Anthony Burgess on Writing and Publishing

bcover1I’m at youth camp this week.  A blog post is coming on that Thursday.

Whilst waiting for my new novel The Terminarch Plot to return from the beta readers, I decided to catch up on some reading.  I’m reading A Clockwork Orange, and perhaps the reasons for reading it should belong to another post…and that will come next week, I guess.

I’m so A.D.D.  On to Anthony Burgess:

I was reading the introduction by the late Burgess, in which he discusses the fact that American publications of his famous novel excluded the 21st chapter.  He gives reason for this in the following quote:

He [the publisher] insisted on cutting out the twenty-first.  I could, of course, have demurred at this and taken my book elsewhere, but it was considered that he was being charitable in accepting the work at all, and that all other New York, or Boston, publishers would kick out the manuscript on its dog-ear.  I needed money back in 1961, even the pittance I was being offered as an advance, and if the condition of the book’s acceptance was also its truncation – well, so be it.

Stanley Kubrick, when he made the film version of the novel, also cut out the events of chapter 21.  Burgess claims that the 21st chapter is where his protagonist finally “grows up” and stops being violent of his own accord.  He says that this is the denouement of the novel, and that cutting it out changes the message the novel entirely.  He states:

The twenty-first chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction, an art founded on the principle that human beings change.  There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters.

This is great advice for any would-be novelist, and it also shows the out-right belligerence and short-sightedness of the traditional publishing world.  Even the worst and “trashiest” novel shows people changing.  He further states that:

The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel.

Further he states:

It is the novelist’s job to preach; it is his duty to show.

From this short essay I take away the great truth that publishers will never truly know the long-lasting message of a work of fiction, and at best are only guessing at the monetary potential that said fiction might have.  I also understand from Burgess the idea that our work is our work and that we need to stick to our guns and not cave in to the pressure to sell our book by selling out.

I suppose if Burgess were writing today he would probably be a self-published author.  He’d write crazy novels and publish them to Kindle.  When I read the genius that is The Clockwork Orange, I am encouraged that if one of the greatest writers of the 20th century faced these kinds of difficulties in the publishing world, then the small difficulties I face (i.e. my latest rejection e-mail) are small.

I consider myself in good company.

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One thought on “Anthony Burgess on Writing and Publishing

  1. A Clockwork Orange is fascinating. The intricacy/ language used is compelling, and the transformation of Alex concluded the piece in a far happier place than I thought it would end up.

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