When Is A Writer A Writer? (And Don’t Mention The P-Word)

Some of you guys may have read that I have just had my first fiction published, and also that I have signed a contract for a chapbook of my poetry  to be released soon. Well the publisher asked for me to send them a few headshots which they could use for the book, and to publicise its release on their website.

I had nothing suitable, I’m either goofing around or carrying kids or I am giving that smile that looks like I’ve entered a gurning competition. This was the first time that I’ve been asked for anything like that, and I felt like I was definitely in uncharted territory.  I’ve never been one for publicity, (I shirked a tv interview not so long ago when a national tragedy had tv crews flocking to my community), and I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me.

What is the standard fare for this kind of thing? I googled Author Headshots. The majority of images that came up looked very professional, immaculately groomed heads in front of blank canvases, barely a hair out of place. It wasn’t reassuring.

Where could I have mine taken? And how? All that I have is a camera phone. Regular Jackdaw readers may recall that I have a techno guy, constantly trying to field my desperate calls for help, normally when my latest Jackdaw post has crashed. Well, I knew he had a fancy camera, so somehow, with a bit of skulduggery, I managed to get hold of him.

He came around last night. More with a fear of pretentiousness than vanity, I began to question myself. Do I have a shave? What do I wear? Am I supposed to smile? Look thoughtful? I found a tip that said the photo was supposed to represent my style. Fashion style? That would just kill my Mrs.

I asked Techno Guy where I should have the photo took.

“Well, as you are based in Manchester, I was thinking maybe sat in a chair, in front of a Manchester landmark somewhere, looking at a book or a kindle.”

I was mortified. “Oh God, no! I’m not having it taken outside in front of anybody! What I meant was, in front of which wall? We have no canvas. We have no blank walls. If I have it in the front room there is all that seventies flowered wallpaper to contend with.”

“What do you mean-seventies?!” my wife cut in. “There’s nothing wrong with this wallpaper!”

I thought that I would look like an extra in Life On Mars or something, but I bit my tongue. Techno Guy suggested the other wall, which was patterned with small squares, claiming his fancy gadget camera could blur the background so you could not see the lines. (The indoor stipulation of mine was correct-outside it was gale force winds and torrential rain. Could you imagine what that would have looked like? Wavy hair blowing all over the place, showing my fod, water dripping off my nose like snot. It would be the worst author photo ever!).

He got me to stand a few feet away from him. “Right, look at the lens.”

As soon as we began, I started giggling. I couldn’t help myself. I felt stupid. Look this way, turn that way, smile, don’t smile. The kids watching didn’t help.

Not that long ago I read a biography of Marilyn Monroe. I recalled how so many people said that in front of the camera she came alive, how she had a magnetism that made love to the lens.

Mine was like an idiot having a drunken fumble with a Polaroid. He took a few more shots. Then he suggested:“How about sitting on a chair now, chin resting on your hands. Maybe holding a pen sticking out of your mouth.”

“Not a chance-I would look pretentious as Hell!” (That p-word again.)

After ten minutes he showed the results to me.

“I look old and fat.” 

My wife tried to appease me “I told you when we looked at that photograph of us all at that party at the weekend, we are definitely middle-aged now. But you are not fat.”

I should have lifted my head higher to hide my double chin. I cursed my Dad for the hereditary jowls. I asked Techno Guy to do them in black and white to hide my corned beef blemishes. He said he would do the best he could.

We were winging it.

This still feels new to me. Though I’ve written for a while, and had poetry published here and there, when I had my first fiction published recently a kind soul informed me that I was now a published writer. And, with my poetry collection pending, that I could now call myself a writer and a poet. It isn’t sitting well with me. I always considered myself as somebody who sometimes writes poetry, or fiction. I adopted no labels.

Although I am beginning to feel a little more validated, a little more authentic, if you like, I can’t bring myself to say to someone “I am a writer” or “I am a poet.” It feels both awkward and embellished in my mouth.

When my wife was taking a copy of the folklore anthology that has my story and poem in it up to her mum, she asked me to sign it for her. I said no. She asked why.

“Because I feel like a knob.”

She laughed, but I do have a fear of coming over all pretentious.

When does come the time when you can say “I am a poet” rather than “I write poetry”? Is there really a difference?

Over to you guys.


7 thoughts on “When Is A Writer A Writer? (And Don’t Mention The P-Word)

  1. I had a head shot professionally done. Glamour Shots is great but you usually have to wait for development. If you have a friend that can take great pictures, that is your best bet. You can also crop a picture to include only a head shot. 🙂


    • Yeah my mate did a good job, considering the enthusiastic subject he had to work with! Black and White was the way to go. Conceals so much 🙂


  2. Relax and go with the flow, Andy. You are a Writer and you are a Poet. Own them both, and who cares what the photos look like? You are you, and people will follow you for your words, not your looks. Good luck with it all – you have my full support, with just a touch of envy…


    • People will follow me for my words not my looks-thank’s a bunch ! 🙂 I know what you mean, and thank you Susan. Though you have no need to be envious.


  3. First, please explain what gurning is. I’m from the States and haven’t a clue. 🙂

    Second, author photos are always difficult. I’m glad your friend could take your photo. A friend of mine never smiles on his author photos. I’ve seen outdoor shots, shots with plain backgrounds, and the more imaginative ones where the author is dressed like his or her character. I’m sure your author photo will be fine!

    I always feel dumb taking those photos. The best author “photo” I’ve ever had was when the illustrator drew a picture of me to use in the book.


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