HOW the lives and worlds of writers have changed!
The careers and times of authors of fiction operating today seem… one doesn’t wish to be rude or cruel, so let’s not say ‘dull’… let’s settle for ordinary.
Okay there are exceptions – John Le Carre / David Cornwell might well count; so too Jeffrey Archer.
But on the whole we’re talking rough adherence to an order that seems to involve a secure upbringing / schooling; first degree (usually, if a British writer, English or some offshoot); second degree (strongly likely to be related to the first); PhD (see earlier degrees). Often done, it should be added, on the bounce.
After this, employment at a university teaching the same subjects the author her / himself studied. Within a couple of years, a term or two at a twinned university overseas… possibly not top tier but solid enough, in, say, an American state of the type termed (perhaps unfairly) ‘fly over country’. In due course our writer-academic will climb the pay scales, fulfilling obligations and teaching pretty much the same thing year-in year-out, also adopting the occasional PhD student (thereby helping bring on the next generation of writer-academics cut from more or less the same cloth).
If successful commercially (or sufficiently esteemed by ‘connected’ types with whom our author-academic has contrived to get acquainted), there might be appearances on BBC television or radio now and again, as well as book signings at festivals and stores of the larger kind. For the less successful, in sales terms at least, there will be attempted signings at significantly smaller festivals and stores.
So much – or little – for their public lives. It’s totally possible that the private lives of these authors, however, positively froth with wild, off-syllabus excess, dark deeds, torrid romance and adventures worthy of Hemingway. But, on the whole, one tends to think not.
Safe, secure and arguably lifeless (when set against figures such as, say, Damon Runyon, George Orwell or Martha Gellhorn) is perhaps the order of the day.
And the point to be drawn from all of that is? Well, for one thing, it could account for why so much contemporary fiction seems so darned… samey.
Compare and contrast with the life and world of Arthur Machen (left).
To attempt to precis Machen’s life in a reasonably short paragraph seems an act of madness, but here goes. Born in Wales, but living mainly in London, he was variously an impoverished self-educated scholar (who never made it to university), an impoverished translator and writer, the founder of a genre of fiction that came to be known as weird horror, a roving newspaper reporter (employment he came to detest), an impoverished actor (with a fondness for playing Dr Johnson), a follower of a mystic order, a lover of good company in taverns, an associate of occultists, a contemporary of Beardsley and Wilde… and we’d best stop there before this list becomes utterly unwieldy.
Safe to say, it’s a life whose mosaic leaves us reeling – and curious to learn more.
Helpfully we have a notable new book with which to navigate the myriad worlds of Arthur Machen.
Editor R.B. (Ray) Russell modestly describes Occult Territory: An Arthur Machen Gazetteer (Tartarus Press) as ‘not exhaustive’. But one suspects that most readers of this not insubstantial volume will agree that he (and those who’ve assisted him) have done a pretty comprehensive – and praiseworthy – job.
From Wales, to London, to the English North and West Country, and as far afield as France, ‘Machenland’, as we might perhaps call it, is carefully catalogued in more than 250 pages of images and notes.
And while Machen’s life didn’t match the international experiences of, say, Rudyard Kipling, readers of this volume – particularly those new to Machen – will come away from it with a sense of a life lived.
(Cont. next column)