image of a tree in blossom


I am lucky enough to live near a street lined with ornamental pear trees, and each year as winter winds towards a close I watch them for the first signs of blossom. When the buds break I know it’s time to visit the pear arbour at Carrick Hill. The arbour comes into its full glory early in September, and with the mild spring weather it is a heavenly spot to sit and write, or just to soak up the sunshine and listen to the buzz of bees among the blossom.

image of a garden seat under a tree in blossom
My year is dotted with many such small landmarks, moments I look forward to with genuine pleasure. By the time my local pavements are covered in a confetti of pear blossom, the quince trees in the garden are putting out new leaves and the rose buses are stirring themselves for the first flush; later there will be the excitement of seeing tiny apples, plums, quinces, and figs begin to form.

Last weekend I went to a workshop on making E-books. I heard how important it was for authors to engage with social media, even to the extent of utilising services like Twitterfeed and Hootsuite to automatically schedule tweets every seven hours; this means that you can be tweeting while you sleep. I heard about ways to identify the online places where potential readers hang out, and how to infiltrate and strike up conversations. I even learned how to upload an electronic book to Amazon.

image close-up of tree blossom
The extent to which the world has changed as a result of the Internet was something I never saw coming. In its early days I paid it little heed, being completely consumed with learning to write a decent novel. On the course, at least two participants admitted that their sole aim was to sell a million E-books at 99 cents each, and then retire. No one spoke about the art of writing, or of making a beautiful book, one that even in this crazy world we now inhabit would stand the test of time.

I finished up the day wondering whether there is something else we cannot see coming. Perhaps a backlash against these expectations that a writer will expend precious hours on posting and tweeting and blogging, activities touted as stepping up to meet a challenge but in reality a time-consuming dumbing down. Maybe more authors will find the courage to do things that appear risky because they go against the grain of the times. Like Ann Patchett, who has opened a book shop in Nashville, and written about it in The Bookshop Strikes Back.

The image of the author as Literary Recluse has been more or less wiped from public consciousness by social media and blogging, but some great writers like J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and Thomas Pynchon are alluring figures who have remained determinedly aloof. Such powerful mystique can't be bought, and it certainly can't be manufactured on Facebook.

Perhaps writers whose goal is still to write something fine will soon find the strength to rebel against what is now expected of them. They will turn off Twitterfeed; they will not photograph their breakfast and post it on Facebook; they will allow their cats and their children to return to a state of anonymity, while they concentrate on what they do best, which is wrestling words onto a blank page. I do not see this backlash arriving any time soon, but that does not mean it will not come.