A hundred and one… point 4… No, not Dalmatians. Although there are spots, many of them, and inimical aliens who remind one of Cruella. And plenty of evil and dim-witted hench-villians. Words, words, words. Thousands of words. 101.4K of them… I don’t believe there is one I haven’t…
Ok, I am being silly. But it’s the first book I finished in some time. I am, as usual, drained, tired, wondering why the hell I do this. After all, I’m reasonably bright, very determined, quite able. I even managed to get a couple of respected tertiary degrees, which would have seen me near retirement and comfortably off if I’d stuck in academia with them. There are many lucrative professions I could have taken on, few of which have the same interminable hours, stress, delayed rewards (and, usually, quite small rewards).
I put it down to being delusional, myself.
The writing profession is not really one for the rational, I suppose. Hell, we write about imaginary people. If I was the kind have a psychologist who was asking me if my imaginary person was in room with me (some of them are fairly unpleasant when trapped in a book, let alone in the room with you)… I’d have to say ‘yes.’ Fortunately, they tend to get replaced by the next.
In my case it comes from loving to read, and regarding authors as the ultimate aspirational role model. People I could never be as good as, but wanted to be. I suppose that’s why I regard so many the fairly useless loudmouths of the modern literary sf/fantasy world with something close to disgust. Not merely because I find their work banal, formulaic and dull, with ten words of story for every ten thousand words of whatever the current fashionable cause de jour is, but because they spend so much time and effort disparaging popular and successful authors whose boots I am not fit to polish – people like Tolkien, Heinlein, CS Lewis, who I regard role models. I suppose it’s because they’re such inferior little twats, that they know they can’t cut it compared to these. Like people destroying statues of better men, think this makes them into the new icons – or at least stops them being held up against people they simply can’t hold a candle to. Remember that next time you read one of the modern ‘dahlings’ tearing strips off Tolkien or Heinlein, or demanding Lovecraft or Campbell be exiled. This is how to label yourself as an inadequate loser 101.
It was kind of a shock to discover how many authors I regarded as masters of the craft died in poverty and obscurity, battling depression, bills and having a miserable old age, instead of lauds and comfort I felt they deserved. I still don’t know if that would have deterred me, had I known it earlier. None-the-less it is a fact of our profession. It’s not really a meritocracy, or even a popularity contest. There’s being in the right place at the right time AKA luck. There are so many other factors outside the writer’s control, and sometimes, even, if in their control, that they can be terrible at, even though they write really great stories. You always have little writing talent but be strong at politics of it (be this social media or kissing up their publisher or the literary establishment), enjoying some success. This tends to head into ‘a great success’ if they have even a modicum of talent, too.
I think this is book 24. I’ve lost track, and there are several unpublished and several more unfinished in various stages. It’s perfectly possible to strike lucky later, even at the tail end of your life and writing career – and to suddenly sell millions copies of books that were available long before (Sir Terry Pratchett’s Carpet People, Dark of the Sun, and Strata – all well above any competitors at the time, but nearly unheard of) so who knows, one of them might suddenly catch fire. That would be nice, simply because I like to be read. I like to think I might give a few people aspirations of their own, even if it is ‘I could do better than this!’ But… as I said to my son the other evening, I write, now, more in the certain knowledge that while my books may never crack that combination of luck and merit that makes bestsellers (I sure as hell won’t crack the politics) I will write books that leave their readers feeling the world is little better place when they finish them.
I will write books I would have like to have read.
So I wrote this one.