Taylor Swift visited New Zealand last week, provoking a small media frenzy but not attracting particular attention.
Nobody much cares about celebrity status here. I mean, they’re normal people doing a job, like everybody else. I’m sure they think so too. As for anybody locally who pokes their head up – well, on my own experience, that reduces them to what we call ‘dog tucker’.
A few years ago, I was asked by someone bought up in California whether I had fans as a result of having been published by Penguin, Random House, etc, over many years, hitting the New Zealand best-selling lists and so on. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I have no fans. Just people who hate me for writing.’
Actually that’s not entirely true. I still have the heart-felt letter that arrived after I wrote a book in 2003. There was also the time my wife and I were both fielding calls from old soldiers supporting me when the local military-historical in-crowd went psycho-atomic apeshit at me because I’d written a biography of Sir Bernard Freyberg. And I ran into someone the other week at a book launch who seemed very excited to meet me. He was, it turned out, someone whose hobby was photographing historians, and did I want to make a time to be photographed? I didn’t. I absolutely do not define myself as a historian – it’s one of the things I do, not what I am. Besides which, I had visions of my mug-shot being pinned to a wall, butterfly-collector fashion, for whatever purpose he was taking photos of the people he got excited over.
But for the most part people who like my stuff never get in touch, and the only feedback I get is negative. It’s hard to write a book without fielding at least one letter that begins ‘I liked your book, but on page …’ What counts is everything following the ‘but’, and sometimes they get very personal and very nasty. That’s why I was unnerved a while back when one of these ‘anti-fan’ letters arrived at my home address – which my publishers hadn’t provided. Another time, somebody else knocked at my front door, looking for ‘the historian’ who he’d heard lived there. Yup, I’d been stalked. Ouch. (‘You John Lennon?’ *bang*).
The reality? Writers write because they like writing. The end. People who write because they want to be important or famous, or because they validate their self-worth from the status publishing gives them with their peer group – well, they are in the field for totally the wrong reasons. That is not what writing is about.
As for ending up elevated by others? Well, I don’t know how others think, but for me it’s an unwanted side effect, and I’d rather sit at home playing Kerbal Space Program (and yes, it IS rocket science).
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015