A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

The other day, my arse spoke to me, and imparted wisdom of great proportions. I didn’t know I’d been sitting on an oracle, but then there are lots of things I don’t know, such as pretty much everything that isn’t Googleable (seeing as nobody actually needs to remember anything about anything anymore).

Now, there is wisdom to be had almost everywhere, if only we look for it. For instance, last week, four pigeons on a 12-foot plinth at Heuston train station told me that no matter how high you fly, there will always be some bolshie bugger you have to fight just in order to stand still. This is the first time I’ve seen it coming from my arse, but it’s hardly surprising. If you think I’m a no-nonsense sort, you should see my arse.

(By the way, if you saw the headline for this post and thought “Well holy Blog, that’s terrible click-bait right there, so it is”, you’d be right. But my arse has things to say, nonetheless.)

Picture the scene. It’s late, and I haven’t moved in an hour.

My Arse:  Pssst. Tara. Hey. Get up a second.

Me:  Not now, My Arse. I have thoughts to think and days to ruin with black imaginings of unhelpful doomsday scenarios.

My Arse:  I’ve been thinking too. You’ve been sitting on me for a long time.

Me:  I haven’t much choice there. But yes, I can’t deny it.

My Arse:  I can’t do much about it either. But look, all this writing you’re doing. Is it coming to anything?

Me:  I don’t know, My Arse. The whole thing is a slow process. It can take 6 months just to query a novel, you know. And that’s not counting the 18 hours I waste per day, doing an actual job which pays me actual money, and arsing around online.

My Arse:  Mind your language.

Me:  Sorry.


My Arse:  It’s just, you’re getting heavier, you know, and your posture is going on ninety.

Me:  Right. Thanks. A little bit of encouragement goes a long way.

My Arse:  And you’re not feeling particularly funny.

Me: No.

My Arse: I was thinking you sort of got bogged down a bit.

Me:  Are you looking for a cushion, or something?

My Arse:  You’re a lot heftier when you’re thinking more than you’re writing.

Me:  What’s your point?

My Arse:  Oh, for the love of… Why did I get all the brains? Have you got writer’s block?

Me:  I knew it. I’ll get some Senokot.

My Arse:  Shut up. Look, I know you have a lot of stuff going round your head, these days. But you’re making it all ten tons more cumbersome by sitting on me, thinking about it.

Me:  Ok, Doctor. And what is it that you’re prescribing, exactly?

My Arse:  That’s easy. Take thirty minutes of good sweaty exercise, followed by two targeted queries, and a blog post with a shallow headline. And then two glasses of wine. And a pint. Of Pernod.

Me:  I’ll skip the Pernod, if you don’t mind. But the rest sounds okay.

My Arse:  You’ll thank me later.

Me:  I suppose I will. But if you think you’re getting into smaller sized jeans any time soon, you can think again. All that activity will have to be balanced by cake.

My Arse:  [I would say it sighed here, but we all know what that means, and this is a public forum.]


So there you have it. All the gurus –  the medical ones, the mindful ones, even the mindless ones – tell you to listen to your body. I’m off to the loo. See you later.

A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

From the little-known Ancient Annals Of Posterium, c. AD 1194: “And from its arse, lo! It did sprout rainbows…”

[P.S. The first person to make a joke about me talking through my arse, gets barred.]

On Waiting Productively, And Why There Isn’t A Word For That

On Waiting Productively, And Why There Isn't A Word For ThatI’m not the world’s most patient person. This is an understatement, because to tell you how impatient I am would take too long. But I was forced to spend the last fortnight in a paroxysm of waiting. It made me think about what I could learn from it, because I write a blog, so I go around trying to turn trite nothings into even triter truisms so I can beat the Internet with them until it is bloody and battered and begging for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

Only one of the things I was waiting for was important. It was a worrying thing, and waiting for news on that score has been about as pleasurable as an audio clip of a Kardashian discussing economic reform.

