Sunday, 7 March 2010

Visibility Spell

I'd like to think that you are so riveted by my words that you haven't noticed the lack of adornment on this site. The words, after all, are what matters, not some amusing viral video or a flashing banner ad for teeth-whitening products. Yet there was something very definitely missing, and that thing was a photograph. I considered waffling on about the whole brain logo thing being mysterious, or some progressive attempt to 'build a brand', but it was easier just to stand in front of a camera and pull a face. So there you have it, another mystery solved.

I resisted the photo for a long time, on account of being a bit 'funny-looking'. This state is actually no impediment to being a successful writer, indeed in some ways it's a positive bonus. As with radio DJs, being a funny-looking writer seems to assert that you have some authenticity; those wrinkles showing evidence of your increasing wisdom and that persistent crease above your nose pointing to the deep thinking that you need to do on a daily basis. There will be occasional carps to the contrary - some debut novelist who is launched into the review pages shining with loveliness - but by and large, writing is not a beauty contest. If you're pretty enough to be a film star then you won't need an impressive command of the English language anyway.

The internet has brought us all closer to our readers and to each other (for unpublished writers, these two groups are often exactly the same). It has also made it much harder to be judged solely on our words - debut writers are now expected to be visible and available for readings and signings, school visits and promotional activities. I don't personally object to this - hell, I'm actually looking forward to it - but being ourselves is not the reason that everyone becomes a writer, especially a writer of fiction. I'm quite sure the world is hiding another Thomas Pynchon or JD Salinger, but what's the chance that we'll ever hear about them via conventional publishing?

Some have dabbled with the alternative route of creating a fictional persona - manufacturing the person who they really want to be. This is a nice idea, but also fraught with legal and ethical problems. Laura Albert's "JT Leroy" pseudonym was undone by a movie contract that she signed as her alter ego - an artistic statement that cost her $350,000 in legal fees. James Frey's "unreliable memoir" A Million Little Pieces may still have made him a lot of money, but he did have to go on national television and be told off by Oprah Winfrey. Naughty boy.

Ultimately, I've picked the most direct route - this is me, and this what I look like. It may not mean much to you, but for me it's another step up the psychological ladder towards actual publication. Or to put it another way, like emerging from my chrysalis and accepting the fact that I'm a cabbage white, rather than a red admiral.



  1. excellent face. they say a photo profile is preferable to a graphic online. to generate trust you know. this slightly sad, serious, man with the brain on his chest inspires a lot of trust.

  2. Hello Chris - lovely to see you here. We want to feel like you are talking to us personally and having eye contact is part of human communication - and as Candy said, trust.

    I'm glad you decided to be our visible friend

  3. Do I really look sad and serious Candy? I was trying for "mildly bemused". Just goes to show that you can only repress your true nature so much ;-)