Friday, 9 November 2007

The blessing of blogs

It’s a Friday evening after a busy week and a long day’s teaching and I’m getting my first cold of winter. Reader, I do not feel like writing a blog. Not at all. Yet, I’m going to do it. The reason is not simply out of a sense of duty to the probably very small number of people who actually read this regularly. The fact is, I have actually found it to be quite a blessing. Quite simply, it forces me at the end of a long week to write something vaguely sensible and vaguely coherent. It is the verbal equivalent of making yourself go to the gym. You do reap benefits. So for instance, this week I had to rewrite a statement a student had made about himself for university. His comment about the result was effectively unprintable in its gratitude for how I utterly rewritten his statement. So it is worthwhile.

Anyway what’s new? Well, I have been truly outed as a writer in a couple of my classes and the kids want to talk a lot about the books. The trouble is, you can never be quite sure whether they are genuinely interested or whether anything is preferable to geology, geography, or environmental science. I tend to answer one or two quick questions and then move back to where we were. I’m not paid to promote myself. However, I do sometimes wonder if my reluctance to be drawn on the books is taken as an indication that I am embarrassed about them. If I ever was, I am not now. I have had enough fan mail to realise that most people actually enjoy them to some degree and some people enjoy them a lot. And no one has publicly said they are garbage. (If you think that they are, please don’t ruin my otherwise perfect record and move along quickly to someone else’s website. Please!)

But there are still questions I find difficult. For instance making the right response to ‘I hear you write books!’ For one thing, there is the question of humility; if you shrug your shoulders, look embarrassed and make some comment like ‘we all have our secret vice’, they tend to assume that what you write is utter garbage and you are ashamed of it. When they ask ‘what sort of thing do you write?’ and you answer ‘Christian fiction’ that, of course, seems to confirm the matter. Christian seems to be taken as code for ‘so poorly written that no one except someone with a preoccupation with the faith would want to buy it’. As a result I’m afraid I often leave the reference to Christianity to some sort of supplementary follow up.

‘Do you make a lot of money out of it?’ is another question, which often (too often) produces the tart retort from me “Do you really think I would be teaching you, if I did?” You have to point out that well although the sales are reasonable what writers actually earn after all the deductions is not that wonderful. The trouble is they do the equation: 10,000 books or whatever times say eight pounds and come up with £80,000 and assume that you have pocketed the lot. Chance would be a fine thing, particularly these days, when most of my sales are in the green and sickly dollar. Then they say ‘what are the books about?’ There is no easy answer to that, or none that I have found. I’m tempted to reply ‘these are profound meditations on the problem of evil in the world’ but that may not be a vote winner with 16-year-olds. ‘What’s your best selling book?’ is actually quite easy and quite a good question, because I am able to say it’s The Life, a book about Jesus, and I have sold around 70,000 copies. 70,000 copies gets people interested. But as I said, I’m not paid to talk about myself or to do evangelism and actually there is the student-pupil relationship which you don’t really want to breach. But they do borrow the books from the library and some actually seem to enjoy them. Who knows, perhaps I am doing some good after all.

Cough, sneeze etc.