But because it’s easier to worry about the small stuff than anything which really matters, particularly something out of my control, I resorted to bashing the calm out of the rest of life instead.

You Can Worry While You Wait…

First on my hitlist for senseless wait worry was the blog. I’d been notified that one of my blog posts was about to be Freshly Pressed, but not when. I thought it’d be within a few days, but then it took 8 days to appear, by which time I had convinced myself that they’d forgotten about me and I should really just slink back into Maudlinsville and stay put and wait for the apocalypse to come like the good Irishwoman I am.


Then I decided that I couldn’t wait much longer to hear back from agents and publishers, because I will be old one day (if I make it that far). I therefore felt I should ramp up my novel submissions to a degree which would normally be lampooned on this blog.

It could have been disastrous. The equivalent of mass-mailing a form letter saying ‘I dare you to not publish me! Go on, I dare ya!’ Fortunately, before it was too late, I was pressed freshly, and the resulting Inbox explosions kept me out of trouble.

…Or You Can Be Productive

Then it occurred to me that the very process of waiting might be like a fire under one’s arse. If it were a chemical reaction, waiting would be the catalyst. Because nothing will make a person try harder, and think bigger, than the hard-core impotence of waiting.

In my period of enforced standby, I got through jobs which only rarely get done, and rarer still get done properly, including window cleaning; Inbox clearing; a copy edit on a novel which involved searching for the words ‘had’ and ‘been’ in order to drag it out of the colloquial Irish distant past into a more legible and immediate present; and sewing a ribbon back onto a dressing-gown on the very day it came off. (I know. Unprecedented.)

I also did accounts, an underwear inventory, and my eyebrows. I was a seething freight train of productivity. And all because I was forced to wait, and I couldn’t sit with myself.


The funny thing is that I can’t find a word for productive, positive waiting. All the synonyms have negative connotations. Idle. Loiter. Delay; lurk; procrastinate; dawdle.

I would now like to change that, by honouring Productive Waiting with tales of some of the world’s most successful waiters, and I don’t mean people who know who’s having the scallops.

1. The Princess: Kate Middleton

I’d give her her proper title, but to be fair, only the Telegraph or the Times calls her Duchess. She waited so hard, the kindness-free tabloids called her ‘Waity Katy’ back in the mid-noughties. And what did she do with her time? She learned how to be the most inoffensive royal ever, that’s what. Now she’s the perfect diplomat, role model, wife and mother, even managing (on the surface, anyway) to deal with the hideous pressure of the press and public expectations. Now that’s what I call essential prep.

2. The Politician: Barack Obama

So you spend 6 years fighting to be President when you’re already President, and only 12-18 months doing any actual Presidenting. Regardless of what your politics might be, you can’t deny most US Presidents are only able to do their job in the 3rd year of their 2nd term, when rivals are too busy eyeing up the shiny new prize to bother with the old.

Obama’s memoir The Audacity of Hope (a dreadful title which sounds like a manual for an Irish night out) hints at his patience, but he does seem to be an able waiter, productively getting all of his ducks in a row before… actually, I don’t want to finish this with a gun metaphor, but you know what I mean.

3. The Writer: Donal Ryan

On Waiting Productively, And Why There Isn't A Word For That

Irish author Donal Ryan is a master of waitery. He was rejected 47 times before he eventually discovered he would be published by the first publisher he ever submitted his manuscript to. Moreover, his second book was famously published before his first, because nobody picked up on The Thing About December until The Spinning Heart took the world by storm: so he spent his waiting time on the first book writing another book which won ALL the prizes. I have a soft spot for this talented man because he’s from just the other side of the lake from me, but he’s also funnier than stand-up when he’s speaking – seriously, go see him if you can.

4. The Country: Ireland

I’m calling this one anticipative pessimism. Ireland’s used to waiting around for stuff. We hang around, chilling our exposed arses off in northerly winds, looking enviously at the Mediterraneans with their healthy glows and diets and the Germans with their mechanised public services and the Americans with their rich paranoid borders, knowing that eventually, if we doff our caps enough, and keep making butter, drugs, airplane mechanics and – um – “Culture”, we’ll be all right.

