By Susan Roberts
I like to think I have a few things in common with the American writer Richard Bach. Okay, only about four things. Like him, one of my all-time favourite movies is the original Star Wars; like him I wrote my early work on an old-fashioned typewriter. Like Bach I resisted until recently the call of the internet and such basic tasks as creating a website and writing a blog; and like him I am quite shy of the readers who may be “out there.”
There the similarities with Bach end, of course. He has written landmark books, made a decent living from writing, and he loves flying his own planes. Unlike Bach, I have written what I prefer to call “sleepers” which have not taken the reading world by storm. Unlike him, I have not made any money from writing, and neither do I like flying in small planes. Or big ones. In fact, I would avoid flying altogether if it wasn’t for the fact that planes provide a necessary means of getting me from A to B faster than my car. For example, if I were to visit my sister in Australia without a plane, I would need one of those amphibious conversions like they conjure up on Top Gear, and I don’t have the mechanical expertise of a May, Hammond or Clarkson. In fact, at the moment my car is completely out of action, but that’s another story …
I digress. About a decade ago, I read a collection of Richard Bach’s shorter writings. I forget the name of the book now, but one essay in particular has stayed in my memory. Like many writers, Bach makes the comment that writing is a solitary act, with the writer confined within four walls with only his typewriter for company. Naturally, it comes as a shock when a book slaved over in private actually gets into print and becomes available for the rest of the world to read.
This particular essay describes how Bach cringes inwardly when a reader approaches him in a supermarket or an airport departure lounge. (My apologies to Bach – I am paraphrasing here, because I don’t remember his actual wording and the book has long since gone back to some library.) Not that he is ungrateful for the attention from readers who recognise him, but he feels embarrassed after the initial “I’m glad you liked the book” and doesn’t really know what else to say. His impulse is to suggest that if you really want to know him, you will find him in whatever he writes. Anyone who has read Bach’s work will know this to be true. His own love story is the subject of the hauntingly beautiful The Bridge Across Forever and his unrivalled passion for flying is expressed in all his books, not just his first runaway bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
As a basically shy person myself, I relate to Bach’s awkwardness with strangers. I too am happiest when expressing myself through my writing, and I certainly don’t have Bach’s problems of being famous or recognisable. But his essay did start me thinking: if I ever became a famous writer, how would I cope with doing a simple book launch? Probably not well. I don’t mind one-on-one conversations or small groups five or less, but to address a roomful of people is one of the most terrifying experiences that any torturer could dream up for me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I was ever a drama student!
But now it seems that I will never have to worry about actually facing large groups of people. Thanks to the explosion of e-books and the internet, I can do the virtual equivalent of this through indirect means, and without ever leaving the comfort of my four walls and my laptop. Two weeks ago I launched my own website. I was able to put onto it all the things that people might want to know about what I have written, where to find my books, what books I have found useful as a writer, and a little bit about myself and what inspires me to write. You can have a look at it here or by clicking on the link in the right hand column.
Of course, Richard Bach has a website too and I frequently visit it. Having a website is perfect for a writer such as Bach, because it allows him to express himself to his fans without the awkwardness of enduring an actual meeting, and yet it serves the same purpose.
Perhaps that makes five things we now have in common. I hope there may be more similarities one day, but my dislike of flying will never change.