Today I have had an infestation of people warning me that I will never succeed as a writer, lyricist or musical theatre book writer. With soft-edged sympathetic emails I have been told on no less than three platforms – Stage32, private email and FB – that succeeding in the Arts is virtually impossible for someone like me. To support their claims they have cited their own struggles. They have all dismissed my talent as garden-variety, average and lacking wow-factor.
Having grown up in a cultural desert, Australia, whose industry is run by a closed circle of government-funded mediocrities whose work would never make it OS, I have been poisoned since birth with the idea that I am not “good enough”. It’s been a tough, soul-destroying battle to preserve both my sanity and my belief in my own worth over the decades. I have worked largely alone and occasionally with talented others whose ethic reflected mine. But Australia never supported me.
I am not alone. There are others like me who have heavily invested in their Art with relentless graft and attention to detail for no other reason than the desire to do something well. I am writing this Blog for them as well as me. These are the artists who have endeavoured to put soul-on-page or canvas or stave or stage and they have suffered the isolation this discipline demands. To get in touch with your own soul and transmogrify your craft into Art you will spend much time in the desert. Longer than 40 days. Much longer. Sometimes a lifetime.
It is beyond ignorant for people who have managed to get their work “out there” to assume that those of us who haven’t are missing some vital element, like excellence.
People only recognise genius when it is explained to them OR they have the “sight”. But taking the elements of recognised genius a pattern emerges: the artist works in isolation, the artist suffers ridicule from many and support from a few, the artist retreats to a place where he/she feels safe enough to pursue their Art without the burden of comparisons.
So here I am today, the recipient of no less than three emails dripping with sympathy, calling me that most noxious of words, “brave” and telling me that it’s almost impossible to get a musical staged or a book made into a film, that “everyone” has this struggle and my work is so lacking in individuality that I must accept that it sits in a congealing homogenous pile of similar works indistinguishable from one another. My books are the ten thousandth and the ten thousandth and one birds on a wire. My musicals are lacklustre and boring. My lyrics pedestrian and my melodies forgettable. And this I have been told with great authority from people who think they know.
I wish I could tell you this is a one-off bad day for me but this is my life. For decades I have heard this about my work, first it was my singing and acting, now it’s my writing and music.
I am simply not very good at anything I do apparently.
Well, neither was Van Gogh and he persevered.
What I know that these “experts” don’t is that I have worked hard to give the world my best work. I do not trot out formulaic books and formulaic musicals, nor do I have formulaic opinions about life. I analyse everything and think long and hard about every aspect of life before I put pen to paper. I make sure that I put soul-on-page and then I spend years polishing my words until I am happy that they sparkle with a life of their own and deliver meaning in translucent phrases that chime with readers’ souls. But none of this registers with the bargain-basement practitioners of Art who are looking to make a buck. These plebs, some of them incredibly blessed with talent, have no concept of excellence and no faith in its longevity and wall-crumbling power.
When Catch the Moon, Mary was first published I had a meeting in London with my publisher, a marketer and a writer friend. The marketer said, “We’ve got twelve days to sell this book to the public. After that they will get bored and be looking for the next distraction.” My writer friend said, “Have you read this book?” The marketer laughed and said, “I don’t need to. My job is to sell it.” My writer friend then said, “Then you are unaware that this book will endure beyond twelve days. It’s a classic in the making. Your generation may not get it but the next one will and like Wuthering Heights everyone will be reading it.” The marketer took the book home, read it and rang me the next day, apologising and saying it was one the best books she’d ever read.
Her words chime with me today, four years later, as I struggle to maintain faith against a barrage of negativity framed as well-meant advice that I would need either a miracle or a very lucky break to succeed. What they all agree on is that my work needs an expert to rewrite it, someone who knows what the public wants. Interestingly enough I have just read a swathe of reviews on Amazon for books that were published by Harper-Collins, and without naming titles you’d be familiar with, the reviews were mainly one, two and three stars and all saying the books were boring and predictable, the endings obvious from Chapter One. So, the experts were able to clone several lacklustre imitations of classics and dumb them down to quick forgettable reads.
In contrast, I have been reading a self-published book called Nightjar by Paul Jameson, https://www.amazon.com/Nightjar-Paul-Jameson-ebook/dp/B07CRFG7Y6 whose work is so intoxicatingly original it makes for a mentally and spiritually and totally satisfying read. I’m glad the “experts” didn’t get to it!!
I have spoken to Paul and he said he spent ten years refining this brilliant novel. No, Harper-Collins didn’t pick it up but they wouldn’t recognise genius if they tripped over it. Paul has put his work out there and it will endure.
And as for today’s detractors they will mouse wheel their lives away and even though I may well “go to my grave unsung” to twist the words of Henry David Thoreau, I bloody well won’t “go to my grave with my song unsung“.
I want to thank the people who do support me in my efforts to be the best writer, lyricist and musical theatre book writer I can be. To name but a few, my mother Carmol Scammell, my aunts Joan and Rosalie, my sister-in-law Sabina, my daughter Genevra, my friends, BK, Peter Donnelly, Leonardo Macchioni, Jean-Paul Yovanoff, Dean Michael Rochford, Des Cannon, Frank Loman, Lauren Lovejoy, Aidan O’Callaghan, Louise Burke, Suzy Davenport, Amanda Redman, Paul Claridge, Carpet Martin, and lastly brilliant composer, Shanon Whitelock with whom I am writing The Last Tale. Thank you!