A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.
A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world. Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go. With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled. But not with this one.
My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house! One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay ‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author) by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes. Coz that’s our life now. Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’. I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author! ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said. ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’ I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.
But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself. In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author. To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that. We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text. Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are “eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading. I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that. Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward. It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important. We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader. It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.
Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books. There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher. Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book. Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance. Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it. And that’s okay. That’s normal. I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer. Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers. I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful 🙂
Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now. Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them. So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.
Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector