The other day I was watching an episode of Celebrity The Chase (I know, I know, but I’m a student of all levels of culture, dontchya know) when something unexpectedly annoyed me. One of the contestants was Fern Britton. Lovely Fern. Presenter of Ready, Steady, Cook, and This Morning. And, as it transpires, novelist. When quizzed by the host Bradley Walsh on how she became a novelist, she replied, “well, I was asked.” It was then that I sat up and listened. Had my ears deceived me?
No, it turns out she had indeed been asked, quite unexpectedly from her perspective, to write a handful of books for a major publisher. And much to my surprise, I found myself rather grumpy at this revelation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Fern Britton, and have no gripe with her at all. In fact, I particularly enjoy those Sunday morning shows where she interviews somebody in a manner that’s biographical and engaging, yet also unfussy and personable way. Very British, in fact.
But when she said she’d been asked to write some novels, the righteous indignation in me came rushing to the surface. By her own admission she’d not had any previous experience as a novelist, but gave it a bash, and has so far had three top ten Sunday Times bestsellers.
To me, this seemed a lot like giving invitations to people who were already at the party. Granted, now that I have a publishing deal I suppose I can claim to have squeezed past the ogre on the door and made my way to the queue for the cloakroom, but I still had to be subjected to the indignation and annoyance of having my shoes checked for their suitability for this particular establishment.
Before my party metaphor gets any more raucous and gets itself barred from said establishment, I’d better get to the point. Innumerable people sacrifice so much at the foot of this weird altar that is storytelling in the hope of having somebody hear or read that story. They impose a great deal of heartache (and brainache) upon themselves to attain that privilege, so to not afford the opportunity to somebody – to a new voice who wants to become a writer and who is undertaking that great effort – in favour of somebody with virtually no writing experience but whose face is on the telly, seems slightly perverse.
Again, it’s not Fern’s fault. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be invited by a major publisher to write a novel? The fact that she’s a known – and well-liked – face off the telly means she’s an obvious pick for a publisher looking for fresh, low-risk sales.
In considering this little episode it’s made me realise – again – that publishing is a business. Sometimes harsh, and frequently unfair, but there it is. Facts of life. So many writers on that unforgiving, uphill treadmill will fall by the wayside if they can’t marry their artistic sensibilities with a bit of commercial hard-headedness. In many ways this links back to the post on Disappointment I put up a couple of weeks back. So while my initial reaction to the in-crowd invitation was a tad grumpy, the passage of a couple of days have mellowed it into one of considered gratitude, for reminding us that publishing isn’t all swank and art. It’s business. Embracing that might not be artful, but it might stave off disappointment and perhaps even stoke the fires of determination within your belly.
And it’s appropriate that Fern was to appear on that particular show too, because all of us authors are on The Chase, really.