Award-winning Scottish author AL Kennedy has published six novels – including Day, Paradise and The Blue Book – three non-fiction books and several short stories, and also moonlights as a comedian. She talks to Ali George about making ends meet, self-publishing and writing from the heart...
Luck is always a part of anybody’s career.
But there are ways to improve your luck. You can consult [psychologist] Richard Wiseman’s work on that. I was very bad at planning and probably wouldn’t have made it today when there are fewer outlets and the marketplace is so much more savage.
I think I would always have written and sent things out and just plugged away. I really had no other choice. I wrote because I loved to do it and I still do.
I tend to work all the time and be as diversified as possible, so I’m not personally affected by the current economic situation, as far as I know. There are some projects that it will be very difficult to get funding for and some that won’t happen, but that’s always been the case and I try to plan for those kinds of failures. But this is with 25 years of working and with a kind of track record behind me.
When I started out, I mainly earned my living by leading writing workshops and working in the community, either providing arts or bringing in specialists. I did work as a children’s puppeteer and I did sell brushes door to door, but neither of those involved earning my living.
There’s no reason, if you write fiction, to intrude on any real person’s life, other than your own. You don’t intrude on people’s privacy – it’s wrong, artistically lazy and unpleasant. You just don’t do it, if you want to be functioning person around other people. If you write factually, then you’d better be accurate, get things checked by lawyers and be sure what you’re doing is worthwhile.
Self-publishing has always been fairly pointless. Now that it’s easier, it will become even more pointless. It’s like representing yourself in court and having a fool for a client. Publish yourself; you may well have a fool for a publisher/editor. If no one else will publish you, there will be reasons for that and they will probably be your fault. The market has shrunk, editors aren’t taking risks and there are few writers who wouldn’t be picked up today who might have been 10 years ago – but being lost in a welter of crap and rantings isn’t really going to help them, or earn them money.
Be as comfortable as possible; there’s nothing wrong with earning a living and writing in your free time. If you had more free time, you wouldn’t write in all of it. Being in real life is much more useful to you than hiding in academia or sitting in a study with the inside of your own mind. Just write the best material you can and research enough to know how to take care of it.
Aiming for markets and commercial success may seem to make sense, but bear in mind that there are thousands of other people doing that and some of them mean it in their hearts and souls – they’ll beat you every time. Write what’s in your heart and soul, and hang on and see how it turns out. That way, you’ll live a good life.
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Image by Freddie Phillips.