Be like Benedict – Genevieve Gannon

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By Genevieve Gannon

If the frustration of your creative endeavour is getting you down, look to Benedict Cumberbatch, writes Genevieve Gannon.

You’ve written your book, one of the big five publishing houses said it was good enough to release and now it’s out there in the world. But the accolades and riches haven’t been quite as forthcoming as you’d first hoped, and no literary festivals have come a-calling.

For emerging authors struggling against a tide of indifference, this can be incredibly dispiriting. Having been through this process twice now, my advice is to lie back and think of Benedict Cumberbatch. Not in the biblical sense, but as an artist who recently graced two-storey-tall billboards to promote his blockbusters movie Doctor Strange after years of quietly pursuing his craft.

We know and love Cumberbatch for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and a slew of acclaimed roles that followed this break-out performance. His turn as the detective mastermind has attracted the type of mania usually reserved for rock stars and royalty. (There’s a thriving community of fans who call themselves Cumberbitches.)

But if you scroll back through his IMDB filmography you’ll see he persevered for years and years before achieving notoriety. His story is not unique in the creative industry. Anyone who has ever been labelled an overnight success will tell you there’s no such thing.

Consider this, in 2007 Cumberbatch played the small but pivotal role of Paul Marshall in Joe Wright’s film Atonement. It was his 18th role and followed a string of supporting characters he played since his screen debut in 2002. Cumberbatch is chillingly pitch perfect as the sinister predator Paul Marshall. Yet it wasn’t until 2010 that he was cast as Sherlock Holmes – the role that many say made him.

As novelists we seek the validation that comes from people instantly recognising the inherent brilliance in our writing. When it comes to creative work, there is a sense that those who succeed do so because of an in-born talent, and that glory will come instantly or not at all. But it’s a job, a trade. And like being a surgeon, or a property valuator or a baker you need to learn your craft. I learnt that from global best-seller Maeve Binchy, who wrote about her life as an author in The Writer’s Club.

Where creative pursuits deviate from more traditional professions is that the pathway is less clear, which is why it is helpful to look to other artists for guidance – even those pursing different disciplines. If you look to those who have succeeded you’ll see they develop, they grow. They make mistakes and try again. You may need to weather a few withering reviews. Read them closely. Learn from them. Use them to make yourself and your work stronger.

Where would Madonna be if she released her first album and thought: ‘What a great effort. I’m going to retire to the Maldives and enjoy my success’?

What if Bowie had stopped singing after the release of Space Oddity?

Author Lionel Shriver told the Melbourne Writers Festival last year that she nearly gave up after her sixth published novel Double Fault was a commercial failure. She wavered but didn’t succumb to doubt. Her next book was We Need to Talk about Kevin. It won the Orange prize, sold in the millions and was adapted into a film starring Tilda Swinton.

Writing in the Guardian, Shriver described how the book was rejected by publisher after publisher and ultimately caused her to leave her agent who suggested a massive re-write. She stuck to her guns and a bestseller was born.

Hindsight is a funny thing. Given the heights of stardom we’ve seen Shriver and Cumberbatch achieve, it is difficult to imagine their success was ever anything but a fait accompli. But the road for each was a long one, and the eight years between Cumberbatch’s screen debut in the 2002 television movie Fields of Gold and when he became Sherlock were surely full of despondent moments and doubt.

So whenever it feels like you’re getting nowhere and never will, persevere. Think of Doctor Strange, and Kevin and Madonna and remember to be like Benedict.


Genevieve Gannon is the author of Husband Hunters and Chasing Christ Campbell. Her third novel, The First Year, is available as an ebook now.

www.genevievegannon.net

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