16 June 2003
Assembling the accounts: always a time of joy and domestic contentment. Whoo, yeah. But spare me the sniggering jokes about 'another work of fiction, then, Chaz, eh?' - in this, I am scrupulous. Not sure why, exactly, except that I like and value numbers, and I don't like to see them fudged or shuffled. Besides which, I like to know how I'm doing; cheating the Revenue would cheat me too, give me a warped picture of my own progress. Or, more likely, regress.
Whether it's been a good year or a bad, though, makes no difference to the process, the drawing together of all the numbers, all the bits of paper. I do like numbers, I ought surely to like bits of paper, but this order-out-of-chaos thing, the process I detest. Which might be used to account for my behaviour on Saturday, when I was in a vile mood all day, and went off to an old friend's stag night scowling blackly. Stayed for a few pints, said nothing of any use to anyone and came stomping home early. Shoddy manners. I'm not vain enough to pretend that I spoiled the evening, but certainly I added nothing to it; and if I'd tried to pretend it was because I was in mid-audit, I would have been lying. It was much more to do with half the publishers in the UK turning down my new project, that the lovely Americans have been so keen to sign up to. I get mad tired of people saying 'Chaz, I love this book, but...' It might be easier if I didn't believe them; but they really do like the work and they still aren't going to publish it, because it really is easier to sell a complete unknown than someone who's been around a while and not yet had a hit. Which is a truly depressing scenario, and not only for myself. It discards an entire tranche of craft and experience, those writers whom the industry used to nurture, with an eye on the long game; if short-termism tightens its hold just a little more, there will be nobody left bar the bestsellers and the new kids. And that will make a hollow vessel indeed, and sooner or later the book really won't be worth the candle, and we can all spend more time at the magic lantern show. And I shall live in the country, and subsist on half an acre and no cow. Cows are too big, goats are too mean and their eyes are horizontal, letter-box format, which is scary. I might keep pigs, I like pigs.
Actually, I'm working on a whole new theory that relates writing to farming. Farmers have always been divided into genres: the gentlemen farmers who do it because it's expected of them, because the land comes with the name and that's what gentlemen do; the hobby farmers who do it for the fun of the thing, because they like the work, but their money comes from elsewhere; the commercial farmers, who grub up hedges and strew artificial fertiliser in all directions and do nothing that won't attract a subsidy from somewhere; the subsistence farmers, who farm because that's all they know or all they want to know, and never mind that the land is stony and the prospect bleak. I could go on, but it's a shame to stretch a metaphor too thin and I think you get the idea. Substitute 'writer' for 'farmer' and the list pretty much holds together. We have our dynasties, from the Amises to the Waughs; we have our hobbyists and our truly greedy, truly heedless cash-croppers; and there are still some of us who subsist, who eke a living out of literature without the support of partners or pensions, second jobs or selling out. But there are I think fewer of us, year by year, and there too the parallel holds good. And sometimes, just like farmers, there seems to be nothing we can do but whinge and feel sorry for ourselves, for which I probably ought to apologise but my mood is too grim to offer even that much comfort. In truth, I don't think any of the above is to blame for the foulness that I feel just now, neither the accounts nor the rejections nor any of the other pains and griefs in my life. I'm just on a downswing, and welcome to the slough of despond, Chaz-style; it usually throws up dissertations on the desperate state of British publishing or bookselling or whatever. Always something to kick at: which is convenient really, when I have in me such a dreadful urge to kick.
© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.