thatswhatyagetA danger for writers, and especially for those who hit their stride, is that they may become pastiches of themselves. Their later works ape what they perceive as having been successful in their earlier ones.

Just as second rate pop groups will churn out progressively watered down versions of their first hit, so writers can end up writing the same stories over and over again. Not only second rate ones either. D.H.Lawrence has been accused of something very similar with his novels, though not, curiously, with his short stories.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, may be a good slogan for encouraging the husbanding of scarce resources, but it can’t do much for exploration and originality. There may be a natural tendency to stick with themes that fascinate us, and on which we don’t feel we have had the last word yet, or with styles that just sound right to us, but if commecrcial success kicks in, I imagine, we perhaps get into a situation that has nothing to do with what styles we like, or what themes we want to write about.

Branded authors, like other branded goods, need an identity, and a consistency. Artists, on the other hand, might not. Practitioners of any art form though, are liable to find themselves having to make the choice of which way to go: towards being a recognisable brand, or towards continued originality, and exploration. Perhaps the chosen route depends on what the ‘art’ is perceived as being for. If we’re writing to find out something about ourselves in relation to the art, to discover if we can make it ‘work’, whatever that means, maybe we keep on exploring its boundaries. This might explain why some writers appear to ‘go off the boil’ when in fact they’re busily exploring areas that we as readers don’t want to follow them into.

Writers who stick with what their readers, rather than what they themselves, are interested in, might find that they get stuck in a gold-lined rut, which like any other rut, will suit some, and not others.

One of the curious anomalies I find is in whether we value our own assessments of our work, or those of other people. In a sense, success is in the achievement of the goal, which might be to write in a particular way. The public acclaim that successful writers experience is merely the recognition of that success. And what if that acclaim is misplaced, as often seems to be the case, as writers fall away from public consciousness over the years? Having worked as a bookseller for a quarter of a century, I would testify to a lot of badly written books, and even of bad books, selling well, and of many very good ones remaining in obscurity.