This is a crazy nuts time of year. This is the way it usually goes: Coast out of Christmas, finish off the previous year’s work, hustle for this year’s work, get rained on, get struck down by successive waves of germs brought home by Benny, fill in a ton of forms various organisations I work for all need at once, become enraged by the changes various organisations I use wreak on their services all at once (and without warning), pay my tax (HOWL!) and get mildly miserable owing to a paucity of sunlight. I think I’ll be taking those vitamin D tablets again.

This January/February I’ve had my wife’s entire industry being disassembled by the government and my dog developing dodgy hips to contend with. It has, to say the least, been a wet and wild beginning to 2014, and not in a remotely fun way.

Still, some good news here. I’ve been longlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award for my Black Library novel, Skarsnik. My colleagues Chris Wraight and David Guymer have also been honoured, for Master of Dragons and Headtaker respectively, making three Black Library novels out of a total of 40 or so books. This is very cool.

And yet I feel odd about it. I’ll tell you why. I think a lot of writers feel like frauds underneath their calm, charming exteriors (“It’s only writing and making stuff up! It’s not a real job! Please don’t tell my mum!”). Having my work dimly illuminated by the lamps of publicity like this (it is a prestigious award, but shall we reiterate this is the long list) brings on joy tainted ever so slightly by anxiety.  “But if they read it, someone will find me out! Aiee! Aiee!” In this I’m very much like a Night Goblin dragged under the unblinking gaze of the sun. (Fat chance of that here at the moment though: plenty of goblins about, precious little sun). And also, “I’ll never win. [sulk] Because, [whisper it]. I AM A FRAUD.”

My friend Jes Bickham once had a dream where people were pointing at him like the pod people in the Donald Sutherland remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and declaiming “CHARLATAN!”. It’s like that.

I was surprised to get similar feelings when I “iRobot” was published in Interzone, something I’d long wanted as a badge of “proper writery-ness”. Then that story got picked up by Starship Sofa for narration, and now it’s going into an anthology (more on that later). But that odd disconnect doesn’t go. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. Where does it come from?

Writing is such a weird profession. So solitary, it can engender the development of a fragile but large ego very much like a hydrogen filled zeppelin. When you’re not being buffetted by the wind or blowing up for no reason, you can never quite shake the sticky feeling of fraudulence. Even when you are standing in a room among a bunch of other writers, and readers are coming up to “the writer Guy Haley”. I always want to tell them that he’s not there, that they got the wrong Guy. I’d probably feel the same should I ever actually win an award. I think I’d struggle not to squeak out, “There’s been a dreadful mistake!”

I’m not the only one. Think about the last time you met a writer. Think about how grateful they seemed to be that you had read and enjoyed their book. That’s because they were, they really, really were. If they’re anything like me, they were probably pathetically grateful. It surprises a lot of us, the fact that you read and liked our stories. Honestly. So thank you.

In embarking on a career in full-time writing, I set myself a number of milestones, most of which I’ve been lucky enough to pass. But each set completed necessitates the creation of more. Every next milestone promises that you’ll finally be a “proper writer”, whatever one of those is. Instead, you merely heap more expectation on yourself. The goal of acceptance (self-acceptance really) is always on the horizon. But even more than never reaching it, I fear ever attaining it, because I might become an awful cock.

Approbation can be hard to take. Several of my friends congratulated Crash being listed for the Arthur C Clarke Award. No, no, no! I rushed about saying, squirming all the while. “It’s only a submission by the publisher, not a nomination.” No selection based on quality or otherwise has been undertaken there. Yet. In my dreamier moments I think it’d be nice to make the shortlist. Thinking so brings on another mental short-circuit between pride and the assumed humility that cloaks the fear of being uncovered.

Maybe it’s because we’re always on our own. There’s no “team” in “me”, after all. There’s little mutual support beyond drunken fun at conventions. The vast majority of writers are extremely supportive to other writers, but you don’t see them often (well, I don’t. There are opportunities, but, you know. Children). Also, there are no name badges, no deskplate with your job title on it, no meetings where your position in the hierarchy of the world is clear. I fled all those things precisely because I loathe them, but I suspect now they’re part of the hidden social ecosystem that stops us all going crazy.

This is a bizarre job for misanthropic, cautious show-offs (at least, that describes me. Maybe the others aren’t like that. I don’t see them often enough to know for sure).

So, be kind to writers. We’re a mess.

  1. Steve Kozeniewski says:

    Awesome post, Guy. This is precisely how I feel all the time, like I’m standing in a room and someone’s just going to point at me and yell, “FRAUD! HE’S A FRAUD! THROW HIM OUTSIDE THE VELVET ROPE!”

  2. Steve says:

    Congrats on being long-listed, Guy. Great post, very insightful, and struck a note with me – particularly “This is a bizarre job for misanthropic, cautious show-offs…”
    Never thought of myself like that before, but the shoe certainly fits. 😉

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