This week I still in Australia drumming up publicity for the up-coming release of my new novel Sphinx. There’s a curious gap between the projected image of oneself in the media and oneself – that can only become more surreal as one’s public profile grows – particularly if your prose is as eclectic in range as mine – in other words, like many people and writers, my persona tends to adapt to my environment and I have many voices. The one definitive author’s shot (shelf life about 2-3 years as personally I don’t really like been photographed that much) never seems to reflect the complexity of the individual.
I’m convinced (and have gleaned from meeting other authors) that we are not inherently public people. Indeed, it’s hard not to be suspicious of the writer that performs beautifully on the media circuit and you can bet your bottom dollar they have probably had media training. There is also the danger of one’s time being eaten up by the media circuit. I once shared a table with one extremely well-known and prize winning fiction international writer during a festival, who had been on the circuit for over two years (with the one hugely successful book) and was extremely cankerous and cynical as a result and had just been both rude and intellectually dismissive of a rapt Sydney audience– all of which had paid very good money to see him interviewed by a top Australian politician. The Aussies were not impressed. A writer has to write to stay sane and certainly to maintain a kind of emotional compass and none of us like being dragged away but the novelist’s existential exhaustion was no excuse.
In truth, the very act of writing is solitary and there have been times that I’ve noticed my social skills drop away after an intense week of writing – God knows how Proust managed book launches! It’s a catch 22 situation – good writers are good observers and one has to be out on the street and in relationship to absorb and assimilate human nature. Yet there is the seduction of the escape into one’s own fiction that (for me, at least) seems to grow with each new novel. The most exciting part is the polishing of the final edit. I guess it must be the sculptor in me (my original training was in sculpture and I worked in marble which only gets its translucency in the final polishing stages). There is something immensely satisfying in seeing how pared back prose can suddenly shine. But then I’m a writer that initially overwrites so for me it is a process of reduction. Some of my readers might disagree! Also this week I received a very disgruntled e mail via my site from a reader to which I politely replied – even actually apologised that she wasn’t getting into the book – only to receive another even more brutal and critical e mail in reply! Having a kind of Woody Allen psychology in which self-flagellation and self-doubt is the rod with which I beat myself daily – and of which, I suspect, I also use to both motivate myself and hopefully to improve my craft with each book (the book in question was three books back) – her e mails only added to the ‘excruciating self-doubt versus the daily task of writing’ balancing act we all perform. Then again, as my grandmother used to say, ‘Don’t cook if you’re frightened of getting burnt.’
On a more frivolous note I saw a fantastic film called (in English) ‘Let the Right One in’ a very sophisticated Swedish Vampire film in the same genre as Twilight – only infinitely more sophisticated both in story-telling and film-making. To all fans of that genre I thoroughly recommended it. It’s almost feminist in its bloody explicitness, but also extremely beautiful to look at and is a captivating and completely convincing blend of social realism and fantasy.