Public versus private…
Such a fascinating subject in The Guardian. Should we delve into authors’ lives?
It’s so relevant in this quick-to-judge society in which we live.
All authors have some kind of backstory. All authors have experiences. In this day and age, all authors are encouraged to invite the world into their lives via social media, so that the readers of their books can feel more intimately connected with the writer. It can be a powerful marketing tool.
But how much is too much? How little is not enough? Is the writer able to remain an enigma?
Sometimes I think I would LOVE to be an enigma. How enthralling! But even more in this day and age, is what we see on social media a representation of the true person?
Many people ask me how much of me is in my books. Are the characters filled with my foibles. In all honesty, no, they aren’t. If they were, in some cases I’d be certifiable as a brutal sociopath. In others, a gullible opinionated individual with no sense of boundaries. At the very least, a narcissist.
Our books are a melange of what we see and hear, what we experience but it’s possible to build a hybrid character within a fiction plot and have the total not at all representative of who we are and what we believe.
But will we, the authors, be judged in the future for all that we might have said or done on past social media posts, let alone how we represent characters in our books? Probably. Once out there, statements and beliefs can never be erased. But then we also can’t stand by the sidelines if there’s something we truly believe in. In this day of attack on some of the world’s most innocent, it’s beholden upon us, surely, to take a stand.
However, I suspect that many contemporary authors hold their most intimate details back, things that they don’t want to share, that they want to keep close. And why not? The right to privacy is enshrined in most western countries’ constitutions.
But reading back over that Guardian article, I am reminded that many authors ARE judged on their personal views and on what they may have done in their lives.
VS Naipaul I have never liked to read and am glad I have never finished any of his books. Dickens has finally dug himself a deep grave in my estimation, with his vicious racism. I grew to dislike his books at university through three years of studying him, so I’m glad I at last have a cogent reason for never reading him again. Steinbeck and Salinger? Not my cup of tea at all. I’m sure if I had ever met them, they would most definitely not have been kindred spirits.
But I could never hold being a gossip against Elisabeth Gaskell. I’ve been a devoted reader of her work for years. Besides, how many of us can deny having a good old gossip when we have the chance?
And so to a final question: when we buy books today, do we buy because a writer has charmed us on social media, inviting us into their private lives?
How many of us rush to Google and try to find out as much as we can about an author before the deal is sealed?
Or do we just buy books anyway, because the cover, blurb and a few reviews have sealed the deal?
What do you think?
A debate well worth having, Prue and the question of privacy is a valid one. Should we share our private lives as well as our imaginations? I tend to think not but have no idea if I’m shooting myself in the foot. Very recently I posted some personal stuff on my blog to apologise for not publishing any stories lately, although I had promised. I felt quite ambiguous about this. I am guilty of curiosity about my favourite authors. When you have delved into someone’s mind through reading their work and, if they have stirred your soul, it’s inevitable to want to know what drives them. Perhaps, as is often the case in the real world, we must seek a compromise.
It’s an interesting conundrum, Alex. As a reader I find I want to know more about my favourite authors – as you say, the motivation, the revelation of something inside that makes you sit back and draw a breath, conforming that they do indeed have the depth that you as the reader was hoping for.
But as a writer, I compromise about private revelations. There are some things I don’t mind nailing my colours to the mast for, but equally, there are some things that will forever remain behind an unbreachable firewall.
A very interesting post, Prue. As a reader, I must admit that I would like to know a bit about the author of the books I read – where they hail from, some interests, what made them want to write etc. However, I don’t think that I have to know “everything” there is to know about that person. As my own person, I seldom, if ever, (take this as almost never) discuss/share/argue religion, politics or other things that seem to be “sensitive” in this day and age or personal aspects of my life that I don’t feel warrant discussion unless I choose to. I respect other people’s beliefs and opinions even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. Thanks for tickling my brain cells with this topic 🙂
It was an interesting article in the Guardian, Judy, wasn’t it? And it tickled my brain cells too – hence the post. 😉
Great post. Unlike F. R. Leavis who thought the text should stand alone, I think knowing something about a writer’s life gives you insight into the book. Besides, I am nosy so I love biographies. Some of the most appalling people are artists and writers but I don’ think this necessarily detracts from their work. I believe V.S.Naipaul was a nasty man, but I loved A House for Mr. Biswas.
But for living writers of course, the question of privacy arises. I never write anything personal on my blog and I am always astonished when people pour out their private miseries and heartaches to the world. Having said this, I suppose that when we write,whether we mean to or not, we can’t help revealing something of ourselves.
Thanks so much, Chloris. Even though I’m also a writer, I love reading fly-on-the-wall stuff about others. As humans, I think we are all have an innate curiosity about others.
Like you, I love bio’s – they give clues to the human condition no matter the social status. The risk in this day and age is that with social media, once out there in the firmament, private information is always out there. And people can be incredibly cruel.
But yes, as we write, we reveal. It’s true. How does one not? Just the very act of choosing to plant a white garden probably reveals something of me and my life… 😉