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Around The Sun: Thoughts On Fame – From Vietnam

Steve Harrison muses on the best kind of fame.

I don’t want to join the list of the great authors of this world, Shakespeare is dead, Milton dead, Chaucer dead and I’m not feeling too good myself – Mark Twain

I’m am now resigned, with the wisdom of my years, to the fact that the careers officer at the grammar school did me a great service by not encouraging me to learn the guitar and become a pop star.

I would probably have succumbed to the spotlight and gone the way of Hendrix or Jim Morrison. Pop star status often leads to tragedy, I watched a documentary on The Beatles which revealed that they never got to go anywhere on their own. All they saw was the inside of hotel rooms and hordes of delirious fans. They had bodyguards and minders to ensure that they were not mobbed by insane fans. They never got to enjoy their wealth.

An Englishman living in Vietnam achieves a small pop star status. He is richer than the average Vietnamese. Girls are readily available. People follow you, wanting to shine your shoes or sell you postcards, cigarettes, newspapers, or sun glasses.

At first all this attention seems flattering. Kids learn your name and call to you as you go by. After a while this becomes a pain in the arse. The same urchin is pestering you for what seems like the millionth time to buy a postcard. Everyone seems to want to know where you are from and if you are married. You can't walk down a street without someone trying to hustle you for something.

Being a celebrated author would be a great kind of fame. Pop stars, film stars are instantly recognised. The paparazzi take pictures of them for smutty magazines. Their heads are retouched into pornographic photos and sent round the world on the Web.

An author's fame is different. He or she writes a book, makes a truckload of money, and acquires an entourage of adoring fans. But those fans are intelligent. They can read! They admire your mind.

After the book signings most folk forget what you look like. They wouldn't know you if you tripped over them in the street. You, dear reader, don't know what I look like. Succesful authors are free to enjoy the rewards that their writing brings them. They can go out and enjoy a quiet coffee. They can get drunking, make fools of themselves, and nobody would be the wiser.

A friend of mine, Corrina, raved about the author John Updike. Then she read an article about him, complete with photograph, in a magazine and was shocked by his appearance.

Authors can be sloppy. They can wander around all day in their pyjamas if they choose to do so. If they wish they can write while naked. They don't have to keep up appearances.

I'm glad that school careers officer didn't encourage me to take the path to pop stardom. But why oh why didn't he encourage me to work at my writing and become a succesful author?


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