by Leigh Russell
At the risk of sounding like a gnat patting an elephant comfortingly on the back, I feel rather sorry for Dan Brown.
I have to come clean. I’ve only read one of his novels. Of the man himself, I know nothing. But it would be impossible to be unaware of Dan Brown the phenomenon. I wonder if he aspired to success on such an unprecedented scale, when he first put pen to paper. (Fingers to keypad doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? When he first tapped the keys, perhaps.)
There has been some wittering about the delayed publication of his latest book. I’ve read that he dragged his heels finishing it, anxious about critical reaction. I’ve no idea if that’s true. I can only extrapolate from my own experience (as a gnat speculating about the feelings of an elephant).
So far a few thousand people have bought my first book, which launched just over two months ago. My publisher has just reprinted Cut Short (I’m a successful gnat!) and Road Closed, the next book in the series, is with my publisher, en route to the editor. After the fun of writing Road Closed, I’m nervous about the response of my publisher, my editor, and – most of all – the reaction of my readers.
I’m talking about a few thousand readers. The number is growing from a very few thousand to a fair few thousand. All those people have bought my book. An admiring teenager asked me today, ‘Do people recognise you on the street?’ I was sorry to disappoint her, but . . . no, of course not. I’m not a celebrity. In bookshops people are beginning to recognise me. As more people see my video on youtube
a few more people may recognise me. A few thousand now, and perhaps a few more thousand by the end of the year. Perhaps not. It’s small scale and it’s fun. And, even on my small scale, a little nerve wracking.
The internet has had a huge effect on personal privacy. Millions of people know Dan Brown’s face, although they are strangers to him. That sounds uncomfortable to me. As for the idea of millions of people (did I see 40 milllion?) reading my book – I have a sneaking suspicion I’d find that a little unnerving. The thought that everyone I met would have an opinion about my writing would alter how other people perceived me, how I felt towards them, and towards myself. There’d be no getting away from it. I think it would change the way I wrote. I’d no longer be able to sit in cafes unnoticed, an invisible observer.
I’m a very ordinary person. I value my ordinary life. I love who I am. I love being an author. I’m not sure I’d enjoy being a phenomenon. And for Dan Brown, there’s no going back. I wish him luck – with more than a tad of envy for his success. I’d swap places with him on the bestseller list if I could, as a writer, but I’m not sure I’d change places with him as a person.