trying to do with The Enlightenment Club, which is essentially a comedy, but with some dark bits in it. Time will tell if this strategy has proven a good one for me.