Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Question And An Answer

Here's a question it might be nice to get asked by an interviewer at some point...

I was astounded to find that you've sold over 12,000,000 copies world-wide of the Sharpe Series, which is just a fraction of your catalog. Furthermore, the Boston Globe recently stated that you were perhaps 'the greatest writer of historical novels today." Are you a success by your own standard?

And here's the type of answer it would be nice to be able to give...

I'm a success inasmuch that I enjoy my life, which is an enormous blessing and that doesn't depend on commercial success (though I wouldn't be such a fool as to deny that it helps). What I mean by that is that the point of life, as I see it, is not to write books or scale mountains or sail oceans, but to achieve happiness, and preferably an unselfish happiness. It just so happens that I write books, and I'm amazingly lucky that the books sell well all across the world, but even the biggest financial success will not compensate for an ill-lived life. I'm fortunate that the books sell, but even more fortunate to live in Chatham, to be very happily married and to have, on the whole, a fairly clear conscience...

I want some of that.

The writer speaking is Bernard Cornwell, the historical novelist with about 50 books to his name at this point. I don't know exactly why I came across this interview, but that answer really struck me and I thought I'd share it. If you're interested in the rest of the interview you can check it out here. It's not new or anything, and it's actually done by a local website for the town he lives in. Interesting nonetheless.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Constance said...

Someone that's interested in qualitative rather than quantitative success? Cool. :)

I like his 'Zen' answers, too...

8:21 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Constance!

He seems to have a great balance between the two. There's definitely a good deal of quantity involved, but the end result is qualitative in terms of how he lives his life. I've read other interviews with him that seem to have a similarly buoyant appreciation of life and success. Not many get that balance, do they?

8:32 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

I always find it interesting when financially successful people downplay the merits of financial success.

There are plenty of families in America right now, for instance, that have the love of their relatives, fairly clear consciences, and who live on a corner or a dingy unsafe apartment because they do not have that level of financial success.

When I read stuff like this, I wonder just how fast money would matter if the individual saying this was suddenly one of the millions of working poor in this country who have loving families that they can't feed or get medical attention to.

And if money really is unimportant, why not give it all to that guy at the gas station asking for a dollar?

It is only the well off who say money does not matter. Happiness is a great goal, and money itself does not buy that happiness, but it sure takes the edge off everything that stresses you out, and it is a whole lot easier to achieve peace of mind when you don't have to worry about whether or not your kids will eat that week.

I'm not saying you should flaunt your financial success in other people's faces. Cornwell does say he is lucky and that the money helps. And the point about the ill-lived life is fair for those with any sort of conscience. But being so dismissive of the money, (and by extension (albeit unintentionally) the poor), when many people, probably even some reading that article, have scraped together the cash to spend on your product instead of eating lunch for a day or two is pretty insulting.

5:59 AM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

But to be fair, I've always had a pretty thin skin when it comes to the discussion of money.

6:00 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Paranoyd,

He's not saying money isn't important to him or to the world. He's saying he feels incredibly fortunate that the important elements in his life are in order, and very pleased that what he does for a living gives him the stability to live a good life while at the same time providing a creative product that gives many people around the world enjoyment.

I understand that. I want that, and it doesn't have a thing to do with insulting anybody.

11:34 AM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

OK, I'll buy that.

It's just that, after living on $710 a month when my rent was $700 a month and my friends had to buy me and my brother food until I was able to get a job, which took 8 months - I am particularly sensitive to "money isn't everything" comments.

I don't think he's a bad guy or anything. Nor do I think the poor are in some way more noble than the wealthy because they are poor.

I just think that people don't understand how these types of things sound sometimes to people who are or have been on the other end of the spectrum.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Dirk said...

My dad and I have both enjoyed all the books in the Sharpe series. They've also made many of them into tv shows, which I didn't like nearly as much, but my dad liked those too.

I never realized he had sold that many of them though.

He's like the British Tom Clancy or something, it sounds like :)

5:14 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Dirk,

I reckon Mr. Clancy sells enough to bury Mr. Cornwell, but I agree from the American side of things it's not obvious he's as popular as he is worldwide. Fortunately, most of what goes on in the world happens outside of our borders, and I guess most of his sales do as well.

For that matter... I just got my most recent royalty statements. This had been brewing for a while, but now it's quite official: most of my revenue (by a decent margin now) for Pride of Carthage came from overseas and foreign language sales. I'm not sure about Acacia yet, but it may be on a similar track.

Makes me very grateful that people in other countries read as many books as they do.

10:16 PM  
Blogger a cat of impossible colour said...

Hi David!

What a great answer from Bernard Cornwell - he always sounds like such a genuinely decent man in all the interviews I've read.

In other news - Acacia arrived in the post today! I'm super-excited about reading it this week. It's the UK trade paperback, and very attractive it is too.

9:24 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Cat,

I agree on Cornwell. Maybe he fakes it for interviews, but my feeling is he's a pretty decent guy. A good dinner guest, I imagine.

Cool that you got Acacia UK. I hope - after all of this talking, etc - that you actually like it.

Crossing of fingers now...

1:16 AM  

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