Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tell us what you really think, Susan

I stumbled upon this rather feisty rant against the “democratization” of writing on the website for The Spectator, that fabled right-wing rag out of Britain. It seems the author was asked to contribute a short story to some fringe festival to be posted anonymously on a wall alongside other anonymous short stories – some written by published authors, some written by amateurs, including school children, as a kind of exhibit, or something. The author, Susan Hill (I know, I don’t have a clue who she is either), is infuriated that someone would dare propose such an idea to her, a professional author with “a good degree in English” who has studied her craft for 50 years and published some 43 books. She takes what sounds like a well-meaning (or at least innocuous) proposition and turns it into an opportunity to embrace her inner curmudgeon, railing against marginalized peoples, the disadvantaged, the displaced, or anyone else who may have gotten a leg up on all her decades of drudgery because of their circumstances. She sounds off on the Internet while she’s at it, and laments how quality writing is getting drowned out by the noise of shoddy online amateurism.

Let me say that I agree with the spirit of Ms. Hill’s column. Writing is a difficult craft: it takes years of training and practice and reading the masters to do it well. What’s more, it’s often thankless and ill paying and prone to cause long bouts of self-loathing or feuds with one’s mother. (I’m looking at you, Houellebecq.) And it’s always frustrating to those of us who do write professionally to see subpar, unschooled work getting undue attention. Or to see someone argue that there is no inherit hierarchy of value from one piece to the next, that they’re all “equal”. By why spew such hatred at groups of people whom you can only describe with the most hackneyed of clichés? Can I really trust you as a novelist if you see the world in such simplistic, one-dimensional terms?

Ms. Hill should be proud of her accomplishments and leave it at that. After all, she won the Somerset Maugham Prize and the Whitbread Book Award back in the early `70s. And then, 15 years later, something called the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. (Thanks, Internet, for the research help!) And now she writes for The Spectator. She should let the babies have their bottle and get back to working on brilliant books that none of us are equipped to appreciate.


  1. Susan Hill is kind of fabulous. I used to read her blog and about every three days, she'd rant about the lie that is global warming. She's the kind of Englishwoman who's been angry ever since they banned the hunt, and thinks the foxes are getting much too feisty. I really enjoy her work, and being cantankerous is an important part of her persona. She could also totally kick the crap out of me.

  2. Good to know. I'm all for cantankerousness; I'm kinda suspicious of foxes myself. (I blame Disney.) Still curious to know what her beef is with the alleged downtrodden, tho.