What does an author look like?

Stephen King sells books; many books.
Stephen King sells books; many books.

The great thing about being a famous author (I’m guessing here) is you can be incredibly rich and phenomenally well-known and loved, without anyone being particularly sure what you look like. You don’t appear in ‘stars without makeup’ spreads in Who magazine where commentators deride your flaky t-zone. Fans are unlikely to stop you on the street and bother you with requests for selfies when you’re just trying to buy a box of fluted masonry nails.  You can look like crap and people still buy your books: Stephen King, for example, moves a lot of merchandise. Writers get all the perks, none of the drawbacks.

And yet ever since my novel was published I feel like I’m undergoing some kind of physical transformation, trying to make the outer me look more like the inner me. Or at least, marking my change of state from unpublished to published in some exterior fashion. I got my first tattoo. And yesterday I got my hair dyed blue. I don’t really know what’s going on…

Some of this can be excused by the occasional public performance I have to do, like the odd panel or reading. Dressing up is a distraction from the terror of presenting some version of myself on stage (as the always gorgeously put-together and super-smart Angela Meyer discusses here). But I think there’s more to it.

So I’m interested to know: as you’ve come to think more of yourself as a writer, have you tried to display it in some outward change?

The author I most want to look like when I grow up: Marjorie Barnard (photographed by Brendan Hennessy).
The author I most want to look like when I grow up: Marjorie Barnard (photographed by Brendan Hennessy).
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10 thoughts on “What does an author look like?

  1. Personally, I like to keep my writerliness internalised. It gives me strength as I go about my day, like a superhero alter ego that only I know about. I look forward to the day that it is recognised in the form of a large cash-based literary award and people will look back and feel silly for asking such a literary genius to reconcile their travel expenses or wash the tea cups.

      1. Damn it, Rawson, you’re onto me!
        (*throws down 4.5mm crochet needle and emerald green wool-polyester blend yarn down in disgust*).

  2. The blue hair reminds my me of seeing Fiona McGregor at MWF 20-odd years ago. She’d just published “Suck My Toes” which was defiantly portraying gay, bisexual and (being blunt) inner-suburban lifestyles. She was absolutely outre amongst all the cardigans and sensible shoes, which I’m pretty sure was the point.

    I honestly don’t know the other circumstances of her life at that time, but it FELT like her look represented how she wanted her WRITING to be perceived by her audience.

    Fashion and appearance are ALWAYS performative in some manner, but which aspect of you you’re expressing… that’s really subjective, even to yourself.

    1. Yes, not nearly so radical these days as it was then (though one of my workmates did ask, looking worried, ‘was it an accident? Are you in a play?’). I suppose I spend a lot of my life trying to project my inner self onto my outer, to avoid misunderstandings; now I have ‘a novel’ it’s just another bit of information I have to add to the mix. But what kind of novel is it? What kind of writer am I? Which shoes say cross-genre dystopia? Now I think about it, maybe the outfits are the best bit about writing…

      1. “Some write for the fame, none for the money, some for the chance to have ONE conversation which they won’t be interrupted. But for me, the only thing that keeps me putting paragraphs on a page is the opportunities or opens up for avant garde couture…”

  3. Nice pic of Stephen King. Love it. I did this to my hair about a year ago & my book came out two months ago. Coincidence? Think not. Just yesterday I had the thought I might do so again. Is that predictable given your post? Maybe I won’t now! ( was a pic of me with blue hair- had trouble posting it)

  4. Yes..japes would happen…(be back in a tick just consulting the dictionary) …and we could do each other’s homework for sure! I actually have the blue ready to go in the cupboard, it’s been there for months, but I’m trying not to dye my hair as I’m owning my greys. It’s a new phase, it comes under the same heading as your post here.

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