It’s a peculiar thing, you know: My ambition was to grow up to be the Patrick O’Brian of the non-naval elements of the Napoleonic Wars. That’s it.
Know everything the way he did and write books about these superlative men who saved the world from Napoleon’s brutish dictatorship.
But here’s the thing about O’Brian–and I’ve always admired this. Nobody really knew him. He gave one interview in his life. Maybe two. He lived in semi-seclusion in the south of France. To this day, most people don’t know his real name. And it’s dashed difficult to even get a sense of who he was and what he did during his lifetime–except write books. That we know about. And I love that about him.
He lied about his life, threw up a smokescreen, or maybe he didn’t–we just don’t know. But he was, above all, a private man and that was respected. And because he was such a curmudgeon, or perhaps his agent was, he was left to get on with it.
But we don’t do things like that any longer. Authors now have to have a presence and a platform. Whatever that means. It’s no longer acceptable for us to do our work unobserved and unknown. And the question raised by Thomas Mann’s A Death in Venice–does the reading public need to know what inspires a work or is that best left between artist and muse?–is no longer deemed relevent.
And whilst I recognise this is the way things are now done and all that–in the face of a series of readings and signings, I am prey to some trepidation, regret and concern. For I love people watching. I love my normal, quiet (probably boring) life–for it’s in these hours of quiet and daily routine that I hear my characters, I learn about them…In truth, I’m not a very social individual, I suppose. I like being invisible. And I don’t want to lose that. (And the thought of my picture everywhere or even anywhere makes me shudder with dismay.)
Not that I don’t want to do these readings or signings. Not that. Never that. I’m over the moon that people are enjoying May 1812. I even heard from one fellow that he’d got it, sat down on the bed to have a quick look and didn’t realise until page 122 that he had other things he was meant to be doing…Can you beat that? No, of course not! And I am chuffed to bits.
Still, no matter what I am, I am bound to disappoint or surprise–possibly both. For I am assuredly none of my protagonists: I don’t crack codes for the Foreign Office, I don’t run a spy ring either, though I do ride, occasionally even well…And I certainly don’t look like any of my characters–which may be a good thing. (However, I am unlikely to frighten small children or cuddly toys.)
And with that, I think it is possibly time for me to head out to the stables…where the lads will never care what I look like, nor if I’ve bathed, nor what I’m wearing, nor if I’m erudite or witty or neither. I’m just the one with the soft hands and the carrots in my pocket.