Richard: Lessons Learned
On publication of the paperback edition of Richard, author Ben Myers reflects on the events of the past year and shares with us some of the lessons he has learnt along the way...
It’s twelve months since the first version of Richard was published and the biggest surprise for me as the author is how much I have learnt along the way. Having worked in the media for a good few years, I thought I was hardened and cynical towards “the promotional process”. Apparently I’m not.
On the eve of publication of the mass market paperback, here are some of the lessons I have learnt about my novel, myself and the book business at large.
Desperation can be healthy.
Richard was the last book I was ever going to write. Having already completed a number of unpublished novels, and increasingly aware of Einstein’s quote that madness is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different outcomes”, I decided that if no publisher deemed Richard was worthy of publication I would give up writing. I was drinking stagnant water at the last chance saloon – then Picador stepped in. They are entirely to blame for me still being here, an obscure and anxious man of letters.
Richard has little to do with music.
I’d just finished reading Knut Hamsun’s Hunger for the third time and was discussing its themes of desperation, starvation and loathing with my girlfriend. “Imagine if Richey Edwards narrated his own downfall,” was the initial thought. “Imagine if that intensity of youth that Dostoevsky, Camus and Genet write about so well was transferred to a modern day protagonist.” When some people later dismissed the book as a “weird pop biography” I couldn’t help thinking they perhaps didn’t understand the wider frame of reference. This book has little to do with rock ‘n’ roll music.
Anxiety is not freedom.
“Anxiety is freedom” is a Richey Edwards lyric. I just wish I could believe that. The initial publication of Richard was no fun; but I’m not sure publishing a book ever is. You spend a year or two (or more) years of your life researching, writing and obsessing and then suddenly it is out there, first in the hands of designers and sales reps, reviewers and book buyers and then on sale, in the public eye. Then the emotional rollercoaster begins.
Turns out I’m quite a shy person.
My writing is far more assured than I am. One of my greatest fears is becoming famous (slim chance of that, of course). So the entire process of publication made it near-impossible to eat or sleep for a fortnight. So, no. Anxiety is not freedom. It just gives you heartburn.
All publicity is good publicity?
As publication approached I was meant to appear on some TV and radio shows discussing my decision to write a novel about a much-loved real life person – a modern pop culture icon - who had only very recently been legally declared dead. Writing the book was potentially insensitive enough; to then go and speak as some sort of self-elected expert on not only a) mental health but also b) a man I had never met, just felt a step too far. I contacted my publicist to say, sorry, but I can’t do any more interviews because, as of tomorrow, I was going to work on a farm in North Yorkshire. I meant it too.
Manic Street Preachers fans are ‘passionate’.
I knew this already of course, but when the long and damning reviews started appearing while I was still writing the book I suspected that I was not in for an easy ride. And I wasn’t. They dissect everything (they’re dissecting this now) (and this). But that passion works work both ways and many fans have been receptive and encouraging to what has been a controversial subject. Perhaps the most common reaction has been “I hate this book – where can I buy a copy?”
The internet is not real life.
The internet is millions of people in a room, wearing masks and shouting over one another. Occasionally a Nigerian dignitary enters the room and offers to give you $5 million, tax-free, in exchange for your bank details.
No-one writes books for “the money”.
Again – I knew this already. Minimum wage is a dream for most writers. You do it because you want to. And because it’s not rocket science.
Don’t trust the film business.
Being able to say that “Brad Pitt’s people” have been in touch about your novel is a 6/10 anecdote – but that is all it should ever be. Hollywood has a history of killing almost every decent novel ever written at birth. Hollywood should not be trusted.
Music journalists aren’t too keen on other music journalists suddenly proclaiming themselves literary novelists.
One never learns. Not really.
I’ve just finished writing a new novel and have embarked upon another. I have been immersing myself in much safer territory this time: the world of bare knuckle boxing. I love writing. Every minute of it. It’s an obsession. It won’t let me go. And I wouldn’t change a thing. What can you do, but just go with it...
Listen to Ben Myers' Top Ten Manic Street Preachers Playlist