Here’s a quote from a much longer Alan Moore interview, about being a writer, being a writer’s writer, and being happy. I find it especially relevant, but if I went into why, then we’d have a seriously excessive long post here, since the Alan Moore bit is already pretty long.
You could end up as a writer’s writer, and that would be a terrible fate. What that means is you’d be a writer where all the other writers would say: “God, I wish I was as brilliant as him, and I’m glad I’m not as penniless as him”. I’ve known a few borderline – Kathy Acker was nearly a writer’s writer, other writers would say: “Jesus, how does she do this stuff, these sentences are fucking fantastic…the way they sort of self-destruct…”. But she was not easy and she was not popular. Iain Sinclair, I think – yeah, let’s go out on a limb – the finest writer currently working in the English language – Downriver , one of his best books, took him five years to write and he got 2000 quid for it, how many it sold I don’t know, but probably not a lot. Most writers, even the very best ones, especially the very best ones, don’t often make a living from it. You go into any branch of Waterstone’s and 90% of those books on the shelves, unless you’re talking about Catherine Cookson, Stephen King, Jeffrey Archer – the ‘giants’ as I like to think of them – unless you’re talking about them you’re talking about someone who is a teacher, or a social worker, or works in a bookshop, or works as a lorry driver, you’re doing something to pay the rent and then working into the small hours while the wife and kids are asleep. There’s levels, there’s levels to being a writer, and I think the thing to decide is the level you’re happiest at. If you’re happy writing pulp adventure stories then for God’s sake write pulp adventure stories, and if there comes a point when you’re no longer happy writing pulp adventure stories, try something else.
Don’t think that you have to write – just because literary critics decided some time in the 19 th century that Jane Austen’s comedy of manners was the only form of literature that could really be considered literature. Basically it’s because her novels were about the habits of the class that could afford to buy books. They were about the habits of the class of people who were criticising the books. They were flattering. It was holding a mirror up to a particular strata of society – which included the critics – and they said: “Yes, our ways, our vanities, our funny little intrigues, this is the stuff of legend, the only stuff of legend. For God’s sake don’t write anything in genre. Don’t write detective stories, because they’re low and vulgar”. Even if you are Raymond Chandler, even if you are an extraordinarily beautiful and gifted writer. If you’re writing detective stories, forget it. Ghost and horror stories, well we’ll just about allow Poe, but no, on second thoughts, and certainly don’t even consider people like Lovecraft, who couldn’t write . Who had a ‘clumsy prose style’. Apparently. Clark Ashton Smith. Gaudy. Forget about him. Arthur Knacken. You’re not gonna find these people anywhere in Melvyn Smith’s list of 100 novels you simply must read. You’re not gonna find any genre. You’re mainly gonna find novels of manners. You’re not gonna find any science fiction, even if it’s H.G. Wells or Olaf Stapleton, because science fiction is a lower art form than the novel of manners.
I’d say to anyone aspiring to be a writer: write what you like. Write what you have genuine enthusiasm for. Don’t write to get a Booker prize. Angela Carter, God bless her, always used to refer to ‘that sort of person’ as ‘shortlist victims’, and it’s true. Michael Moorcock is never going to get a Booker Prize, but he’s a better writer than 100% of writers who have won the Booker Prize over the last 20 years. But he’s vulgar, he used to write comics, he used to write science-fantasy trilogies. In three weekends. On speed. He used to write the Talisman adventure libraries, he used to write Sexton Blake , along with Jack Trevor Story, another writer who will never be included in the canon of great British writers. Jack Trevor Story, one of our very best writers ever.
I think it’s a great quote. And it’s all true. I think it’s a fantastic interview, too, although I recognize that not everyone 1) even knows who Alan Moore is, or why they should care and 2) Feels like reading a 26,000 word interview.
But if you do. Here’s the link.