On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, I heard Monica Ali, author of The Untold Story, having to defend the fact she has written a commercially viable novel.
OK, so the ‘what if’ plot focuses on the imaginary scenario of Princess Diana having faked her death to escape media attention. And, from a marketing point of view, this is perfectly timed – what with the royal wedding of William and Kate a months away. Some of the commentators were shocked that the author of literary, character-driven novel Brick Lane could descend to such depths as writing popular fiction, and that it would “be hard to take the literary hard ground after a book like this”.
Monica responded in the Today interview by saying there was nothing wrong with writers working for money, and that even novelists needed to pay the mortgage.
Why should a novelist have to answer questions like this? Would an engineer have to defend a patent for a commercial product? Would a designer defend an innovative and marketable way to reduce the time it takes to paint a wall? Would a session musician who hits the big time have to apologise for selling out. No. So why should a writer have to?
Just because most people think they’ve got a book in them doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t be paid a decent living if their output is engaging, thought-provoking and page-turning. Given the dross that gets churned out on our screens, escaping for a few hours in a book that’s written for its readership – rather than to indulge the author’s narcissism – is something I’m happy to pay for.