Sidestepping the ‘product’
Chris Flynn’s commentary (‘Claws out for a Writing Career’, October 2011) discusses the idea that some authors of literary fiction may be considering more commercially viable practices in order to remain relevant. I am a writer, but have also practised as a visual artist for many years. Some thirty years ago, I watched the arts move from a pursuit appreciated by a selective audience towards a large and lucrative industry, employing thousands and eventually becoming a major part of the economy. While that may be good, in many ways it seems to have sidelined the creators; more central now are the organisations and industry professionals who present and promote a particular kind of product.
Unlike the literary world, many visual artists adopted other strategies, sidestepping the Establishment, organising and funding their own events and exhibitions. (They recognised that there is no pot of gold – nor is that what art is about.) But authors of literary fiction hardly have this option. Alarmingly, funding one’s own practice, even if it is commercially successful, is called ‘vanity publishing’. Which sanctimonious bureaucrat thought that up, and how did writers come to accept it? There is nothing vain about sidestepping an industry that has hijacked creative output to the point where writers such as Glen Duncan and Nick Earls must redirect their craft if they wish to continue being published.
Perhaps it is time to question this industry which is clearly failing them, and which may not even have the idea of supporting the best literature as its primary aim. Some literary fiction may very well not be ‘relevant’ to a mass audience. Should writers lose faith, dump it, and try for something more ‘viable’? Or is it time for authors to reconsider their priorities and stay with it? To my eye, independent press, online, and digital are gathering momentum, and a robust alternative scene may be just around the corner.
Robert Hollingworth, Fitzroy North, Vic.
CONTENTS: NOVEMBER 2011