You've been writing for years but suddenly get on the Man Booker shortlist and find yourself in a weird twisted reality known as 'the public eye.' No-one ever takes a blind bit of notice of anything you say - something you've often pointed out to your family - but suddenly people are tweeting your words and you're reading about things you've said that you can't remember saying. Little paparazzi gangs wave at you and call your name.
The Booker process is an adrenalin rush. You embark upon a month of living on trains, in hotel rooms and out of overnight bags. You meet an awful lot of people very quickly. Fortunately, most of them are very nice, as are your fellow listees. You haven't read each others' books, so can't comment when the great dumbing-down debate gathers momentum.
The list causes outrage that needs to be clarified but no-one's being specific. The only thing that's clear is that the objectors don't include Julian Barnes, but the rest of you are suspect. Great, you think. You finally get a break - Wow! Amazing! Let's drink champagne! - and they make you feel like an upstart. You plough on through the hoops as the rumblings grow louder, wondering if this is how Taylor Swift felt when Kanye West invaded her big moment to say Beyonce should have won.
But worse is to come. Foolishly, you watch Newsnight Review. They don't like any of the books much, but yours is singled out for particular scorn. The posh one from Downton Abbey loathes it so much he seethes, and he's only skimmed it, you can tell. Germaine Greer sniggers and blames Peter Carey. What? They all snigger.
Next day you have to go to Cheltenham and appear in front of a packed auditorium, and every single person in the room, every single person you encounter from now on for the rest of your life (you just know it) has seen your book ridiculed as a pile of crap. You experience a familiar feeling it takes a while to place, then it clicks. You feel as if they're trying to make you cry. (They're not, of course). But it's like being sneered at by some nasty girls at school. You all know the ones. That's when you get angry. How dare they snigger like bullies in a schoolyard?
Who do they think they are? And what's all this stuff about dumb? You didn't put yourselves on the list. What are you all supposed to do? Declare yourselves unworthy and stand down? You're an established writer with ten books under your belt and several prizes (not that you want to pull rank, you hate all that) but the point is, whether a person likes the damn book is neither here nor there, but respect is. Why is the level of criticism on one of our top arts programmes on a par with those juvenile internet ordure-slingers who dominate the sillier forums?
Ssssh! soothes your inner sensible person. It's only the critics. This is just how it is. That weird Public Eye thing again. Psych yourself up. Gotta get a thick skin. Think of all the great reviews and blogs, all the people who love your book. It's been more extravagantly praised than anything you've written but it's also received the most vicious kicks from a vocal minority. You don't know what that means. You think hard and deep about literary standards. and the more you think, the more loaded and complicated certain words become: readability, enjoyment, ambition, challenging, artistic. You, for example love to read Finnegans Wake but find chicklit impenetrable. So you begin to hate the obsession with categorisation, genrefication, intellectualisation, analysation that affects everything from book jackets to blurbs to who gets to review a book. Literary fiction's just another genre now with boxes that must be ticked.
You're not a relativist. You don't think soap operas are as good as Shakespeare. Quality is a subtle thing that crosses boundaries, has always divided opinion and always will. It's a debate that never ends. But you've become aware of literary door policies: a place for every book and every book must know its place. As for your own, you couldn't care less what slot it lands in. It's what it is, and as a very great man once said: You can't please all of the people all of the time. And you'll be damned if you'll be put in your place.