Saturday, August 15, 2009

Boyd Tonkin: Hard times ahead in the house of fiction
The Week In Books - The Independent
Friday, 14 August 2009

Left -Gabriel García Márquez: successful gambler on the literary life

When the market fails them, where do authors go? We will soon find out. Piquantly, next month every lover of good books and their makers will toast the tercentenary of Samuel Johnson's birth. That proud hack found in the peaks and troughs of the literary trade more dignity and honour than in dependence on the goodwill of a patron, skewered in his Dictionary as "a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery". The marketplace replaced the marble hall as habitat of choice.
Over the past year, however, the collapse in advances paid to and earnings expected from serious authors has made many far-from-obscure names feel the chill of full-time writing in a sharp cyclical slump - made worse by the inroads of new technology. Chris Anderson entitled his book about the digital-era raid on fees, rates and copyrights Free. Looking at the downward push on author's incomes imposed by electronic platforms, a literary version of his thesis would need no such sensational title. Just call it "Cheap".
Most enduring books, of course, have never paid their way. From unearned income (Henry James, Marcel Proust) and scrounging and sponsorship (James Joyce, DH Lawrence) to nine-to-five drudgery (Franz Kafka, Fernando Pessoa), the history of breakthroughs in modern writing is one long, scrappy fight for the time and space to write. With major 20th-century poets, never under the illusion that the market could sustain them, career paths show an odd fondness for financial services – from TS Eliot at Lloyd's Bank and Wallace Stevens at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company to Roy Fuller, with the Woolwich as a solicitor for three decades. As for modern doctor-writers, from Chekhov and Maugham to newcomers such as Jed Mercurio, Abraham Verghese and Suhayl Saadi, their sheer number and quality makes medicine the clear professional prescription for any literary wannabe unwilling to trust their fortunes to such a roller-coaster business.
Read the rest f Boyd Tonkin's story at The Independent online.

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