The Sound of One Hand Helping

It will come as little surprise to regular readers that I try not to judge a person by a single facet of their interactions. In the case of celebrities, my attempt to separate the person from the product has been particularly long running. However, I have recently discovered that fame influences me more than I realised.

When I was young I, as with many of my generation, encountered rock and metal music. And, as with many of my generation, I put up posters of favourite bands; in my case it was Guns’n’Roses. However – unlike some – I never saw Axl Rose as someone to emulate; his music was, and to a lesser extent still is, enjoyable but – even allowing for the tint of memory – much of his behaviour seemed poor.

I went to school with a man who went on to be an actor and television presenter.

At University I spent time with several authors, some who were already published and others who were published later.

I have had conversations on various topics with senior judges.

These encounters strengthened my existing belief that famous people are people and not their fame. They are not automatically more correct in one area by reason of their success in another.

However, last week I discovered a layer of inadequacy concealed beneath what I thought was respect for great skill.

Several bloggers I follow have decided to enter Camp NaNoWriMo. So when I found a photograph of Neil Gaiman giving advice on how to keep writing, I thought I had a great picture around which to build a post in support of everyone trying to write consistently for a month. However there was no copyright or license information with it.

Listen to the hand, cos the face ain’t talking
(©Neil Gaiman for Shared Worlds – used with permission)

So, I asked the internet if it could point me at the original. A few minutes later Neil Gaiman himself contacted me to say he had taken it for Shared Worlds. I have enjoyed, and been influenced by, his work for decades so having my query noticed felt very pleasant. Unfortunately Shared Worlds did not display a copyright or license notice either.

The lawyer-as-me immediately indicated the correct course was to respond to Mr Gaiman requesting permission to use his work as part of mine.

My inner critic tried to beat this idea into submission: he is a smart man so he would have said if it was fine when he replied; he will not want to get into a conversation; he is going to see it as trying to jump on his fame. Where I would without thinking twice contact an unknown photographer, my knowledge of his fame fused my fear that my work was not significant and my fear of being noticed doing something odd into a fear of a great artist thinking I was foolish.

As the inclusion of the photograph has no doubt already shown I overcame my fear and he said it was fine for me to use it non-commercially. Of course it is unlikely he would remember the conversation, but if he does then, with the benefit of hindsight, there are worse ways to be remembered than as a person who respected his copyright; so there was nothing to fear anyway.

If I, after successfully presenting controversial proposals to senior managers and winning obscure points in court, sometimes lack confidence then it seems likely that many other artists do as well, even more so when they are young, so receiving support from established artists really helps. I do not know if I have as much talent as Neil Gaiman or if my work will ever be as famous as his but I hope that whether or not I can develop his skill I can develop a similar history of supporting those starting out.

Have you ever interacted with one of your inspirations?

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One thought on “The Sound of One Hand Helping

  1. Yes, actually, I wrote some comments on Tim Power’s facebook page and he gave me personal answers. I was impressed that he took the time to do that, and the advice he gave me was quite good.


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