Sunday, 10 July 2011

Steph Swainston Is Not Your Bitch Either!

Someone is wrong on the Internet again. This time it is Steph Swainston apparently. In an article in the Independent, Steph announced her decision to leave writing books full time and train as a chemistry teacher. I'm paraphrasing the article, but basically Steph has found it difficult to honour a one-book-a-year contract, and doesn't enjoy the publicising part of the author's job. HERE is the full article.

Now, I would have thought the previous week would have taught people something about newspapers *dry*. Namely, that any chance to sensationalise a story will be snatched at, and that stories/quotes taken out of context can make a person sound truly awful.

Key quotes in the article included: "I need to return to reality", "The internet is poison to authors" and "It's as if authors have to be celebrities these days." These quotes ruffled the feathers of certain authors, it seems.

I was dismayed to see some of the following reactions from people on Twitter:

"She was always very fragile, though, wasn't she, Steph? It does all sound the tiniest bit precious."

"Depends on how thick the author's skin is."

"Strangest article ever - she really doesn't seem to be cut out to be a writer, or understand the modern writer's life."

"She's clearly not cut out for & not interested in writing (dandy). But no point in her being GoH."

"I'm giving it 9months before she's sobbing outside Orion house, shrieking, 'let me back in!'"

I don't know Steph Swainston myself and some/all of the above quotes come from people who do know her, but....well.... here's the thing:

An author decided that she could not commit to producing her best work on a one year schedule and would prefer to spend more time writing each novel. She has decided to retrain as a teacher, which is a great vocation and something our schools are crying out for. She intends to honour her remaining commitment as GoH at Eastercon 2012. And she will still be writing, albeit at her pace.

Is it just me, or do the quotes from fellow authors make it sound FAR FAR FAR worse than it is? Why the vitirol? Why the mocking? Why the condescension?

Steph Swainston has decided to do what is best FOR HER. She has made public what was no doubt a difficult decision, and tried to explain why she might come to this decision. Her decision is not what everyone would pick.

How about delighting in the fact that Gollancz can now go contract another author, since Swainston has been adult and taken herself out of contract so that she can produce her best possible work rather than forcing out something she'd not be happy with? How about recognising that the pressure of being an author has caused meltdown in other people, who received sympathy?

I think it was all a bit unfriendly. For me, I say that Swainston has made a great decision and I wish her well in her future teaching career.


  1. I personally applaud her decision. While I understand that being a full time author demands rapid release schedules (at least for those for whom eating isn't optional), I would rather have authors produce fewer, better books than rushing half baked ideas to press.

    That she wants to commit to writing her way and is willing to take the day job she gave up (to be a teacher no less) in order to do so is highly commendable.

  2. A couple of those remarks on Twitter are from the same writer and another is part of a conversation with that writer with another writer - and they are more prolific than others. They perhaps don't offer a similar level of sympathy because they write more than one thing at at the same time?

    Also they reflect that it is an industry first an an art second most of the time?

  3. Gav - first off, fellow writers bitching about Steph does not sound at all good. Second, just because they're more prolific does not make their comments sound any better or nicer. It just shows no consideration for others and no appreciation that what works for one does not work for another.

    Writing is an art. Otherwise we'd all be doing it. Accountancy is an industry. Steph is treating it as an art, not taking the James Patterson approach.

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  5. I think the writing community should be rising to support her, not trying to bring her down. She doesn't owe anything to anyone and I'd always rather read one good book than three so-so ones. I hope she continues to write, as it seems she has a gift, but everyone should be able to do what they want at the right pace for them.

  6. I was only adding context - not actually defending their comments.

    Though most writers don't make a living out of it and not making it their key to sanity and survival?

    she sounds like she is taking the practical approach

  7. OK, trying again...brain not firing on all cylinders first time.

    Not everyone's cut out to be a full-time career writer, and better to recognise it and deal with it, than have a real meltdown. I wish Swainston all the best in her new career - though personally I'd rather take on rabid genre fans any day, than a bunch of hormone-soaked adolescents!

    And certain people should remember that Twitter is a public medium, not the convention bar :)

  8. She just sounds like a shy person who wants to be left alone to be creative at her own pace.

    It's easy to take offence at a perceived tone in a newspaper article, but journalists always twist and exaggerate to make a story.

    It's also very easy to be smug about your position and to look down on others who have chosen a different path. Glass houses and stones and all that.

  9. Also excited for Steph Swainson, and hope that writing at her own pace, under her conditions, brings her much happiness (and, as a fan, I kinda hope it brings me more books). I suspect that, no matter how much everyone else debates the decision, she's already considered all possible sides of it for months and months. So, power to her!

    Unrelatedly, I think the kerfluffle going on today did nothing but prove Swainston's original point - the internet really is insane!

  10. Personally it sounds as if she doesn't want to be a writer in this day and age. Comments about social networking are valid so long as she uses other avenues to get her work out there. It should be noted I only ever heard of her in passing, but some other authors are able to weather the things she complains about with aplomb and some in very creative ways (GRRM's detractors come to mind...he just tells them where to go). Erikson is a good example. A number of people for some reason don't like the Malazan books and are vocal about it online...but Erikson ignores them and contiued to put out the Malazan books to their completion...exactly how he saw it and didn't let ANYONE deter him, let alone grumbly fans and non-fans. He was writing it for the fans who enjoyed his work.