And we are, generally. One minute we’re the naughty child: the next, we’re the kid everyone hates because other mothers say ‘why can’t you be more like Johnny?’ Neither is desirable, granted. But each is only a phase. What goes around comes around, and we’re going nowhere. And it’s raining again anyway, so what’s the point?

On Waiting Productively, And Why There Isn't A Word For That

In conclusion, achievement can be the upside of waiting. For a writer in particular, it can mean the difference between getting published, and annoying industry professionals with stuff which just isn’t ready. Does it make us like waiting any better? No, of course not. Waiting sucks. But we may as well do something during it, if we can’t do anything about it.


Tark And Mara Rail Against “Freshly Pressed” Injustice

Tark and Mara Rail at Freshly Pressed Injustice

See that tower? There on the left? Tark and Mara don’t live there. It’s full of socialists.

All was not well in Tark and Mara Towers. Mara’s shrieks could be heard on Dublin’s Northside, unbeknownst to Mara, who would never knowingly have sent herself to that part of the city on purpose. The irony was lost on both her and her husband, however. They were too incensed. They were madder than Jean Galliano and the UKIP party leadership on holidays in Calais during a mass European visa amnesty.

Mara folded her arms, ignoring the slight clank of diamond against bone. “What do you mean, she’s been ‘Freshly Pressed’?”

“It’s a sort of blogging showcase,” said Tark, his calm veneer betrayed by the flash of a black onyx signet ring as his hand scraped over the shiniest of bald pates. “One of that dreadful Sparkling woman’s posts has been selected by the Powers That Be over in WordPress HQ as an editor’s pick.”

“What is? What post?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Tark, six variegated Pantone blacks in his voice. “Something about people’s attention spans. I didn’t read it all.”

“That insufferable wench!” Mara pounded her fist on top of the baby grand pianoforte which faced the southern terrace of their twelfth-floor Dublin 2 penthouse. Somewhere in Dublin 3, a Jack Russell whined.  “She must’ve paid them off. She intimidated them! She threatened them with a virus!”

The inner corners of Tark’s demonic eyebrows made a valiant effort to meet the tip of his nose. “She is a virus.”

Tark and Mara Rail at Freshly Pressed Injustice

Hatchet job, anyone? (Well, chainsaw)

“This is abuse of the grossest kind,” said Mara. She walked to the mirror and reset her right eyebrow to a less outraged position, before retiring to the chaise longue to throw a skeletal arm over her rigid forehead. “It’s more unjust than that bloody stupid Cecil the Lion thing consuming the unwashed hippie underclasses last week as though there was a global lentil shortage. It’s not just WordPress that suffers. This makes a mockery of the entire blogosphere.”

Tark drummed his fingers on the polished marble of the Louis XIV console table. “I agree; it should have been me. Choosing that vile creature’s blog over mine is obviously an oversight. But the question now is, how do we reverse the damage? There are almost forty-two million posts published on WordPress every month. Only 0.002% of them get a Freshly Pressed badge. That’s, like, only one in every 500,000, or something.”

Mara removed her bony compress and narrowed her eyes at her husband. “Why don’t you ask her,” she sneered. “She’s the number bore. I just don’t see how we’ve been thinking about this for four minutes already, and you haven’t yet come up with a way to bring her down.  Are you losing your touch, husband?”

“Hardly, my splendiferous serpent.” Tark returned his wife’s withering glance with a look which could curdle vodka, before softening it with her favourite frown. “Don’t tell me you’re losing faith in me.” He opened his laptop and pressed one gold-embossed key. “In fact, I have already assembled the very weapon which will ensure my success in this matter, as in all others.”

Tark and Mara Rail at Freshly Pressed Injustice

Tark’s behind you

Mara watched as her husband approached the chaise longue, the laptop held out front as though he was offering her the very core of himself. She deigned to sit up.

