Here’s an interesting morsel from Susan Hill in The Spectator:
I have heard people say how disappointed they were by a famous author. Well of course they were. The books stand alone. The writer is just someone who eats breakfast – or cooks it, does the shopping, commutes to the station, drives children to school, walks the dog and must remember to telephone Mother. We become alive in a quite different way when we write and it is what we write that is interesting. We ourselves are not. Or of course, we may be, but, if so, it has nothing to do with the stories we put down on paper. Those have their own lives to live and we cannot do anything to influence them once they have left home. [9th Dec, 2009]
She says all this in relation to why there are writers’ conventions or festivals, and what on earth people think they can get out of listening to a writer speak when their writing has already spoken for them.
It made me laugh, because whenever I have attended a writers’ festival (years ago I went to one in Canberra and one in Sydney) I’ve wondered myself, ‘what am I doing here?’ I felt self-conscious, like I was a wannabe, stalking celebrities. (Erm, all power to wannabes!)
Indeed, Hill talks about the culture of celebrity, and there is an element of that in meeting a famous writer. (I can’t talk, I used to wish Lady Di was my mother.) But I suspect there are other reasons people go to these sorts of events. They go because they like to read and they like to explore the big picture themes which literature and the arts in general interrogate.
There is also something fascinating about the story behind the story. How was the book born? Where did the ideas come from?
These are probably the more interesting questions than what the writer had for breakfast.
Some say the text should stand alone, and the writer’s life should be absent from the reading of the text. But art doesn’t live in a vacuum, and neither does its creator. Perhaps it’s just a matter of deciding at what point to set the text free to make its way in the world without the shadow of the writer on its heels. Or at least to switch off the light and let the reader’s imagination take over.