Lucia Etxebarria has every right to feel furious. The Spanish prize-winning author recently learned that her most recent novel has been downloaded illegally so often that it has decimated sales of the hardback. Her previous books have been bestsellers, whereas The Contents of Silence languishes at about 23,500th position on Amazon’s Spanish site.
By way of protest, Etxebarria has announced that she will now fall silent. According to a message on Facebook she has given up writing for the foreseeable future. The game, she explains, isn’t worth the candle. There’s no point in agonising over your prose for three years only to find no cheque at the end of it. Etxebarria says she has been offered a job – which, given the state of the Spanish economy, makes her a winner – and thinks she’s going to take it. …
Let’s imagine that Etxebarria is, indeed, going to teach creative writing. What she’ll discover on her first day is that the students in her seminar room have very little interest in how much money they are likely to make from their published work. I teach on just such a course at UEA, and I can report that no one tries to write, starts to write, keeps on writing, because they think it would be a handy way to make a living. I’ve never yet had a student ask about the finances of publishing – how much they might get for a piece of work, as if it were a piece of velvet or a stash of jewels. They don’t ask about sales, either. They write – just as published authors write, and will take the most congenial job that allows them to carry on writing – because it is an innate drive, an itch that won’t go away.
There’s nothing remotely noble about any of this. Authors write not to communicate great truths, but to make their own tiny mark. They want to be heard, and noticed and even sometimes loved. They do it out of a deep narcissism because, quite literally, nothing and nobody else matters. A cheque is nice, but it is never the point.
Yes, how dare Etxebarria think about making a living? How dare she not be so nobly thoughtless and clueless as Hughes’s students? How dare she not have the motives Kathryn Hughes thinks she ought to have — the extraordinarily self-sacrificial ones that (by implication) drive Hughes herself?
What rot. And by the way, Etxebarria didn’t say she was going to stop writing, she said she was going to stop publishing. Bit of a difference.