I know, I know. I shouldn’t allow people to take advantage of my better nature, but what on earth can a chap do?
Now I have genuine sympathy for novelists. Sad creatures that they are, sitting in their garrets, churning out page after page covered in an infinite multitude of words. It must be the least saleable form of art ever contrived.
Take poetry. I can be at table with friends and suddenly a waiter appears bearing a bill. What to do? Simple; I summon the waiter to my side, take the bill, turn it over and after licking my indelible pencil I start to write.
There is folly and worse
But what can you say.
About the heart of a man
Who won’t let you pay
With a few lines of verse.
I read it to the assembled company, the waiter pales, the owner in the corner flinches as if he has been struck, and then one of the company laughs and demands the bill from me. He thrusts money into the hand of the waiter and carefully places the bill in his pocket.
Or alternatively when funds run low it is the matter of a moment to arrange a poetry reading. This we share with musicians, the ability to give an impromptu performance and then pass the hat round afterwards. It might be that we are paid to go away, but still, we are paid.
Put a novelist in the same situation, he browbeats his audience with a score of pages of character development and plot exposition, only to look up from his page to discover everyone is either asleep or has crept quietly away.
But as I said, what could I do?
I chanced upon Jim Webster as he sat staring at the calendar tearing his hair out. After calming him with a few well chosen words and a shot of strong spirit I discovered the reason for his panic. Apparently one of his little tales is to be published at the end of the month and he has not yet done anything about promoting it.
Promoting it! What nonsense is this? Apparently he feels that if he doesn’t scurry from pillar to post, pimping his story to anybody with nothing better to do than listen to him, he has somehow failed and nobody is going to read his work.
Not only that but he was bewailing the fact that he had other works to finish and simply hadn’t time to spend trying to sell his completed works to a harsh and uncaring world.
What utter nonsense. I immediately took charge, brushing away his protestations and told him to return to his garret and start writing again. Either that or grab his coat and venture out into world of the city at night where for a handful of silver he’d have experiences worth writing about.
In spite of this he was still babbling suggestions. I silenced him with a raised hand and told him to worry about it no more. I, Tallis Steelyard had spoken. I was in charge from this point.
I think I’d finally reassured him. He had at least lapsed into silence. So I patted him on the arm and said, “Relax, after all it isn’t as if anybody is going to buy the damned thing whatever we do.”
I do think it’s bad form when a grown man bursts into tears and flees, taking your bottle with him.