Paul Kearney is the critically-acclaimed author of The Monarchies of God and the Sea Beggars series. He has been long-listed for the British Fantasy Award. His latest novels are A Different Kingdom (available now) and The Ten Thousand (available next month), both from Solaris books.
by Paul Kearney
I remember one night, sitting down with Robert Silverberg and Rob Holdstock, and getting really, really drunk with them, and thinking: this can’t be right.
That drunken night was over twenty years ago now, but I treasure the memory. I am not a great conventioneer, but in the few I went to I was always somewhat startled by the sheer approachability of the big guns of the genre.
As a neophyte author I was planted by my publisher on a panel in front of a rather large audience. There were three other people on the panel with me; their names were George R R Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay and Katherine Kurtz. To my immense pride, the first question of the session was addressed not to these stalwarts, but to myself.
‘Who are you?’ I was asked, with genuine puzzlement.
Later on in the panel we were all asked for our favourite authors. To my shame, I can’t now remember what the other non-entities on the panel said, but I remember that my reply of Cormac McCarthy and Patrick O’Brian was met with a deep, mystified silence. Then Guy Kay leaned across the desk, tapped me on the wrist and whispered with a wink; ‘Good choice.’
I could have kissed him.
When people want me to talk about what I do for a living, I always think of the McCarthy hearings they had in the States in the fifties. After a long day in Hollywood, talking to producers and directors, McCarthy’s investigators were confronted by an angry old man in dark glasses and a floppy hat who rose from his seat to ream them out for their petty little interrogations. He introduced himself thus:
‘My name is John Ford. I make westerns.’
Well, my name is Paul Kearney. I write books.
When people ask you what you do for a living and you give them that reply, there is always, even on the telephone, a tiny pause.
‘Oh that’s fantastic -‘ A slightly longer pause – ‘Have you had any published?
I count up in my head. ‘Seventeen.’
‘Seventeen – that’s amazing.’ Does not compute.
‘And that’s – that’s your-‘ The words real job are hovering there.
‘I’m a professional writer.’
The word professional usually calms them down, bless ’em.
I’ve been writing fantasy, science fiction and other genre fiction full-time for some twenty-three years now, and every time I introduce myself to some house-elf of officialdom, or even to a mildly curious interlocutor at a party, the process is pretty much the same. At social gatherings of any sort, the final stage in the exchange is locked in at least fifty percent of the time;
‘Oh, I’ve often thought of writing a book myself,’
There you go. At this point in the conversation I will drink deep, smiling around my glass and closing my eyes so they will not see the maniacal glitter in them. I will then (because I am a very polite chap), listen to them expound on the theory that if only they had more time they would have written at least one best-seller by now.
I have tutored would-be writers who have gotten to within a skinny fart’s whiff of being published, and the commitment and sheer hard work they have thrown into the process is truly awesome to behold – they worked far harder than I ever did. The old adage that everyone has a book in them is a lie, pure and simple.
It takes work, as all worthwhile things do.