Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ten things you should never say to an author ...

We all know the feeling. You've given a fascinating, witty, entertaining talk about your writing, to a receptive audience who seemed suitably impressed, laughed in the right places, and mostly managed not to fall asleep. Basking in the glow of their smiles of appreciation, you close by saying you'd be happy to answer any questions ... and if you're lucky, a few hands are raised straight away. With even greater luck, there'll be some good questions about interesting aspects of your talk - why you do or don't use a pseudonym, whether you choose your own cover images, and so on. You respond, pleased again to note the hushed attention in the hall, the way your words are obviously enthralling your intelligent audience. And all the time, you're kind of holding your breath, waiting for it, because sooner or later it's going to come ....


'Where do you get your ideas from?'


Actually, I don't really mind that one, even though I've heard it compared to asking a carpenter where he gets his wood from. It's a fair enough question, and an easy one to answer (ideas come from everywhere - from being alive, from being observant, from talking to people, from reading, from watching the News ... I could go on, and frequently do.) Sometimes I've joked that my ideas come to me in dreams, simply because people seem to prefer that answer to the mundane 'Everywhere, life, (etc).'


But there are other, far worse things you can ask an author, or say to him/her. I've had most of them said to me, and have on occasions had to grit my teeth and force my face into a sweet smile in order to give a reply that isn't a snarl of irritation.


So if you want to avoid upsetting your favourite famous author when you're lucky enough to meet her at a festival, or even upsetting your friend, neighbour, brother or wife who happens to be a not-at-all-famous author and might be more likely than the other kind to bite your head off, here's a list of comments and questions to avoid:


1. (My most hated one):  'I'd write a book too, if only I had the time'.  I wrote six of mine while working full-time and looking after kids, home, etc, so Don't Talk To Me About Having Time! As if time is all you need, anyway, to be able to write a novel! Oh, I'd be a brain surgeon and play football for Man United if only I had the time. Grrrrr.....


2. (In a similar vein):  'I've got an idea for a book but I don't know how to start writing it/haven't got time to write it/don't want to write it. If you like, I'll tell you and you can use it. It's my life history ...'
And ... don't tell me, you're convinced it will make me rich.


3.  'Is it autobiographical?'  No. It's fiction. I made it up. That's what I do.


4.  'Am I in it?'  No. But if you were, I'd get you murdered off.


5.  'I haven't heard of you'   aka  'I haven't seen your books in Tesco.'  No, because I'm not in the best seller list, I'm not a celebrity, there are thousands of other authors competing with me and you've just rubbed my nose in it.


6.  'Why are you still working?'  This was a common one before I retired from the day job. People seemed to think that, because I'd had some books published, I'd be selling up, moving to Antigua or the Azores and living in the lap of luxury. Hello? If an author has a day job, it's because he needs it, because most authors don't earn their living from writing. Trust me, I didn't work for the NHS for the fun of it!


7.  'How much do you earn?'  I mean, honestly - would you ask a plumber, or a postman, or an accountant that question?


8.  'Why don't you write science fiction/erotica/a TV series/a serious literary novel?  Probably for the same kind of reasons YOU don't.


9. 'Would you like to see one of your books made into a film/ a TV mini series/ a best seller? Do I really even need to answer this one? Should I try a sarcastic 'No, I'd hate it', or is that too mean?!


And finally, of course, there's always:
10.  'I've written a book too. Can you tell me how to get it published?'  Certainly. It might take a while to tell you, though. About 40 years, in fact - that's how long it took me to learn how to do it myself.




I should finish by saying that this is all, of course, a bit tongue-in-cheek. I really love talking to people about writing, and I've never actually been known to get irritated enough by any question, or comment, to want to murder the person making it ... even as a character in my next book. So feel free ... ask away. Er ... but maybe just don't get me started on the thing about not having enough time ...



28 comments:

  1. Oh, that's just hilarious, Sheila. Maybe you should stop gritting your teeth and smiling at these people. They might actually enjoy your wonderful sense of humour.

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  2. Glad it made you laugh, Rena. I do try to make light of these things ... don't want to upset my audience!

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  3. So agree - I used to feel I had to apologize for being author-published but now I just say I'm a successful, best selling writer earning more than I did as teacher. That's enough to stop the other questions.

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    1. And you can feel so proud of what you've achieved, Fenella - on your own, and with lots of hard work. x

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  4. Ooh, some of them resonate so much. The plumber thought "all you lot were millionaires". (Ergo, you must be a shit writer because you're not). I'm certainly a better writer than he is a plumber!

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    1. Ha ha. Yes, I agree the assumption is that we can't be much good if we're not rivalling the likes of JKRowling or ELJames. Unfortunately nothing we say will change that perception!

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  5. Then there is the person who tells you her mother led a fantastically interesting life and she (the daughter) wants to write about it. I do not disillusion them....

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    1. Yes, Barbara, I've heard a couple of those too!

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  6. Here's mine. "Are you writing the next Fifty Shades of Grey?" Er.... no!

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    1. Oh yes, Wendy - that one really does resonate with me! I suggest saying yes, just to see look on the face of the person asking ...

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  7. I've heard most of those Sheila. Good post. Gillix

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  8. Good post, Sheila. My favourite is 'Do you know your book's cheaper in the charity shops than at Waterstones?' x

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    1. Ha! Yes, I forgot about all the 'charity shop' comments, Sue! I've had that said to me when I've offered signed copies for sale. 'No, I think I'll hang on and look out for it in the charity shop'. Gee, thanks ....

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    1. You're welcome, it helps to have a laugh!

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  10. Yes, best to laugh at their ignorance - do you detect the slightly bitter note? it's the person who brings their own manuscript to your talk that I dread. Do they really believe you'll go through it there and then...??

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    1. Beth, I meant to say, in my post, that there are people who casually ask you to read their MS! And I forgot about the person in an audience once, who asked for a copy of my notes for my talk ...

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  11. Hilarious! And so true. Number 2 just makes me want to scream. And what about, when they discover you write romance (and possibly sex scenes) the ubiquitous "Is it based on experience?" What do you say? Well, no. I've never had sex, so how would I know? Honestly!

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    1. Yes, Liz - and once again, probably best to say exactly that! A straight-faced 'Well, I live in a strict commune of nuns, so I'm afraid it's all purely a product of my imagination....'

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  12. I was once so annoyed by someone in my day job that I started writing a novel in which he was a murder victim. The romance, rather obviously, was between the detective and a very high-flying version of me. I couldn't finish it because it made me so angry to keep thinking about him. In retrospect, I can't recommend it as a form of therapy.

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    1. That's really funny, April! But I can see how you wouldn't be able to get the person in question out of your mind once you'd put him in the novel! Nice try, though.

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  13. My favourite comment is when someone comes up to me and says, "Oh yes, I tried to read one of yours once..."

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    1. Grrrr! How rude, Jill! Similarly: 'I don't really read your kind of books myself', said in a very superior tone. But hang on. We're the ones doing what we love and being paid for it ...

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  14. Thanks for your tips on ROMNA re local press - will do as you say. I've come to your blog as I'm getting a bit paronoid with the cutting of the tails thing on ROMNA and started reading this entry which is hilarious.Nobody's ever asked me anything about my novels - they all just look at me blankly when I say I write as thought it's unbelievable I could actually do anything that creative and are too polite to mention it.

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    1. Thanks Jackie, glad it made you laugh. In a way it's good that they look at you with disbelief - it's probably amazed respect at how clever you must be! Better than some of the comments reported here!

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    2. PS - and try not to worry about the 'tails' thing on Romna, don't let it put you off from commenting. It only happens occasionally, and nobody seems to be able to work out why! We're all friends on there. xx

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  15. My best one was when someone asked me, "How many thousand downloads do you get in a week?' LOL, I wish!

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