On Sunday morning I was listening to the slot on Radio 4 at 0845 where someone talks in an extended secular version of thought for the day. Will Self had a few sessions a while back, Howard Jacobson had a slot a couple of weeks ago, and this coming Sunday it will be AL Kennedy. It isn’t always authors but they get a lot of the gigs.
The thought occurred to me that, whilst I like all these writers, both in terms of their work and listening to them talk about our society and the problems and joys of the world, (probably not so much the joys with those three! Although Jacobson can be good for an uplifting insight), I wonder why we should listen to authors so much.
Yes they sometimes have an insight into the human condition, but here we are giving them a slot on national radio to pontificate to us on matters about which frankly there are experts who should be able to speak more authoritatively. Not necessarily the human condition of course; unless we are looking at psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, behavioural scientists of all ilks, but in matters of security, policing, military, employment, cultural direction (writing is one little bit) and myriad other subjects. Why do authors get the nod on these?
Probably because they are seen as communicators. Increasingly part of the baggage of being an author is being an all round communicator. As publishers withdraw to a greater or lesser extent from publicising their own products, and as agents want the cash but not the effort of pushing their clients, authors get jiffed with doing the spadework of marketing themselves. Fine, they should be positive about their own work, but if they were great PR people, or market savvy tech heads or schmoozers personified, why would they have chosen a profession that involves being shut up in a room on their own with their imagination for company? Authors generally don’t want the hassle of that other side of the business, that’s why there are publishers and why agents managed to horn in on the process. But it seems authors get wheeled out anyway, when one might think they were better employed, er …writing.
So there we are, with authors being paraded to smile, sign books, chat on radio, contribute to TV arts shows if un/lucky, give lectures at literary events, peddle advice to wannabes on the writing for everyman/woman circuit. And now because some of them can string a coherent sentence together about the mythic resonance of the washerwoman as a mother earth figure in their latest oeuvre, they are invited to blab about anything that takes their fancy in a regular repeat radio slot.
What privileges their opinion over anyone else’s? They have a facility for the medium but is the medium really the message? Are those who are easy with creating an imaginary world and filling it with their interpretation of how people should behave, always the best people to comment on the real world where the characters are different and reactions intractable?
Just a thought.
And by the way BBC, I have many useful insights and I am available for recording whenever you want on any subject.