Despite the killer blow being delivered to her husband (who had single-handedly brought that insufferable Spalding woman’s blog out of the pit of unfiltered slurry it inhabited in 2014, when he took it over while the odious harlot was on holidays) she couldn’t be disappointed in Tark. He was simply too magnificent. All five-feet-two of him strode across their palatial living room like he owned it, and indeed he did: he owned it, and the building, and Billy the concierge downstairs, who was now so beholden to Tark that Billy’s grandchildren owed him 93% of their college funds, and 7% of their souls.

“The sweet smell of success might be a little staler than she thinks. Let’s see that flab-ridden silage-odoured culchie ingrate ‘Freshly Press’ this.” Tark handed Mara the laptop.

Mara gasped. Nobody would ever be able to tell that the image had been photoshopped. It was perfect.

985,000 of Tark’s most ardent Facebook fans were about to see a tagged photograph of Tara Spalling posing in the African savanna over the pitiable X-eyed carcasses of six giraffes, a black rhino, eleven lemurs, and what looked like a rare albino giant anteater. In one hand she gripped an AK-47; the other was wrapped around the neck of an extremely dead West Highland Terrier called Percy, who had achieved stratospheric fame the previous month on YouTube, for his reaction to being called the cutest cutie in the whole wide world.

“She can have her increased blog traffic,” said Tark, his eyebrows wagging diabolically with uncontained excitement. “But she may not like what her new readers have to say.”Tark and Mara Rail at Freshly Pressed Injustice

The most uncharacteristic sound escaped from Mara: a passer-by might have mistaken it for a girlish giggle, but they would have been piteously wrong. She put the laptop aside and leapt from the chaise-longue to wrap herself around her husband, smothering his baldy head with kisses.

“You make me weak with your genius,” she said, looking down into his love-filled eyes.

“Well, I know you’re not due your weekly meal until tomorrow, my sordid little sausage,” said Tark, freeing one hand to reach up and stroke his wife’s temporarily less austere face. “But I’ll take the compliment all the same.”

Want to slag off this blog? Now’s your chance

Want to slag off this blog? Now's your chance

If you’re the sort of person who loves helping people (or issuing snappy takedowns to other opinionated types), then this is the post for YOU! Aren’t you glad you got up today? Or maybe you’re lying down. I don’t mind. I’m not positionist.

Today, as a placeholder – because I have a post I can’t release until something is confirmed which, if it ends up not being confirmed, will pretty much ruin my week and set me into a foul humour (or as we call it here, ‘a fouler’) so granular it’ll keep me in post ideas for the last quarter – I want to ask you for feedback on how I look.

(Not me, silly. The blog. If I wanted mass feedback on how I looked, I’d spend more of my life lying through my teeth.)

It’s All About That Base

I think most bloggers struggle with their themes, because approximately 2 minutes after you choose the site theme which determines your whole look, you just don’t see it any more. I’m currently using the free WordPress ‘Misty Lake’ theme, which is relatively clean, but possibly dated. I chose it because this blog is very wordy, and that theme provides large dark grey text on a white background which is easy to read.

It also allows for much widgeting in the sidebar, which to the uninitiated means I can display loads of links and badges on the side, when viewed on a regular desktop or tablet. And sometimes I display a photograph as a background, although lately I am reconsidering following one excellent comment regarding hayfever.

But there’s not much else to it. Loads of people have endlessly snazzy websites these days, full of bells and whistles and imaging and fancy backgrounds and professional-looking fonts and beauteous customised titles.

So my first question is: do you think I need it? Should I be thinking about purchasing a new theme – something smart and snazzy with a hint of cynical beauty? Or should I just stick to worrying about content?

Hit Me Baby One More Time

My second question is about click necessity – that is, how many times you’re made click, once you get here. Another reason I chose the Misty Lake theme is because the home page lists and scrolls all my posts, one after another, without having to click again in order to read or ‘Like’ any of them. I chose this because I thought if I was forcing people to jump through too many hoops to read something, or to throw me a ‘Like’, they just wouldn’t bother. However, it also means I’ve lost a big pile of hits, because every click counts as a site hit.

