Thursday, 11 February 2010

Can a hermit have a platform?

Or "what are you writing now?" It's a fact that some writers are more sociable than others. And in these days of enhanced availability there is even more pressure on writers to have "a platform" by which is meant a presence on the Net - a blog or two, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

Now, though you know I'm not a huge fan of J. D. Salinger or Cormac McCarthy (and no, I haven't read the latter - I just mean I'm not a fan for that reason), no-one could say they have reached their present standing through their Facebook status.
Would they be even more famous if they had given us the occasional Tweet? e.g. Managed to escape interviews with 36 journalist today #amhiding.

I jest.

But there is no reason in the world to suppose that a writer of say novels, will also be a great entertainer at public speaking or in interviews or as a diarist.

And there is a particular pressure on children's writers to be available to their public, to do "school visits". These can be wonderful and I have recently come back into contact with a writer (ex-teacher)* who loves schools so much he does 100 such visits a year. That would actually kill me.

It's wonderful when you get a bunch of readers who know your books and ask specific questions like, "why did you make so-and-so do that?" or "Is such-and-such really evil?"

But when one is there just to be "an author" (subtext "any author"), it's so much harder. How can you be interesting for the several hundredth time answering "where do you get your ideas from?" or "how long does it take to write a book?" It makes me want to chew my arm off.

The Internet makes interaction with readers in some ways much easier. In the peace of your own home, you can answer fans' emails (I try to do it once a week). Though one sometimes gets unanswerable questions: "what phase of fantasy would you say Stravaganza is?" (say what?)for the most part this is a rewarding way of having fan contact.

But your maven is definitely NOT a hermit. Suppose I were? Would I want to let the readers get up so close and personal? Can you have shy or reclusive writers any more in a culture that prizes celebrity above all other qualities?

And suppose that your favourite writer is suffering from that mysterious condition "writers' block"? Will it hep to badger him or her about what the next book is coming out?

It's a real modern dilemma, the sort of thing Shaw would have written a good play about.

* Antony Lishak, who has started a website that will tell you all sorts of things about children's writers:


Katherine Langrish said...

(I thought it might be Antony!)
Yes, this is a very good question, and a real dilemma. I started my own blog last November, and it certainly does take time. I've been enjoying it, but then I haven't been writing. Now I'm going to be writing again, will I have time to do both? How much of a distraction will it be?

Katherine Roberts said...

I'm quite protective of my privacy (especially after seeing that BBC2 programme on the virtual revolution last night!), so I've sent out my unicorn-muse to do his bit on my behalf in the online world...

But you're right, there's so much more expected of a writer these days than "simply" creating the actual product from thin air. On the other hand, perhaps it's just as well there's plenty of displacement stuff to keep us all occupied, otherwise we might just keep writing more books to add to the already horrendously overcrowded market.

Lucy Coats said...

Yes--there is another interesting post on this very subject at

Certainly for me as an author the internet has been a blessing, and I have made sure that my privacy (ie my family) is protected in various ways which seem to work. I agree, it is hard when one goes to a school just to be 'meat in the room'* and the children have no idea about either your books or you. But I take heart from the thought that perhaps if even one child is led to read, then that is a Good Thing. I've now learned to be very fierce and send schools a comprehensive list of what I expect.