It’s a lonely occupation, writing.
Not a team effort, like Consequences where each person writes something and folds the paper before passing it on:
‘I’ve done a line – now you do one,’ and, ‘Wow, that’s a good story we’ve written together!’
Instead you isolate yourself in a small room, or on a park bench or some rocks looking out to sea, push people away and refuse to share what you’ve written until you are good and ready.
So why do it when it seems so antisocial? All right, there’s a degree of self-indulgence, even obsession. But there’s also a need for introspection, a desire to dig out the perfect words and combinations of words that express your thoughts in the way you wish the reader to receive them, words with lasting value.
But having written these perfect words – what then? Who wants to read them and how will people know they exist? Does anyone know who you are or what you write, and if they do, what makes your writing so vital compared with others’? You write something you think witty and original, yet it’s only read by your brother and great-niece. You yearn for conversations at the bus stop like:
‘Hello there. Here’s a sample of my work. Look, great word – barnacle! And see how I string it together with ship’s hull and cling! Fabulous, eh?’
‘Awesome! How do you do that?’ the stranger would say. ‘It would never have occurred to me. If only I was a writer too – the joy you must have hour upon hour.’
‘Well, thanks. But if you’ll excuse me – I now have more writing to get on with.’
The problem of channelling creative work spans all art forms. A painting or sculpture comes from the artist’s imagination, a design or invention from a fertile mind. But do they have validity or purpose if no-one else sees or uses them? Is their creation only a part of the artistic process, which isn’t complete until seen and judged by a core number of people? Does the work need to be in the public domain to have any worth, or is its value solely in the eyes and mind of the creator?
I do get self-gratification from writing, but somehow it’s not enough. I also choose to believe that my work may eventually be praised more widely – that my blogs won’t go unfollowed, my plays will be performed, and bigger projects won’t be ignored or rejected by those who hold the power to ignore or reject.
Perhaps it’s a question of time. Many so-called great artists, composers and writers were never recognised in their lifetimes, the value of their work only attributed years after death, and even then its value waxing and waning according to fashion or monetary moods. Authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen fade from time to time but resurface to catch the imagination of new readers; with each new Government, schools and colleges chop and change ideas about literary value; and colourful marketing ploys can paint eighty shades of what a book is really worth. There seems no right or wrong.
Perhaps I should trust that long after I’ve gone, my tales of far-off travel will be stumbled upon by someone who cares; my pot-pourri of life observations in cafes and pubs, on trains and planes will go down as masterpieces; my tales of characters whose lives I fleetingly enter will become literary gems; my plays will be performed in forty different languages; and University Libraries will point dedicated students of irony and general madness to the section marked C for Costello.
Biographers will queue to expose how in my high chair I was force-fed tapioca; how as a parka-clad Lambretta-Boy I threatened my dad with a crash helmet and forever lived with the memory; how I sweated in bed for three weeks after giving up sixty Marlborough a day; and how I wrote a book about Bed and Breakfast that posthumously became a landmark publication for the leisure industry.
Historians will use my life trajectory as the very model for writers who fail to get recognised when they most need it. Politicians will fashionably latch on, prefacing keynote statements with,
‘As Paul Costello would have said …’
And in the year 2076 a lucky researcher trawling through a crusty second-hand bookshop will discover personal musings tucked inside an early edition of Utterly Undiscovered – and think,
As more and more comes to light, and even my autograph fetches a fortune in Sotheby’s Auction Rooms, the estate will benefit too, since royalty instructions come with everything I write.
Sat on my writing cloud at sunset, I’ll feel delighted that my work ultimately brought such joy – and know it was all worth it.
Please send royalties to:
Account Name: Paul Granville Costello Bank Name: Great Writers at Rest (GWR) Sort Code: Already sorted
Tip: If you have just discovered this article, you’re the first. Keep quiet and get it insured.
Paul Costello Copyright © March 2014
UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello. Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!
Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions