There is no Advance on Perfection. by Milly Johnson
Twenty years ago I had never been on a computer. And I didn’t have a mobile phone. When I did acquire a pc it was so deep it took up half my desk and getting on the internet was wildly expensive and took ages, and it blocked up your phone line. Anyone of the era only has to hear those bangs and squeaks and whistling noises of interference as the pc struggled to connect with the world and they are catapulted back to an era that somehow seems reminiscent of dinosaurs. As for my phone… A brick that cost me as much to ring up my mother as it did to go on a holiday to Corfu. I say all this because it’s in living memory that the role of a writer has changed.
I joined the profession when the days of writing being lonely and cut off from the universe was a thing of the past. Now, when you write a book, you don’t send it off and forget about it, you have to sail with it part of the journey, support it with book signings and articles and social media interaction. Authors are no longer mysterious creatures in ivory towers, they are accessible and ‘real’. Accessibility is a double-edged sword because it’s fab to receive emails about how much someone enjoys your work, not so fab when you’re asked to supply a list of all the restaurants in the area because one of your fans is coming to Yorkshire.
I’d always pictured the life of an author as being far more glam than it is – ie drifting about in a pink wispy peignoir with a bichon frise under my arm as I dictated to a secretary typing on a noisy Olivetti, Barbara-Cartland style. It’s not. There’s nothing glam about the actual process of writing a book and wishing the rest of your body were as light and nimble as your fingers are on a keyboard. If I can get to the keyboard that is, because if I move away for five minutes, the cat decides those keys are the most comfortable place to sleep in the house. The writing process, condensed, consists of staring, tapping and drinking coffee and in my case, shifting lazy cats. Not a hint of a feathery boa.
Sometimes the writing part of it is the easiest bit, the hard part is doing your own PR, a necessity these days. I’ve mastered Facebook and Twitter, I love Instagram, Snapchat mystifies me. As for Pinterest… I mainly use it to look at big houses and dream of my own mansion. Then there is the necessity to never put a photo out there in its naked form – Noooo… you must give it a Ludwig/Moon/Amaro filter. Fade out your edges with the Vignette button. Crop out the unnecessary. Resize it to fit a Twitter header template. Facebook live. Youtube channels where you can show off the short films you’ve made on Movie Maker. You need to be an IT expert, an artist, Steven Spielberg… and don’t forget your memes.
So where will we be twenty years on? Will writers be in holographic form having tea in your house with you? Will I have chucked away the phone, because I can speak to my mum via a chip in my arm? Maybe the job will come full circle (like vinyl records) and writers will be legally obliged to wear pink negligees and own a toy dog.
I just hope that some things stay the same. A book is a book is a book. At the heart of our job is that love for a tome with pages you can turn, full of letters that you read. Nothing thrills a writer more than holding their first physical book in their hands. There can be no advance on that particular perfection. Surely?