Anonymously Yours


“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”  D.W. Winnicott

If you haven’t heard about the Elena Ferrante controversy, then frankly, you’re doing Twitter wrong!  Elena Ferrante is the pen-name of a highly successful Italian author who was ‘outed’ last week by a journalist whose motives are questionable at best.  The story has ignited a larger debate around an artist’s right to claim anonymity and the public’s sense of ownership when it comes to ‘celebrities’.

We live in the information age, where information is a commodity.  We post our personal lives freely online and have gradually lost our value on privacy, or the knowledge that we have a right to keep our private lives private. So when someone claims anonymity, we’re immediately suspicious and being naturally curious beings, we need to find out why.  Like Dorothy pulling back the curtain to find the Wizard is just a man, perhaps we should leave our enigmas alone and just enjoy the show.

I can completely understand why people choose to work anonymously and without the pressure of having to present themselves to the world.  JK Rowling chose the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, in order to write her detective series without the ‘shackles’ of Harry Potter around her neck.  Editor David Shelley, who first read the novel without knowing who its true author was, said, “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.”   I rest my case (while rolling my eyes at the stupidity of such a statement!).  Sometimes your identity needs to take a back seat in order for the work to flourish and find an audience on its own merits.

Anonymity gives you freedom from expectations, limitations and being pigeon-holed.  You don’t have to worry about what your Aunt Louise will think of that sex scene, or the fact that you based the psychopathic villain on your cousin twice removed.  But it’s not just that; really successful writers/artists have to live with the unwanted side-effects of fame, which can be completely overwhelming.  The media has created an entire industry out of destroying peoples’ image and reputation.  We just assume success is brilliant; the holy grail and that if you have it, you should be happy.  But maybe it’s the work that is the happiness; the creativity.  Isn’t it okay to not want fame?

Australian singer Sia has chosen to keep her face out of the limelight.  She refers to her decision as one of ‘self care’, by choosing not to partake in the celebrity culture.  Daft Punk are another example of musicians who love to make music, but don’t see why they should sacrifice their personal lives or their privacy in order to do what they love.  They’re not entirely anonymous of course, a quick search on Google will reveal their true identities if you’re interested, but the fact is that they have chosen, like Sia with her blonde bob, not to reveal their identities publicly.  The important word here is CHOICE. Despite a world of opportunities, we are told that in order to be successful and happy, we have to follow a formula.  It’s so inspiring to see these artists carve out their own path and find success on their own terms.  However, it also utterly despairing to see inferior beings try to take their right to choose away.  So the question remains, do we have a right to success without fame?

As a very small and insignificant writer and artist (in the grand scheme of things!) this dichotomy is something I also struggle with.  As writers starting out, we are advised to create an author platform, get ourselves ‘out there’.  Post photos on Instagram, share your every passing thought on a vlog. Do we really need to offer ourselves on a plate for public consumption?  Why can’t we let the art do the talking?  I don’t put my author photo on my novels, because I often find that people can have preconceptions about your work based on your appearance.  As one journalist in the guardian said, if you want to know Ella Ferrante, read her books.  Because at the end of the day, people who chose to express themselves creatively, are actually sharing more through their work than they ever will outside of it.

Banksy, another artist trying to keep his personal life out of the conversation – was geo-tracked (something normally reserved for chasing criminals) by a newspaper a few years ago, in order to find out his identity.  A street artist, whose work often engages political themes, satirically critiquing war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed – he is the embodiment of why it is so important for the artist to be invisible.  People are fixated on the fact that he might be an upper class toff, which (they imply) would undermine his street art.  And if that was the narrative to his work, the message would indeed be lost.

I think we need to question this insatiable need to know everything, to reduce the beauty of human expression to a face, a stereotype or a headline.  Putting people in boxes, telling women they can’t write like men or insisting that someone plays the game by your rules will only serve to stifle creativity.  I salute these people who, despite our best efforts to thwart them, are trying to create a little mystery in our lives by producing pockets of space where we don’t need to know everything, we just need to feel.

