Hours spent gossiping with lovely author friend: 4 (not enough)
Hours spent being made to feel inadequate by literary snob: .08
Hours spent enjoying book festival: 7
Hours spent writing: 14
I did a book festival recently with a couple of other authors, one of whom is very well known for a series that was a huge book club hit, the other of whom is one of my closest author friends. I don’t see her very often, and when we get together she makes me laugh uproariously, and I live for the occasions when we can do joint events because they are so much fun.
I looked up the author of the hit series before the event, because I had never met her, and knew nothing about her. In her photograph, she looked a little stern, a little serious, as befitting someone who has written literary historical fiction.
The event was in South Carolina. Usually I bring husband and children when I have anything somewhere beautiful, but everyone was busy, so I decided to do a quick in and out.
I was sitting in the lobby with my friend, catching up, our heads close together, gossiping, when the serious author arrived. A couple of women from the festival jumped in, and said to the serious author, “Oh, do you know Jane?”
I extended my hand to shake hers, and she gave me a smile that seemed to be polite but frosty, perhaps with a touch of superiority as she asked: “And what’s your involvement with the festival?” I stared at her, flummoxed. Either she hadn’t looked at anything the festival had been emailing all three speakers for the previous month and therefore had absolutely no idea who I was (which I thought unlikely), or she was pretending not to know me because she is disdainful of the kind of books I write, and she was making sure I knew it. I will be honest and confess it felt overwhelmingly like the latter.
Luckily I didn’t have to answer because my girlfriend – who writes literary memoir – jumped in to introduce herself, and the moment passed.
Later that evening, the serious author looked at my friend. “I Googled you,” she said sternly, “and discovered you play piano rather well. My husband is a jazz musician. We should get together for a jamming session.”
Well, thought I. If she Googled my friend, she Googled me too. And my suspicions were confirmed.
It is a funny thing, writing my kind of fiction. It is tremendously hard work – crafting 100,000 words from a blank page, is almost unimaginably difficult. Once the first draft is written, I go back in and rewrite, edit, hone and craft, hone and craft, until I have tightened my story into something worthy of the bookshelves, something that has been produced from blood, sweat and tears.
Every now and then I will come across a comment, or meet someone who says, with embarrassment, that my books are their guilty pleasure, or “they love beach trash like mine.”
I don’t think I write beach trash. And I am sorry that people are ashamed for loving books, any books, which they think reflect badly on themselves. I am sorry they are ashamed of enjoying the kind of relatable, easy, comforting reads that are perfect for those lazy days when you have nothing else to do. I am sorrier still that the author of a literary series felt the need to pretend she didn’t know who I was in order to try and put me in my place.
Refreshingly, I have found the people who are most genuinely and obviously thrilled to meet me, who gush about how much they love my books, are invariably academics. They are secure enough in their own intelligence to know that a great book is a great book, and reading commercial fiction does not belittle their intelligence or reveal them to be someone lesser.
You can’t always choose who you speak alongside at these events, but should I ever come across Ms Literary Historical Fiction again, I shall be steering a wide berth.
P.S. Names and details have been changed to protect the guilty.
(This article was first published in The Lady Magazine.)
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