So my second question is: do you care whether you’re forced to click a second time in order to read a post? Does it put you off reading on further on a blog? (Or are you a closet click lover, who lives for that tappy sound and yearns for a website that forces you to click twice a second? Because there are pills for that, you know.)

Your opinion is important to us. Please vote, and comment at will. No need to be gentle, but your opinions will be tabulated and designated worthy or unworthy depending on the poll of the majority. No offence.

Did I tell you you’re looking absolutely gorgeous today?

Inappropriate Stock Photo Of The Week: Pig Ignorant

This is a very small post, before a very big weekend.

In Ireland, we are about to embark upon the infamous August Bank Holiday Weekend. In essence, it means hardly anyone has to work on Monday. In general, it means communal debauchery.

Whatever the weather, this is a calendar event so large, that the entire month of January cowers before it. There are 3,986 festivals taking place all over this island. Some are big. Some are marginally smaller than the annual toenail clipping festival I mentioned before. Some involve horses or trains; some, like the one I’ll be going to – in a fecking lovely part of the world where I grew up – involve boats and water. But the upshot of this is that it becomes impossible to blog intelligently in the face of such a mighty three days.

So I’m off to Clare. And in the meantime, here is a stock photo which had me scratching my head, rubbing my eyes and cocking my head to the side, like a West Highland terrier who’s just been told they’re not as cute as the cutest cutie in the whole wide world.

Off we go once again to the Irish Times. And once again I say thank you, lads. In this segment, I normally focus on unlikely office workers. But I had to make an exception in this case.

Inappropriate Stock Photo Of The Week: Pig Ignorant

This is a post about freelancing. Why is there a pink pig on it?

And yes, I know it’s probably supposed to be a moneybox. But why is he standing in what looks like a pool of slurry?

What keyword or phrase was used to find this stock image? Was it “independence”? “My boss is a swine”? Or seeing as they’re Irish, could it have been “as happy as a pig in shit”?

And is it just me, or does the pig look terrified?

I have a three-day weekend to come up with some answers. On the other hand, if anyone out there knows, they might put me out of my misery today.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

…having insulted your dearly departed mother, and told everyone on Facebook that you love to torture dogs.

At least, I think those are her latest crimes. I can’t be sure. There are so many.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

The URL for this article actually says “What EL James’ Grey Success Tells Us About The Future Of Fiction”. Wow. I’d say it tells us… well, exactly nothing at all, really.

I love the Guardian. Don’t get me wrong. I embody many of the stereotypical attributes of a Guardian reader, except for maybe the sandals, the ethically-sourced attitudes to putting money in one’s pocket, and any aspiration to to make the world a better place (I rather enjoy having something to whinge about).

But in this article here, the Guardian says that blockbusters like James’ Grey not only destroy the earnings of other authors, but also ruin prospects for emerging authors.

Now. Far be it from me to defend EL James: what I read of hers, I found offensive, for at least 17 reasons I don’t need to go in to, here, because this post is not about her writing. (Although I still contend that if the millions of people out there buying her books had realised before the publication of Fifty Shades that the likes of Mills & Boon supplied all the Mommy Porn a girl could ever want, had she only known she wanted it, we wouldn’t be talking about EL James today at all.)


So, back to moaning about industry moaners. Back when I started this blog, I did some bloody great statistics on bestseller sales, if I do say so myself, which were highly illuminating [caveat lector, etcetera]. Unfortunately, none of you were reading this blog back then, so it’s high time they were rolled out again.

My Arse

I touched on the blockbuster quandary before, when I asked what effect blockbuster releases had on book sales. And the conclusion I came to was: not much, really. There is no indication, from bestseller sales volumes at least, that people who buy the major blockbusters do so instead of other books. It’s more likely that people either buy them as well as all the other books they were going to buy anyway, or that blockbusters are simply the only books they ever buy.