Any excuse to play Daft Punk 🙂

Where Was Your Book Born?


We’ve all heard how JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a local cafe.  In fact, the chair she sat on recently sold for €344,300.  That’s some indication as to the importance we give a writer’s creative perch.  Writers and readers alike are enchanted by the idea of where a book was conceived, convincing themselves that even the chair they sat on must be oozing with literary genius.  There’s something romantic about it, scribbling ideas in a local cafe.  Writing  at a desk wedged into the corner of your council flat while wearing old Primark pyjamas doesn’t really have the same ring to it, although one can only assume that Rowling must have written at home too.  But does it really matter where you write your masterpiece?

I think I’ve written in every room in my house, bar the toilet.  I would include a photo of my beloved attic (where I write in the summer and stare up at longingly during the winter as it transforms into a fridge) but I’m saving that for the OK! Magazine spread.  The dawn of Pinterest has introduced us to a plethora of ‘designs’ to ‘inspire’ us with ‘ideas’ to create our own ‘writing nook’.  In other words, Pinterest is the devil’s work which bombards us with over-styled images of unattainable shabby chic home offices we will never have.  No I don’t have a pure white room with an old-fashioned writing desk which I’ve upcycled with chalk paint and I’m not surrounded by flower-clad boxes with all my papers neatly filed away in alphabetical order.  I’m the kind of person who sees an empty space and immediately feels the need to fill it with bits n bobs (i.e. junk).  I would love the perfect writing nook, but in the meantime, I generally pick the warmest spot in the house and write there.  I’m basically a cat.  With thumbs.

So what about venturing outside?  Well, yes, writing en pleine air could be a nice change except…. again, I live in Ireland.  I did try to write at the beach a couple of times, but there’s a lot to be said for a comfortable chair and while a large flat stone jutting out to sea might look attractive, my bum says otherwise.  Then there’s the whole writing long hand thing.  It can make a nice alternative every once in a while, but I’m the kind of writer who needs the entire manuscript in front of me when I write.  So squinting at my laptop while my bum goes to sleep on a rock gets old very fast.

Cafes seem like the ideal place to get the creative juices going, but the only problem with that is that they are full of OTHER PEOPLE!  At the best of times, people in public places can be tiresome, but when  you’re trying to write a novel, they are downright intrusive!  I have no idea how writers can focus on their own thoughts while they are being drowned out by clattering delph, noisy conversations and earth-shatteringly loud baristas (do they have to smash that coffee filter like a judge’s gavel Every. Damn. Time.!!)  Seriously, doesn’t anyone drink tea anymore?  Sartre had it only partly right; hell isn’t just other people, it’s other people who drink coffee.

If I do decide to venture out, I usually go to a hotel.  These are much more sedate affairs and best of all, they usually have comfy armchairs so you can really settle in.  No-one really cares how long you stay or whether you order coffee (but if you do, they thankfully prepare it out of earshot).  My nearest hotel has a conservatory that is, for the most part, empty and pipes out a nice mix of chilled-out tunes in the background.  The best part is, you can’t come up with a million excuses to leave your desk when you’re writing outside of the home.  You can’t start attacking the hotel toilets with bleach and a brush, so you just have to stay put and keep typing – not least to make everyone else think you’re extremely busy and important and overflowing with intelligent ideas.

So are there any benefits to having a ‘special place’ to write?  After all, we’re not like visual artists who rely heavily on their surroundings for inspiration.  Writers inhabit the interior world, the imagination.  We create worlds.  We mine our memories and nose through nostalgia for material, then spin all of these threads together into a fine cloak to envelop ourselves and our readers.  In fact, I think the plainer your surroundings, the better.  I’m not talking a monastic cell here, but the truth is that even if you bag yourself one of those writing retreats in rural Italy replete with red tile roofs and cypress trees, you still have to retreat to the solitude of your own mind and write the book.

I think we all saw this coming ☺