I have lots of friends who are ‘useful’ people, people with actual skills such as nurses, engineers, teachers, farmers. People who can grow food or build things or mend bodies. The kind of people, for example, you’d need if you were starting a new civilization or stranded on a desert island.
As a writer I’ve always felt a bit in awe of these people. My skills are negligible by comparison. I remember once rushing my child round to the house of a nurse friend for first aid, and I felt rather inadequate. What could I do in an emergency? Draft a carefully crafted letter to the emergency services? Critique the road signs on the way to the hospital?
But I’ve been a bit poorly lately and it’s given me a chance to reconsider the value of artists in society. The nursing and medical staff I’ve encountered lately have been absolutely wonderful. But I’ve spent a lot of time waiting around to see various medical personages and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms and corridors, and whilst waiting and worrying, I’ve read.
It’s been a huge relief to escape into some fictional place where a bunch of fictional people deal with fictional situations and events. In the last two weeks, I’ve read seven novels and two short stories. I have absolutely consumed them. The respite from my own problems has been wonderful.
At the moment, it’s as if my eyes have been opened to those around me. I see people on their own immersed in books in every waiting room, reception area, coffee shop and side-ward.
Critics often say inadequate people turn to books for missing glamour and excitement in their lives. There’s so much more to it than that, although I don’t see the problem with wanting to escape from stress, boredom, anxiety and loneliness into a world of Regency romance, village-based whodunits or slick and sassy chick-lit. To get away, even for a moment from the numbing sensations of worry and what-ifs, is such a consolation.
I’m not claiming status or any kind of kudos for myself or my books. It’s just that, in this Indie world of marketing strategies, click-throughs, keywords, promos, seo, rankings and blurbs, maybe it’s time for us to remember that there is not merely an ‘end-user’, there is a person—a real, live, human person with a real human life—who just needs to take a break from what can sometimes be a harsh life, and it is that person who reads the words we write.