Following on from my last post about value, I stumbled across a news item reporting that Philip Pullman, he of Dark Materials creation, had resigned as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival over the non-payment of authors (on the BBC here). I hadn’t heard anything about this (I assume my invitation had, once again, been lost in the post) so vigorously pursued the story as I
am supposed to be finishing my next novel was intrigued.
Simply put, it appears that the festival organisers do not pay authors for giving talks at the event. They say that it would add too great a financial burden on the charitable organisation that runs it. They say that the exposure to potentially new readers should be payment enough, although how one might use potential book sales to pay the train fare to reach Oxford in the first place, I am unclear. Philip Pullman said “Where everyone else is being paid, the cleaners, cooks and the waiters, everyone is being paid except the person at the very centre of this, the author”.
I found an interesting blog on The Spectator website (here). It features an interview with Harlan Ellison, who is probably not a household name in every household but was, in his time, a very influential sci-fi writer. The video clip is that of a grumpy old man (I mean, a really grumpy old man) talking about how writers should be paid for their work, and he makes some very valid points. Plus he is quite amusingly angry.
The point is, of course, what value are writers to any society? If the only fiction writers are essentially amateurs and only do it for the love of the written word, what might happen to that society? Would its TV programmes, films and plays become unwatchable? Has this already happened? Or is it that the cult of celebrity excludes those who are actually any good at anything, largely by exploiting those that are (look at Naomi Campbell’s ghost-written effort, for example. Actually don’t, it wasn’t ghost-written very well, although being non-corporeal probably makes it hard to hit the keys or hold a pen. And you have no head to hold a coherent thought in too.)?
I often ponder whether being a writer is a ‘real’ job, just like I ponder whether being a supermodel is a real job. I joke about it sometimes when asked what it is I do for a living, partly because I don’t currently make the kind of living where I could actually live on the proceeds for more than about a day out of writing or being a supermodel (although I don’t put nearly the effort into the latter as I should).
I am, of course, biased but I think Mr Churchill included books of all descriptions when, on being asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he replied: “Then what are we fighting for?”
So, with the promise of all those potential book sales, would I talk for free to the Oxford Literary Festival if my invitation turned up tomorrow?
I want to say definitely not, but I think I can only truthfully say probably not. Ask me again after I have sold my first 20,000 copies of BATDIG or Kirkenes Blue.