Rowan Coleman: the attack on art
PUBLISHED: 16:02 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:02 08 May 2018
Rowan wonders what our civilisation will look like if we continue to devalue cultural works
This month my latest novel The Summer of Impossible Things is published in paperback. Set in Brooklyn in 1977, it’s a story about love, family and courage. And a little bit of disco. It’s almost two years since I finished writing it, a book that itself was almost two years in the making. But I still remember how long I laboured over every word, and every paragraph, and every draft, and all the passion and love for storytelling that I poured into it.
I’m fortunate enough (so far!) to have made my living from writing novels but I wonder if soon that will be a distant memory for new and established writers alike. Over the past decade we’ve seen the monetary value of books consistently devalued – to the point where most e-books must be priced at 99p to hit the bestsellers list, or under £3 in paperback. It seems people don’t want to pay more than the cost of a cup of coffee for a book anymore, even though a novel represents months of work and lasts much longer than your average beverage, not to mention that it could potentially change your life.
Even if a book is published, success is dependent on it being one of the handful of books selected to appear on supermarket shelves or Waterstones tables –much coveted positions that I’ve been lucky enough to see my books in more than once.
Readers are much less likely to browse than they used to, too. When was the last time you visited your local bookshop and ran your finger along the ‘spine out’ sections to see what new writer you might discover? Or do you go to the main tables and see what’s in the three-for-two offers?
It’s a dangerous game we play when we stop valuing art of any kind. Without literature – and works of art, music and theatre – what kind of civilisation are we? It would be one without beauty or joy – a corporate homogeneous mass.
If we make it impossible for people from ordinary backgrounds, like myself, to earn a living creating works of fiction, we are left with two scenarios only – everything we read, watch, or listen to will have been produced by a privileged few who don’t need the money to survive, or all art will soon be made by bots and AI. A new kind of civilisation will be dawning – one without humans at its core.
Art is the best gauge to measure the state of humanity that there is, and as such we should value it. We should treasure it.
So please go to a bookshop, browse and buy a book, even if it costs more than a fiver. And if it happens to be mine, then my children and bank manager thank you.
Bestselling novelist and mum-of-four Rowan Coleman shares the chaos and comedy of her life in the county