Kissing Arse and Butting Heads: Life of a Debut Author

Chris Flynn writes about the weirdness of becoming an author. Especially when you’ve been making your living as a reviewer – and now it’s your turn to be reviewed.

It’s fairly odd being a debut novelist at the best of times. You have a book coming out! You must be so excited! So, what’s the next one about? Is that a Lamborghini? It’s even stranger when you’ve spent the past few years panning everyone else’s work in the review pages of newspapers and magazines, as I have.

In the Australian literary diaspora (that makes it sound a lot bigger than it is) many writers earn a modest crust penning reviews and much has been written and publicly discussed about the weaknesses in our critical culture.

Chris Flynn: 'The debut novelist should not be afraid of criticism.'

Chris Flynn: 'The debut novelist should not be afraid of criticism.'

Are we honest with each other, or is there a lot of hand-holding that goes on, a lot of back-patting and mutual arse-kissing? I guess I’m about to test the theory. Will everyone get stuck into my book and tear it apart, or be extra nice about it just in case I end up reviewing theirs at some point? (Ooh, the tension!)

What happens if they eviscerate it in a review and then bump into me at an event? Will I headbutt them like Norman Mailer did to Gore Vidal? (‘Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.’ What a comeback, albeit from the floor.) No, I won’t. Headbutts hurt both parties. Will I introduce their kneecaps to a drill like Billy does in the book? Hmmm … Look, obviously I have to say no because that’s illegal and everything, but hmmm …

In all seriousness, the debut novelist should not be afraid of criticism. In fact, they should welcome it more than most. No one should be given a ‘free pass’ just because it’s their first book (something I’ve heard reviewers say so many times, it’s depressing).

Writers – and just about everyone else these days – live their lives in public, surrounded by the chaos and noise and opinions that make up our culture. Either you jump in or you stay at home with the internet unplugged, not talking to anyone except the postman. And if you’ve written a novel and it’s your debut, then you’ve jumped in: so start swimming.

You can tell me you hate my novel (‘a filthy sex-and-drug-fuelled romp, an absolute disgrace!’), you can tell me that you love it (‘a filthy sex-and-drug-fuelled romp, thrillingly disgraceful!’) or you can just say ‘meh’ – though if you do, you probably deserve the drill.

Chris Flynn’s first novel, A Tiger in Eden, is released Tuesday 27 February. He is the books editor of the Big Issue and has reviewed for the Australian, the Age and Australian Book Review.

Our weekly Debut Mondays series, featuring authors talking about their new books, kicks off tonight at The Moat at 6.15pm. Authors featured will be Michael Sala, Denise Leith and Eric Knight.

Chris Flynn will be a guest at next week’s Debut Monday (also 6pm at The Moat). He’ll be joined by Robert Power and Maggie Groff.

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