Following the announcement from Arts Council England that sales of literary fiction are plummeting, it is suggested that arts subsidies be deployed to help writers survive. I have another idea. They should write better books.
So says Tim Lott, who blames writers of “literary fiction” for their own plight. They’ve lost the ability to create interesting and involving plots – or they’re scornful of the whole idea of plot. (Edna O’Brien said plot was for “silly boys”).
Lott teaches a masterclass called “What Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters”, i.e. the “mysterious and tricky” art of plotting. If writers want to be read, he says, they must learn what screenwriters live or die by – story, story, story. That’s what he means by “better books”.
I wonder, though, if people now prefer to take in fiction via the screen, where the world’s brought to our eyes and ears so close and real that we can see every twitch of a muscle. You don’t have to do the imaginative work to create that world out of words on a page. Then there are the actors we admire and want to see more of. Even their off-screen lives are a world we love to watch. With such rich and instantaneous rewards delivered so slickly on the screen, is it any wonder that people are reading less?
But all is not lost. We still have the poets. They never expect to have a lot of readers, or to make any money.