Alison Joseph (author of the Sister Agnes series and chair of the CWA) remarked when I was interviewing her recently for Mystery People that ‘Writing is a lonely business.’ It may be a cliche, but it’s true nonetheless… or is it? (Forgive me for trying to inject a frisson of mystery into this post – we crime writers can’t help ourselves!)
The image of the lone detective is iconic – an often misused epithet that is actually appropriate here. Part of the appeal of Jack Reacher is his solitary existence. Of course most fictional heroes have their sidekicks. Holmes had his Watson, Morse his Lewis, Batman his Robin, even the so-called ‘Lone’ Ranger rode with Tonto. (Showing my age here.) But the protagonist is ultimately alone. Perhaps this has something to do with what Peter James describes as the worst fear an individual can experience – the fear of being ‘alone in the universe.’
Is solitude a prerequisite of creativity? Cue another iconic image: the writer in his shed. Bernard Shaw, Roald Dahl – we all need our own writing space. For some this exists only inside our heads. Some authors retreat into physical isolation. One way or another, we write alone. Even extraordinary wonderful partnerships like Nicci French and Michael Stanley must sit at their keyboards and type as individuals.
So – ‘Writing is a lonely business,’ we authors tell each other… and in the next breath we’re asking ‘Are you going to Harrogate next year?’ Literary Festivals may be commercially useful in raising an author’s profile. They are a way of interacting with readers, that can be hugely gratifying. Don’t we all love it when our fans travel – often from overseas – for a chance to meet us in the flesh.
But the most exciting aspect of literary festivals is the opportunity to connect with other authors. We were sitting chatting in the sunshine with Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney at Harrogate 2013 when William told us that, when he was young, Shakespeare taught him more about human nature than anyone else. That must strike a chord with every book lover. Books help us to connect with each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than at a literary festival.
So – have you booked your ticket for Harrogate 2014 yet? I know I have. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my shed to finish my next book.