Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Poor Little Match Girl

Deck the halls with sprigs of holly! The party season is upon us!

When I first joined my current publisher it was very small. As in ‘Who’s an ootsy-cootsy little publisher, then?’ They held their parties in the basement of their offices, bought the food from Marks and Spencers and even, in some cases, made it themselves.

Now they are a great big bouncing boy, having eaten and been eaten by other publishing companies with their roots in vast financial enterprises controlled from offices in distant lands of which we little Englanders know next to nothing.

The party is now held on the roof terrace of a club in Shaftesbury Avenue, the Marks and Spencers’ cakes and quiches have been replaced by canapĂ©s that are increasingly unrecognisable as actual food. And the place is crowded.

When I say crowded, I mean, ‘Oh my god! If there was a fire in this building we would all be toast!’ And what a hubbub we all make. You cannot hear a word anyone says unless they are leaning so far towards you that they are actually inside your ear, using the cocktail stick from their canapĂ© to tunnel their way through the wax.

However, worse by far than leaning intimately over people you half-know and shouting down their ears, is the fate of those who used to be invited to the party but no longer are. Authors who have been left high and dry on the bank of editorial disinterest as the great flood of more-commercial, more-edgy or simply more-promising authors washes past.

Yes, Christmas is no time to be a failing author. The workhouse is not just something you read about in Dickens before shutting the book with a shudder and opening the Ferrero Rocher. It’s a real place where authors whom Santa is not pleased with this year must earn their keep by writing copy for businesses, lecturing part time, reading other people’s manuscripts, preparing funding applications, running workshops, and all or any of the multitude of other little diversions that we keep in our portfolios for a snowy day.

So as you stand in the corner of the over-crowded room, rapidly losing count of the number of glasses of sparkling wine you have consumed, spare a thought for the poor little match girl you passed on the street. Once upon a time she was an author just like you.

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