Saturday, August 04, 2007

Acknowledging the Luck

Michael Holroyd writes amusingly in today's Guardian Review about the current tendency to fulsomeness and even sentimentality in book Acknowledgment sections and dedications:
Writing books is no longer a solitary affair ... These "warm and gracious" friends have become, as it were, "co-workers" on the book, eulogised for their "endless patience" and "great understanding". They are like wet-nurses tending to whatever the young manuscript and its trusty word-processor need.
What Holroyd fails to comment on is the whiff of uncertainty and/or relief coming off these missives, the sweat-soaked sense that the book might well never have been written and/or published if circumstances had been other, the contingency that always inevitably surrounds the making of a book - the author needing to keep sane and well, and if he/she doesn't have a commission needing savings in the bank or to be kept, or someone else to mind the kids. Not to mention the moral support you can need to stay on course in a world of shrinking publishing opportunities.

I have a collection of short stories forthcoming, and in the current climate I can't help feeling lucky. Part of that sense of luck is inextricably bound up with other people: the magazine editors who happened to be sticking their necks out and publishing short stories just at the time I happened to write them (and therefore boosted me to go on writing them), the literary professionals I happened to meet who gave me contacts and practical hints, the close friends and relatives who acted as my first readers and helped me go on believing in my stuff when the going got hard. Holroyd is right, that to go too far with your acknowledgments can seem hilariously self-serving (he quotes some howlers ), but they can also be a political statement about the precariousness of creative production.

I'm with Holroyd on dedications, though. A single name, that's all. And the reason it's there is between me and him.
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