Sunday, April 23, 2006

Is It Cos I Is An Old Git (ie Over 25)?

Adrian at The Art of Fiction draws our scathing attention to UEA's New Writing Ventures. It's mis-named, as so many of these schemes are, because, as he points out, it's not primarily about writing itself. The focus, as usual nowadays, is the status and real-life identity of the author. As opposed to the National Short Story contest, this time it's 'emerging authors' being courted, those who have not had a 'dedicated publication of their work, ie a novel or a collection'. You must give a short account of your 'writing life' (!), and strictly no pen names or c/o addresses allowed. (Don't these people know that good fiction writers are constitutionally incapable of sticking to facts and are the world's experts in creating alter egos?) And it's a development project: does this mean your work can be too good to qualify, ie you wouldn't benefit from the nice little year-long mentoring scheme set up with the funding, and which of course is the real focus of it all? This scheme makes a point of avoiding the current trend for ageism - for once there's no upper age limit - but as always the stress is on the wearying, drearying obsession with new faces and new names. What about those increasingly numerous writers who've published one or two novels and then been dropped because publishers are hooked on the marketing notion of The Next New Thing - who ever sets out to help them? It's now accepted publishing wisdom that a novel by a new author is easier to sell to bookshops than one by a second- or third-time author, so every exciting new writer given a leg-up by these schemes is a mid-list has-been in the making - it's only a matter of time.

In my last post I commented on the trend towards the familiar, and so this might seem like a contradiction, but it's not. We get bored easily, but we don't want real change, we're not interested in real literary development, and in the age of the cult of youth and personality we are frankly frightened of the kind of change that overtakes dewy young faces as the years go by. We want a new brand of the same product: tales of youth adorned with pics of authors with sulky pouts and slides in their hair and little-girl cardigans. (Apologies to Gwendoline Riley, but then I never said I wasn't a bitch; now there's an author who managed to publish a very short novel - see 'Odds and Ends' in the Art of Fiction - and I suspect it wasn't simply on the strength of her prose, good as it is.)

But so it goes, to quote the great man (now there's a supple subversive literary mind inside an old shell).

Everyone's at it, no one can avoid it: the esteemed Ra Page ain't above it all, indeed his whole publishing venture seemed founded on the practice of eschewing established practitioners of the short story in favour of persuading established practitioners of other forms - poets and playwrights - to give it a go. Anything to be able to say you're offering something new in the way of authorship as opposed to simply writing.

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