I spent too much of my teens whining about the ubiquity of JK Rowling’s wizards to revisit those opinions. She gave children joy and that is an achievement. Her adult novel was as far away from being my thing as books can be – catering, it seemed, to middle class masochists – but it has come and gone now, so I won’t pick a scab.
Lynn Shepherd is a novelist who has taken against Ms Rowling for a reason that I would never have thought of. She is, she assumes, making it hard for writers to be successful…
By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.
I am not a writer. I am worse. I am a wannabe. My second novel – after an unpublished and, indeed, unsubmitted first attempt – has just passed twenty thousand words and I would dearly love for it to find a home between the fingers of a large, curious audience once it is finished. My chances are slim, of course, but that is no excuse for not trying.
On the other hand, I am not owed an audience. Nobody is. Fiction is for its readers, and, perhaps, if one adopts a more idealised perspective, our culture at large. One might criticise Ms Rowling as a lover of books, perhaps, but as an author? That seems wrong. For one thing, to do so commits a sort of “lump of literature” fallacy. There is no fixed amount of attention given to books every year and if Rowling enters one’s genre I suspect that it brings eyes to other books therein. Yet even if this were not so, to demand that she stands aside is not only a rather sad admission of one’s failure to achieve success by one’s own merits but prioritises the least important interests in the equation.
As the decline of conventional publishing imperils the careers and career ambitions of real and would-be writers there is a strange theme of entitlement emerging. Brigid Delaney, for example, wrote in the Guardian that if novelists find it difficult to make ends meet they should be subsidised by the state. Dickens was a journalist, Williams was a doctor, Larkin was a librarian and one can barely count the institutions that need funding before hard-up wordsmiths. Besides, the idea of justifying my novel to a bunch of target-meeting, box-ticking, tape-wrapping bureaucrats fills me, for one, with horror.
I fear that the attention we have devoted to creative writing as a practice has encouraged people to want to be writers more than it has led them to want to, well – write. Me, I tell myself not to think of it as an avenue that leads one towards a profession. I have a job and beyond it I am trying to write the finest novel that I can. It may still be trash, of course, but I do hope that you will get a chance to decide for yourself.