EL James’ trilogy, when it appeared in 2012, caused a spike in UK bestseller sales of 9.7 million units over the prior year. What I mean is: 9.7 million more top 100 bestsellers sold in 2012 than in 2011. That’s a lot of extra unit sales.

Are you trying to tell me that the 10.5 million people who bought the paperback Fifty Shades trilogy in the UK in 2012 would otherwise have bought a self-published book, or a literary prizewinner which only shifted 5,000 units?

My arse. Seriously.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

That thing! That thing what didn’t work out for me! That’s all your fault!


Big Bullies

There is also no indication that just because Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling bring out a new bestseller, other book sales suffer in the long-term (unless, that is, they’re released at the same time, in which case publicity for the smaller launch probably will get lost in the noise). And less well-known authors are particularly unlikely to suffer. If I’m in the market for a Rowling, it’s because it’s created its own market: the J.K. Rowling market. The only person who is likely to suffer is Dan Brown, because if I’m reading Rowling, I’m unlikely to bother with him (which is exactly what happened with me regarding The Casual Vacancy Vs Inferno. However, many, many people read both).

Even Mills & Boon weren’t harmed in the making of the Fifty Shades self-perpetuating pornomenon (new word for the day). They were far more likely to gain customers than lose them, because the market for erotic romance exploded (sorry) once it emerged (oops) into the pumping, torrential (stop!) mainstream.

So Who Gets The Pie?

The Guardian article asks “when vast sales are accrued by single authors… what long-term impact does it have on the world of publishing and bookselling?”, finding that top-earning authors grab both headlines and money at the expense of emerging writers, thus hurting their careers.

I find this unintentionally funny. In these early posts about bestseller sales in the 1980s and 1990s,  I spoke about the fact that it was just as difficult to get traditionally published then as it is today, but top authors were earning besquillions of megabucks back then, based on far less effort. In the 1980s in particular, there were significantly fewer bestselling authors than there are today: so few of them, in fact, that the ones who made it earned pretty much all the money, because it was almost impossible for a new author to break through. There were a few more emerging in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until more widespread self-publishing in the 2000s that we started to see more and more breakthroughs into the big leagues.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

1980s NYT Bestsellers: Only 33.5 No. 1 Bestseller Authors in 10 Years. Ridiculous

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

The table speaks for itself. A mere 34 authors hit the New York Times #1 Bestseller spot in the 1980s, compared to 78 in the 2000s; and having hit the #1 spot, they stayed there for longer in the ’80s than they do now. But for more lovely detail, see links to the posts on each decade above.

There is no question that authors are earning less nowadays. At the lower end of the scale, it means that lesser known authors can’t make a living from their writing. This is unfortunate, granted. But at the top end, though, are you really upset that EL James and Random House are probably making only half today of what they would have made thirty years ago?!

That Was Then, This Is Now

The solution to pitiful author earnings, quality control in self-publishing, and changes in book format and distribution is not blaming and giving out about bestselling authors. It is also not blaming and giving out about readers. Perhaps with a little more strategic thinking, and a little less moaning, traditional publishers could capitalise on the fact that not only do we now understand more about readers, but that completely new markets are being created – with the help of social media – all the time.

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Best-Selling Authors

Help! Overwhelming success is ruining my legacy!

Or at least it might, had I any actual success to speak of. As of right now, I have to say my legacy is looking fairly safe.

But the other day, as I was perusing the all-powerful culture sections of the broadsheets, a thought suddenly struck me. Are successful authors derided without merit? Why are they hated so much?

Envy, of course. But is it something else? Is there a hipster tendency in all of us?

We’re led to believe that good literature must be important, and no literature can be important if it’s popular on a mass scale. In deriding popular literature, it helps if there are deficiencies in the writing to poke fun at (yes you, E.L. James) or if it’s considered too niche to count, regardless of cross genre appeal (RIP Terry Prachett).

