Friday, 8 October 2010

National Poetry Day | Fiction | Being Nice To Nice People Is Easy.

It may surprise you (or, depending on your taste for the stuff, relieve you) that I don’t know a great deal about hummus. As far as I’m concerned, it’s that creamy stuff at parties that’s not as good as Doritos. Instead, I’d like to discuss two separate cases of Why-Aren’t-Famous-People-All-As-Publicly-Odious-As-Mel-Gibson-Seems-To-Be-I-Saw-Braveheart-Last-Night-Again-God-What-A-Terrible-Film-You-Do-Know-Prima-Nocte-Wasn’t-A-Real-Medieval-Practice-Don’t-You?

                                                         Pictured: Oh, No, Mel, I Didn't Mean It, I Didn't Mean It, No, Mel- Stay Back, Mel, I'm Warning You, Don't You Set Your Dog On Me, Mel, Argh, Argh, He's Gnawing On My Leg, Mel Gibson Is Gnawing On My Leg-

The first was obvious. Johnny Depp giving a little girl at a London school a big hug, dressed as Jack Sparrow, because she’d written him a letter about starting a mutiny against the teachers. Someone caught it on camera-phone. Hearts melted. He told her he was going to frame the letter and put it up on the wall of his house in Bath, where, apparently, he can often be found down the local. Hearts melted more.

The second, very slightly less prominently, was Guillermo Del Toro, reading from his vampire-featuring book series in Portland, delivering sage Hispanic advice on various things, mentioning the power of the talisman, accepted art from a couple of fans, and gave someone hoping to audition for his adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness his personal email address so he could let him know when shooting began. Hearts melted, though possibly not so much due to the lack of that fateful combination of Johnny Depp and an adorable child.

And being an enormous, bitter cynic, all I could do was to sit back and snark,

“Well, it’s easy to be nice when you’re surrounded by people lavishing their attention and their warmth all over you.”

I felt this way because yesterday I was in Lichfield with some of the other excellently talented people from last year’s MA creative writing course at Warwick, flogging our collective anthology in the traditional manner by reading bits from it. We had a small but rather lovely audience who made us feel very welcome, including the children’s author Liz Kessler, who was up next. And I left with the vague, false but unshakeable feeling that everything was well with the world.

But then there are those other readings. The ones I’ve attended (usually for the most famous authors, who can attract a larger audience and thus a higher possibility of attracting cranks) where there’s been someone sitting in the front row determined to ruin someone else’s day. There was that strange elderly man at one particular event who I remember told me off for wearing trainers – which is, apparently, something real authors don’t do. He went on to spend the ‘questions’ section at the end explaining his ideas for a book and telling the poor novelist giving the talk why she should collaborate with him.

In such a situation, it can be hard for the writer – a weak, prickly, troubled, violently asocial figure as we so often are – to remain the nicest person in the world. And that can only end badly. I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty of examples online of people who attend these events and write that an author was impolite, snappy, or just not listening. I think A.L. Kennedy actually wrote a whole one of her Guardian columns apologising to such a person a couple of months ago. Well, this scares me. Even supposing, at some point in my life, I can get an agent, get a publisher, get noticed by booksellers, get enough copies sold to actually be asked to give one of these talks – and that’s a lot of big, big ‘supposes’ – how am I ever going to convince all those nice people out there, at regular intervals, that I am not, in fact, a misanthropic douche?

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor, has no answers

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