What are the duties of the modern author? To tweet hourly, to Instagram daily, to podcast weekly, to pen a monthly TinyLetter
Alroy Kear Syndrome, I call it, after the hack and hagiographer of W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale (1930). By jumping through the hoops of the media circus, Kear has transformed himself from private tutor, to kittenish novelist, to roaring literary lion. Kear has written 30 books. In his perfectly-cut lounge suit, he gives lectures, readings, after-dinner speeches, impromptu just-say-a-few-words. He can be counted on for public dinners, letters to The Times, matters of copyright, charity beanos and British cultural jollies overseas. “I could think of no one,” writes Maugham’s narrator Willie Ashenden, “who had achieved so considerable a position on so little talent.” Kear’s sense of duty to his readers is boundless:
No club was so small, no society for the self-improvement of its members so insignificant, that Roy disdained to give it an hour of his time . . . He never refused to grant an interview . . . He was never impatient with the persons who call up the celebrated on the telephone at inconvenient moments to ask them for the information of newspaper readers whether they believe in God or what they eat for breakfast. He figured in every symposium and the public knew what he thought of prohibition, vegetarianism, jazz, garlic, exercise, marriage, politics, and the place of women in the home.
What would the duties of the public author today — less a man of letters, than a woman of many media platforms — look like? To tweet hourly, to Instagram daily, to podcast weekly, to pen a monthly TinyLetter. “Books & Cakes & Ale”, perhaps — a round-up of reading, baking and cocktail recipes. To drum up fans on Facebook and five-star hits on Good Reads. To Be Her Own Brand. To go viral. To weather the click-bait storm. To blog, to vlog, to plug. To flog copies from the Land’s End Literary Slam to the John O’Groats Jamboree. To style and photograph the dust-jacket in a set of hashtagged still-lives: Debut Novel and bowl of gooseberries. Debut Novel in window of independent bookshop. Debut Novel in field at dawn the morning after the literary festival before #aboutlastnight.
To do her own hair and make-up. To “make her own way there”. To parse the papers on Sky News and be up in the dark for Today. To bare her soul on Woman’s Hour and sharpen her claws for Front Row. To dun friends and family for Unbound pledges. To live for a year in a leaking folly as Scribbler-in-Residence to a kindly stately home. To tell the public what she thinks about no-platforming, veganism, Trump, vaping, Amazon, Love Island, Brexit and the pay of women at the BBC. To immure herself in splendid next-book isolation — and live-post every 100-word tea-break online.
To feel it was all worth it for the reader who says: “I liked your book.”