Friday, 28 September 2012

A non-fan writes...

So, J.K. Rowling has a new book out. As someone who hasn't read a single page of Harry Potter's long and - to millions of people - inspiring adventures, I'm not wildly excited and probably won't read it. But I can grasp that a popular writer changing direction and producing a book that's definitely not for younger children (but which teens will probably read) is news.

Rowling is left-liberal in her politics, which explains why the right-wing press - almost a tautology, nowadays - has gone after her. Much of the negative coverage about her manner at interviews seems sexist. All I heard in a BBC radio interview this week was an intelligent woman talking in a way that, in a male author, would have been described as forthright, trenchant, or confident.

Regardless of how Rowling talks to hacks (many of whom are not especially likeable or trustworthy people, I feel) it's worth remembering that, unlike most rich authors, she has put her huge fortune to charitable use. And here's something that someone tweeted at me (and a few thousand others).

I like that. But it's another Twitter comment that set me off. I assume it's a quote from a newspaper interview or something equally ephemeral.

"..& you have achieved a net worth of £560 million, often from the pocket and birthday money of children.." 

Of course, back in the 1860s it was commonplace to remark: 'Mr Dickens, you have achieved a net worth of £34,412, 14s & 5p, often from the small-beer money of the Great Unwashed!' Or maybe not.

But the implication is clear enough - that when an author achieves stellar success it is somehow morally wrong to keep making more money. Beyond a certain point (A million pounds in the bank? Ten million?) writers should stop charging and give the stuff away free - that, I think, is the implication of the crack.

Nobody expressed the same opinion with regard to the late Steve Jobs - that the cost of an iPad could have been reduced, as Mr Jobs was rich enough to sell them at cost without feeling it. Absurd, isn't it? Steve Jobs was a real businessman in the real world - one who made a healthy profit for his shareholders, employed lots of people, and accumulated great wealth for himself, right down the line. By contrast, most professional writers don't get paid more than a few thousand a year, and they tend to have a 'real' job to get by.

A lucky few, like Rowling, achieve what the world calls great success. Most writers never do. And it's all a bit of a lottery, because everyone can think of at least one author - living or dead - who deserves greater recognition. And that's part of the problem, too - success being a matter of luck as much as skill. Because another game the media, with public connivance, like to play is The Undeserving Lottery Winner.

Anyway, here's a nice, thoughtful item about Rowling's new book, which points out that she's done some good for people with a real but often trivialised condition.


James Everington said...

Good on her. I read the first Harry Potter book - it was a good children's book. I haven't read any more, because I'm not massively interested in kid's books, but she at least seems to be trying to keep her integrity, which must be hard.

Her comments above remind me of Stephen King's "Tax Me For Fuck's Sake!" article:

valdemar said...

Me too! That's a great piece by King, showing considerably more discernment than most of our commentariat.

Anonymous said...

My admiration and respect for Rowling (and King) just went up several notches. Not merely wildly successful and rich but compassionate. True patriots indeed. Thanks for sharing!

city said...

thanks for sharing..