    My comment is mostly that the things Swainston seems to bemoan (as far as the article represents her anyways) are things that a large number of other authors have to deal with as well, and those other authors get on with it and tell their story. To use a euphemism a friend coined this is tantamount to playing a board game with someone and knocking the board and pieces on the floor cause she didn't like how it was going. My advice would have been write for your fans, not the ones who detract. The one book a year thing is tough...indeed it's tough...but it doesn't sound as if publishers are firing authors who are late if the work is good.

    Teaching is a good vocation and kudos to her for choosing something like it as a secondary career.

    The internet is poison is pointedly untrue. the internet is crazy and is filled with trolls, but if you navigate it well and do your best to ignore detractors (or do a GRRM and just tell them to eff off) then it can be a great place to drum up interest. Would stuff like THE HUNGER GAMES or the like have done as well without the sort of support internet fandom provides? Maybe, but probably not in the scale and speed and numbers that the interwebz provides.

    I probably feel less sorry for her than I should, but I can't help my gut reaction to the whole situation which comes across as an over-reaction and sour grapes. Why can't she take a break from writing, start a teaching career, but down the road pick up her laptop again and pen some more stories for her fans? The whole thing doesn't need to have been so overblown. whether that's the media that reported its fault, or something other I dunno.

    I wish her well as a teacher indeed, and I don't think other authors should weigh in such ways with such vitriol as she's entitled to do what she likes with her life and owes no one anything...but had she been able to apply that aspect of personality to her writing perhaps she'd not have had to give up?

    I dunno, just kind of spitballing what seems like a very strange story to me.

    Oh, and as I heard someone many books has Stephen King written since he "quit writing"?

  11. I just saw she apparently has said she WILL return to write stuff down the road, so I take back what I said about the quitting forever thing.

    And thus is the point of part of your post proven Amanda, the Independent article misrepresented what she meant... it seems.

  12. If she wants to be a teacher, I say more power to her, honestly, since the world of education needs more teachers who do their jobs for love of the job, not love of the paycheque. And since I hadn't even heard of this author before this stuff hit the blogosphere, it's not like I'm suffering a personal loss by her taking herself out of the world of writing. And I can even see her point, that producing one book a year can be a tough deadline to meet, especially when being an author doesn't always pay the bills and you have to hold down a day job just to make sure you've got good food on the table. (Though I also maintain that statement assumes you're using to living on $50000 a year, or the equivalent thereof -- I live on about half that and manage just fine.)

    But what I dislike about all this is thei either-or attitude expressed. You can either be an author or a teacher, but not both. You can, even at the pace of having one book a year. It's not easy, and it basically involves you not having a social life anymore, but it can be done. But I can also easily understand why some people don't want to make that sacrifice. Me, I kind of like being able to take some downtime and not have to worry about work of any kind! It's no fun to come home from work only to have more work to do. But it can be done, if you're the kind of person who can handle it without having a breakdown. It's pretty much how a lot of authors have to do things in order to get their first book published. Go to work, come home, write like a fiend, edit like a greater fiend, send out submissions, write some more... I worked out the stats once, and assuming you type at a steady pace of 25 words per minute, you can write 100000 words in less than a month if you write for 4 hours a day. Which is what I hear most published authors recommend for people who say, "I want to be a writer." Glue your butt to a chair and write for 4 hours a day. If you can do it, you might have a chance. And 4 hours a day can be done even if you're working for 9 hours at another job.

  13. This seems like the craziest thing for there to be a controversy about. Shouldn't she be able to do whatever she wants with her life and writing career? It boggles the mind that people think that their opinion on it is worth a hill of beans.

  14. There's a tacit assumption that enduring & deeply felt works of fiction can be repeatedly produced at some arbitrary speed. They cannot. What can be produced at arbitrary speeds is fiction of middling quality, slight ambition, bland voice and no psychic depth. For many this is just fine. But I'd rather have one fully realized masterpiece than fifty ho-hummers. -- A novelist & reader.

  15. The publishing business (operative word) does not reward creativity. It rewards those that can shit out clichéd, moneyspinning Fantasy trilogies (or longer series) at as fast a rate as possible. It doesn't reward taking your time over things. It doesn't reward taking risks.

    No doubt Orion will replace her with some author of dreadfully unimaginative but highly marketable garbage to provide them with all nine books of The Dragonspell Chronicles. Mainstream Fantasy fans will lap it up, and the race to the bottom will continue.

  16. @Gavreads,
    "Also they reflect that it is an industry first an an art second most of the time?"

    That's why I haven't got much time for around 90% of what's out there. And with the current economic situation being the way it is, and publishers increasingly wary of taking risks, it's only going to get worse before it gets better. Regardless of whether money changes hands, those who practice or help deliver an artform should always strive toward it being an artform and not just a commercial product. Otherwise what's the point?

    Publishers can say "it's an industry" to defend their practices and decisions, but should bloggers/fans take that line so readily? I know some of us are very used to the cosy and mutually beneficial relationship with publishers that the internet has allowed bloggers over the last decade or so, which inspires a degree of sycophancy perhaps, and the feeling that they're "insiders" in that industry, but to be valuable a commentator has to challenge the status quo sometimes.

    Perhaps that sounds a bit confrontational but I'm becoming very tired of hearing people parrot the "it's an industry at the end of the day" line.