Literary Review: W. A. Harbinson - The Writing Game

Paperback Cover - The Writing Game

W. A. Harbinson

The Writing Game - Recollections of an Occasional Bestselling Author, August 2005
2nd Ed. 2008

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The Writing Game - Recollections of an Occasional Bestselling Author

I first encountered the work of W. A. Harbinson in the form of one of his best-selling novels, Genesis, about 1980 or 81, followed a year or so later by another of his bestsellers, Revelation. Both novels left a lasting impression, for their originality, for the author's superb ability to spin a yarn that would grip you and not let go and indeed compel you to continue reading through to the end without interruption, for the obvious meticulous and extensive research that these novels had required, particularly so in the case of Genesis, and for the rare excellent writing. Then, more than a quarter of a century later and through a series of lucky, if most unlikely, coincidences, W. A. Harbinson's The Writing Game fell into my hands. Sub-titled Recollections of an Occasional Bestselling Author, The Writing Game is an autobiographical account of the life and times, and indeed the career thus far, of the author, and of his relationship with and experience of the contemporary publishing world. Any kind of guide to how to get your book published, or how to write it in the first place, this is emphatically not.

W. A. 'Allen' Harbinson's The Writing Game - Recollections of an Occasional Bestselling Author is published as a "print on demand" book, one of the blessings of the digital age that has made possible this alternative to the modern conglomerate publishing monster, and is available through Do note however that this method of publishing is not some new form of the "vanity publishing" of old, rather, it is akin to the independent marketing of music CDs by "unsigned" artists. (The literary equivalent of the music MP3, the digital book or e-book, is still in its early infancy.)

Although there are many glimpses and insights into W. A. Harbinson's personal life and times in The Writing Game, his childhood and upbringing in Belfast, Northern Ireland, his relationship with his parents, his time in Australia and the RAAF, his return to Britain and his marriage and its eventual breakup, Harbinson's primary focus is on his career as a professional writer, not so much on the creative process per se (although there is plenty of that too) but rather the hard struggle to survive and make a living in the minefield of writing and the publishing industry, his relationships with and experience of the latter and its transformation into the faceless conglomerate mammon-oriented monster since the 1980s that will as soon drop ten good authors, even with a proven track record, as pump huge sums of money into pampering, editing/ghost-writing and promoting an indifferent (or even incapable) one that happens to be the marketable commodity flavour of the month.

Harbinson is the author of more than fifty novels, also under the pseudonym of Shaun Clarke, a number of biographies, and numerous short stories, magazine articles, radio plays, and screenplay adaptations. Both some of his novels and biographies made the best-seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, and one of his Elvis (Presley) biographies was made into a stage musical. So there is a wealth of experience to draw upon for his material for The Writing Game. But don't be misled: this is by no means a dry account of the technicalities of Harbinson's career and his dealings with the publishing industry. Far from it. It is interspersed with a wealth of equally fascinating and often humorous anecdotes and colourful miniature portraits of fellow authors, showbusiness celebrities and editors from the publishing world, and full of wit and charm throughout.

On the private side of W. A. Harbinson, what is striking is the obvious high regard in which he still holds his ex-wife, his respect for her, and his love of and devotion to their children that come across in The Writing Game. Indeed, Harbinson here reveals far more about himself than he seems to have intended as he is very clearly an intensely private sort of person (and modest with it, too), but it's certainly all to his credit.

W. A. Harbinson is often described as a science-fiction author. This, however, is not only erroneous but moreover does the author a great injustice. Yes, two of his biggest best-sellers could be described as broadly fitting into that genre - Genesis and Revelation - and several others of his novels, too. But a "genre writer" of any kind Harbinson is clearly not. His output has in fact been very broad and varied (as well as amazingly prolific!), and if you were not aware of this before, The Writing Game certainly shows this very clearly. It does so not only through accounts of his many varied works, but by including brief excerpts from a variety of them in the form of a sample chapter or two here and there. These prove to be extremely teasing if you have not encountered the work before, and you may well feel compelled to dash out to your nearest book store and grab them all.

W. A. Harbinson's The Writing Game is about living life on the edge, with the ever-present possibility of artistic and especially financial failure. This autobiographical account of an author's struggle and survival in the volatile world of the professional writer and publishing is highly engaging as well as entertaining and absorbing, as witty and humorous as it is observant. I found it next to impossible to put down. W. A. Harbinson's The Writing Game is a compelling good read and indeed a "must read" for anybody with some kind of interest in the literary world. Get this book while you can!

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