Fantasy futures and the unprofessional author

This week saw Philip Pullman in the Telegraph pointing out that it is now nigh on impossible to make a living as an author. The book industry in the UK is worth billions, but it can’t pay its creators enough to live on. I talk about this a lot because it is unjust, and unfair, and not good. But, all of those things said, I’ve mixed feelings about the idea of full time professionally creative people.

Problem number one is that full time creativity you can make a living from has always been for the few, not the many. It is easier to get into the arts if you are white, male, well educated and financially supported by your family when you start out. Recent years have seen our Tory government telling poor kids in state schools that creative jobs are not for them. Private schools encourage their kids to consider creative industries. There have been complaints levelled recently that the BBC isn’t representative in much the same way.

I don’t fancy a system where the chosen few get paid oodles of dosh to create while the majority of us are cogs in the machine and designated consumers. People at the top of their industries can get huge advances, huge booking fees and so forth leaving only a tiny pot for everyone else. I’m not a fan.

I also know from experience that being creative full time can put an enormous pressure on your creativity. It’s nice not to have to make all of your creative work pay, to have the freedom to play, explore, develop ideas, be creative!

To be creative a person needs time, space, energy and resources. As it stands many of us work other jobs and then create as best we can in our spare time. This is not an approach likely to lead to excellence, or that means it will take us all far longer to become as good as we could be.

So, my fantasy future notions then. I think we should all be working (those of us who can work) at least some hours every week doing things that are needed. And everyone, everyone who wants it should have the time to develop creative interests. Some people will want to do other things – physical skills, personal development, fitness etc – and we should all have the scope to find whatever balance suits us. We should all have the opportunity to learn an instrument, write a book, study photography or whatever it is.

My suspicion is (and my basis for thinking this is what seems to happen in Iceland) is that more people with more time to create would actually result in more people sharing creativity and being financially viable while doing so.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Fantasy futures and the unprofessional author

  • Kevan Manwaring

    A bit of a pantisocracy then. Oh wait, That was an idea advocated by white male privileged poets! :0) in truth, one can lead a creative life in many ways – in one’s conversations, cooking, gardening, clothes, play, community … The less financial pressure on it, the better really. Variety helps. Interaction. Things to get you out of your bubble. And random acts of art throughout the day!

    • Nimue Brown

      this is one of those many things where ‘universal citizen’s income’ would in fact solve everything neatly in one fell swoop. 🙂

      • Adam Horovitz

        Wouldn’t it just! Hard to implement in the current climate, alas, given that there are many people in Parliament who remember the waves of opprobrium unleashed upon their forbears in the late 70s and early 80s by a slew of wonderful (often, but not always, working class) bands, writers etc who’d made their formative art on the dole…

      • Nimue Brown

        Quite. And now we watch HMRC make it pretty much impossible for a creative person to even access tax credits. It’s just another way of trying to rig things so there are no alternatives visible.

  • Mike from MI

    Here’s an article about huge advances paid for debut novels:

    Make of that what you will, but I am completely in agreement with the idea of part-time creative pursuits. (Marx was too, not that it matters.) In a technologically advanced society, it shouldn’t take more than 40 hours of semi-skilled labor to support a family, i.e., one adult working 40 hours should be enough. So if we want both men and women to pursue careers, the average workweek should be much lower, giving all people time for remunerative work, domesticity, community service, lifelong education, and/or creative pursuits (which may or may not overlap with remunerative work).

    • Nimue Brown

      Interesting article, thanks for that. it of course then creates a massive distortion on energy spent marketing the book – if you invest that much you have to go all out to make it pay. if it doesn’t pay, those authors won’t get to do a second book, either. Publishers are looking for quick easy sells, and dropping midlist authors, and anyone who doesn’t turn out to be a fast milking cash cow. The whole model assumes that there will always be new novelists and they are a disposable resource.

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