It's never fun when reality smacks you in the face. It can be painful. It can be humbling. It can knock you down, puncture your ego and stamp all over your dreams in hob-nailed boots. With spikes on the bottom. But, if you take the hit, rub your jaw and are strong enough to stand up ready for whatever comes next, then reality can also be a powerful way to get your life in order; to work out what's wrong and to figure out how to put it right.
Take my art, for example. Over the past few days, lots of people have told me how much they like the Bagpuss/Jabba the Hutt crossover painting I just did (see a couple of posts back). Someone asked me if I planned to have it made up as a print for sale. So I cavassed opinion on Twitter. Would anyone buy a print? And, out of my 3000+ followers, six said yes. Well, actually, two were maybes. Which was pretty much what I expected. You see, the reason I gave up trying to be a pro artist last year is the uncommercial nature of what I like to paint. If I'm brutally honest, I wouldn't hang any of my paintings on my wall. And that's not me being hyper-critical. I can honestly say that if I saw that Bagpuss picture, and it had been painted by someone else, I'd like it, I'd laugh at it, but I wouldn't buy it. So why would anyone else? If I compare it to the work of a popular artist such as Paul Slater (see previous post), I can see what I do wrong. His colours are much more subtle and considered. His humour is mature. Galleries love him. No galleries want my stuff. I'd love to be as good as him. But I'm not. Maybe if I keep on practising I'll get close. But the point I'm making here is that when the reality hit me that I will never earn a living as an artist it wasn't a bad thing. It made me realise that art should just be a hobby for me. And it will be because I like painting and I like what I produce even if it isn't commercial. That reality slap made me focus on the things I am good at.
I know that I'm a better writer than I am an artist. People do like my stuff - I've just had a terrible run of luck. As I've reported before (here and, in more detail, here), I have had several close calls with success, including having a Doctor Who script accepted by the BBC and co-writing two episodes for Gerry Anderson's revamped CGI Captain Scarlet series that would have been used if the show hadn't been cancelled after season one. I've had near misses with novels too. I've written five books - yes, five - that, I was sure, all had great central ideas. And I was right. I know I was right because five other books with the same idea beat me to publication, rendering my books forever unsaleable. It's just cruel coincidence of course but it stings like battery acid in a cut and there's nothing you can do about it.
I turned to non-fiction and, many would say, finally found success with Joined-Up Thinking. It's true that I got a book deal with Pan Macmillan. It's true that I got a terrific advance because everyone - from The Bookseller to The Telegraph and The Times - reckoned it was going to be a massive hit. Stephen Fry did a cover quote. I did scores of interviews. I had a launch party at the Phoenix Theatre in London. The book has never, to date, had even the hint of a bad review. But it bombed. A combination of factors - most notably the loss of almost every major high street bookstore chain in the months leading up to release - meant that the book got no publicity whatsoever. It came out amid a huge raft of highly-publicised celeb biographies and no one knew my book even existed. To date, it has still not made its advance back. All of which means that no traditional publisher will now touch me - I'm a 'bad investment'. My agent has not been able to get me even a nibble for nearly four years.
Slap! Reality check!
So yes, I've had a shit time of it. And yes, I'm pretty toxic. But that means that other avenues are ripe for exploration. Crowd-funding is one such avenue and I'm delighted to tell you that I have a new book coming out very soon with Unbound (Even that suffered a slight hiccup as it was meant to come out before Christmas but a book with a similar format and an almost identical tagline came out just before. Again! Aaargh! So I had to go away and re-think the structure). But we're ready to go again now and I'm hoping I don't get gazumped for a seventh time!
Reality does suck sometimes. And life isn't fair but it's no use whingeing about it. There will always be people who seem to get every advantage, deserved or otherwise. And there will always be people like me who, if they fell in a barrel of boobies would come out sucking their thumbs. But there's strength in adversity. It's made me leaner (not physically obviously), hungrier (why I'm not lean, physically), more determined, more focused. I've stripped away the stuff that will never earn me a living and concentrated on what I'm best at. And if this new book does okay, it'll go some way towards 'clearing my name' with the publishing world. I'm ready for the next punch. Bring it on.
I'll be pimping the book like a madman very soon. Watch this space. x