Back when I first started blogging, I read a piece about writing for the web, and it included a caution against using irony. Irony, the writer maintained, is often misunderstood. People will take you seriously.
Well, I'm not sure if Ed Shelton's little workshop on writing for the web is the one that I read some eighteen months ago, but it too contains a suggestion that 'clever-clever' devices such as sarcasm or irony are best avoided. 'Your message,' says Ed, 'will then be understood by the widest possible audience.'
Hmm. I mention this because (a) I seem to have been misunderstood one day last week, (b) I was tempted to respond with further irony, and (c) on first reading an email recently I think I misunderstood it entirely.
Incident (a) is trivial. I reviewed a book published by iUniverse, and mentioned that the firm is less selective in what it publishes than is Random House. Thereafter a commenter took plains to explain to me that iUniverse is a firm which will publish more or less anything by anyone, if they just hand over the money. And actually -- ahem -- I did know that.
The same angry commenter went on to ask me how much the author of the iUniverse-published book had paid me to review it. The answer, as most of you will understand, is nothing. He just asked nicely. But I was tempted to reply ironically, and say that he didn't pay me anything, but that -- hey -- I was ready to review to order if there was anyone out there dumb enough to offer me money. I was also going to add that, in England, the tradition is to hand over the cash in used notes, in a brown-paper bag, and that the locale de choix is a supermarket car park. But perhaps, in the circs, I won't say any of that. It might lead to confusion.
And then there's the email sent to me by Sylvia Van Nooten. I thought at first, perhaps being somewhat sensitised by last week's experience, that she was having a little go at me. But actually I don't think she is.
Sylvia refers in her email to 'egotistical maniacs convinced they are the reincarnation of Swift and who splay their names and blogs wherever possible.' And she has coined an expression -- BlogBeggars -- to describe 'those sad souls begging for their blog to be noticed by a "someone".'
But when I saw that Sylvia has a blog of her own I began to reinterpret what she said. To labour the point, I don't think she was having a go at me, or anyone else. She was just making a comment (inspired, it seems, by one of mine) on the sad nature of many writers' ambitions.
Sylvia's blog is called (ironically?) I will be your guru, and she seems to be working on a novel. And the comment of mine which set her off was this: 'Publishing depends, for its continuance, upon a ceaseless flow of mugs, suckers, and assorted halfwits who are prepared to work for a year or more without any serious prospect of remuneration.'
And I was going to add that, in my case, I may have some prospect of remuneration if there anyone out there who (a) wants a book reviewed and (b) has some spare moolah. But I won't.