But in general, achieving the status of bestseller before winning any literary prizes is enough to keep successful authors away from the inferno of critical acclamation forever.

There are many great writers whose legacy is dubious, in that they might be declared culturally significant only about twenty-five years after they die, if they’re lucky. So what are they doing wrong?

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Successful Authors

1. Writing too many books

The only thing worse than selling too many books, is writing too many. Stephen King. Jodi Picoult. John Grisham. Anne Rice. Ken Follett. J.K. Rowling. Judy Blume. All successful. None revered. In some cases, an author’s greatest sin is prolificacy. Apparently, you’re not allowed to write too many great books. And even worse, is if you write some great works, but bridge them with books that are not quite as good as the great ones. That wipes out your whole canon. Much better to write/publish only 1 truly great book, than 10 merely popular ones.

2. Being too well-known/popular

“To hell with his sparkling prose and vivid, gripping plotlines. Once I saw that woman reading his book on the bus wearing a Penney’s tracksuit, I says to myself, it’s all ruined, says I. The seething, unthinking underbelly of society has soiled it with its grotty fingers. Once they start talking about it in their pyjamas, it’s cultural death.”

3. Making it look too easy

Many of our literary greats take aons to painfully churn out heavy tomes of weighty wordiness. And it looks it. Sometimes it can seem as though the author wrote the book in their own blood, etched upon paper made of skin and bone, bound with the tears of a thousand desperate childhoods. Books that take forever to write can often take forever to read, too. Conversely, some best-selling authors can make it look like they dictated their book one rainy Wednesday afternoon whilst reclining on a day bed, à la Dame Barbara Cartland. It doesn’t mean they did. It might just mean they’re bloody good at what they do.

4. Earning too much money

Nothing will kill literary approbation quicker than making money from your books. Everybody knows that each thousand an author earns knocks 1 point off their IQ, and reduces the probability of their ever being mentioned in a college course by 2.654%. Millionaire authors are in fact assigned helpers to aid them with putting on socks, and cutting up their food.

5. Drawing characters too well

Take Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes, dismissed as ‘women’s fiction’ (on a good day) or ‘chick-lit’ (on a day as bitter as lemon getting dumped on his birthday). But for many, their chronicling of the human condition is just as important as that of Hilary Mantel or Don De Lillo, and often far more astute. People don’t realise how difficult it is to write something which strikes chords in the hearts of so many people, without constantly submitting to cliché. There are few clichés in Keyes’ books she didn’t invent herself, but she often commits the cardinal sin of writing recognisable characters. And don’t even get me started on Binchy.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Successful Authors

6. Being too funny/shocking/sad/etc

Obviously, any book which elicits a strong response from a large number of people is too proletarian to be permissable in polite society. Books which make women cry are the worst offenders, taking them away from their own problems to cry over somebody else’s – disgraceful! A truly great work of art must keep its distance. For instance, I’ve read literary prizewinners which are supposed to be funny, and never laughed once. The closest I got was thinking ‘Oh, yes. I can see that he is technically making a joke here. Very good. Yes.’ But really funny stuff that makes people laugh out loud? Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe, your one behind Bridget Jones? Nah. Not good enough.*

*One exception here is Roddy Doyle, who is funny, successful and a literary deity. To be fair, he could disprove almost all my arguments here, so we just won’t talk about him. ‘Kay?

7. Adapting too easily to the screen

Characters and a story that take to the screen like a cat to fame on YouTube? Just not good enough. Exciting battles, set pieces, denouements? Pathetic potboilers. No work of art can be considered important unless it involves a very large dollop of undramatisable internal struggle and pontification. For example, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice could have been murdered but for the fact that Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation was happily devoid of anything happening at all, and therefore considered to be the book’s equal in cultural importance.

Over to you. Are there authors you believe would be cultural royalty, if only they weren’t so bloody successful?

The 7 Deadly Sins of Best-Selling Authors