Fermez les yeux and brace for impact

I’m so excited today I can hardly string a sentence together. And that would be ok, because what I’d really like to do is to cut the prose and list, shamelessly, the places you can see my book online.

That’s MY BOOK.

My. Book.

Oh, but you’d be interested to take a look? So kind of you to say so! I don’t want to bore you. And I won’t be offended if you don’t click on any of the links. Though the cover art really is quite fab. Intriguing, even. Just the right sort of thing for a thriller.

Well go on then, you’ve twisted my arm…

Fermez les yeux 

Just - aggghhhhh!

Just – aggghhhhh!

Didn’t I say it was in French? Ah well, they have excellent taste, the French – everyone knows that. The Germans too – there may be a post on that subject coming up in, say, July or so.

So… here it is, at long last. I have the artwork and a publication date – 10 February – and in the next day or so I expect to get my hands on the book itself. That’s a real live, honest-to-goodness book, with an actual cover, and a spine, and pages with words on them. My words.

Not that I’ll actually be able to understand many of them, it being in French and all. I only have a GCSE and my characters don’t spend all their time telling each other what their name is, and that they live in London, and asking if they could they have a white coffee and a ham sandwich, and what’s the best way to the post office.

But still. They’re my words en français. At least I hope they are.

I’ll be honest: alongside the excitement, there’s more than a hint of trepidation. One part of me understands that this is a first book being published in translation. That it’ll be a pebble dropped into the ocean of new books. That it’ll be a struggle to get anyone to read it at all.

I know all of that, and it doesn’t matter: I’m still ridiculously happy to think that my characters will be let out to make their way in the world. At the same time, I feel the first faint stirrings of obsession and paranoia.

They’re feelings that aren’t entirely unfamiliar.

Because there were times when I hated this book. When I was so sick of rewrites I felt I knew every single word off by heart. That I felt like I never wanted to look at it again. It brought me some of the greatest highs of my life (getting an agent; hearing that the big five were taking it to acquisition stage) and some of the biggest disappointments (none of the buggers were offering).

After a while, the disappointment faded. I appreciated what I had – a brilliant agent who was passionate about my book and who’d given it as good a chance as it could ever have got; a deal for the French rights with an established publisher; the idea for the next book and a glimmer of an idea for the one after that. I might not have had Euromilions-winning levels of good luck, but it was definitely five-lotto-numbers-and-the-bonus-ball territory.

All my passion for Waking Sara – for that’s what it was called back then – both love and hate, subsided into a gentle affection. I looked back on the days of the rewrites with a head-shaking fondness. I regained a sense of perspective.

Until now.

The release date is 10 February (just in case you didn’t get it the first time). That’s a whole 24 days away. And yet – someone has already given it three out of five!

I mean, I suppose it could be worse. I think I’d rather have a boringly middling mark than out and out disdain.

I think.

But couldn’t my unimpressed reviewer even had added a few words of explanation?! I mean, that book was the result of three years of my life! But no, he/she (or possibly even the default setting on a computer programme somewhere – I live in hope) has just given me my mark and got on with their life as if it doesn’t matter. Hmph, I say. Hmph.

And then there are the discounts. Not that I mind them in themselves – €15.90 is a lot of money for a paperback novel – but it’s the indecent haste of it! My poor little book isn’t even out and it’s having 5% lopped off its price without so much as a by-your-leave. It’s as if it’s already on the way to the bargain baskets! (Mind you, though, it is a bargain. So if you want to brush up on your French…)

And then the final indignity. Amazon, whom I once bravely defended on this very site, have got my name wrong. How they’ve managed this, I’ve no idea, but I can say with absolute certainty that I have never, ever been called Clarence. Not even in a French accent.

Anyway, if you or anyone you know speaks French/would like to speak French/ knows someone called Clarence, there’s a book out next month you’d absolutely love.

John Fowles, Alexander the Great, and finding your fulcrum moment

“There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.”

John Fowles, The Magus

I planned to start this blog anew today in the kind of spirit that comes over many, even most of us at this time of year – a dollop of optimism, a dash of cod philosophy, the pinchiest pinch of the confessional. I had a quote in mind, something I half-recalled about how we are free and how that freedom is terrifying. I thought it was John Fowles.

I took down my copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the first of Fowles’ novels that I read and the one I love the most. I flicked through it but couldn’t find the quote. I did what anyone would do in such circumstances – I turned to Google.

I still didn’t find the quote. If anyone reading this knows the one I’m talking about, please let me know – otherwise I’m going to have to read the whole book again, and I have a horrible feeling that I’ll discover it isn’t there at all. And then I’ll have to re-read The Magus – which feels like hard going for January; and then The Collector, which is too creepy for winter reading. And then I’ll feel guilty about that copy of Daniel Martin that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years and which I’ve never got around to. And there are so many other things I wanted to read this year and frankly, after the last few days spent stuffing myself with chocolate, and cuddling the cats, and dozing through the second half of yet another Miss Marple on DVD, it all seems just a little bit exhausting.

So for once, Google did not provide. It did, though, lead me to a whole pile of other Fowles quotes, courtesy of Goodreads. After a quarter of an hour or so looking through them – and feeling that familiar mixture of admiration and despair that comes with reading work you can’t fail to acknowledge is about three million times better than anything you could hope to produce yourself – I came across the little beauty reproduced at the top of this page.

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it?

Because I’d been thinking about whether, in considering a fairly big change in my life (never fear – I’ll bore you with the details of that some other time) I was being true to myself or delusional, honest or selfish, brave or foolish. And here, it seemed to me, was someone saying – when you truly know yourself, it doesn’t matter. When you truly know yourself, there are no choices left to make.

Fowles is too sophisticated to suggest that this fulcrum, the point at which, finally, one understands oneself, comes at a particular time in life. Well, he’s either too sophisticated or he knows and isn’t telling.

I’d like to reassure myself that it comes with the wisdom of old(er) age. But somehow I can’t see a 30 year-old Alexander the Great twiddling his sword while he surveyed the greatest empire of the ancient world, wondering whether he was fully expressing his creative side.

Surely some people must just get it.

But whilst part of me would love that certainty, that clarity of purpose, another part can’t help feeling that this is all just a little bit deterministic. It suggests that, at your core, there’s something fundamental and unchanging. A “real you” that you can find if you pull back the layers, like onion skin, and that when you’ve reached it there’s no choice but to live with it, make use of it – chop it up and make a Bolognese sauce. Or something. onion skin

Perhaps this is my problem: making choices. Because choosing one option inevitably means discarding others. Alexander the Great couldn’t have been history’s most successful military commander and, say, Wimbledon Champion. Even if he was really, really good at tennis. I mean, what if the Siege of Halicarnassus had clashed with the qualifiers? Or if his coach had told him that flinging around a spear would be detrimental to his back swing?

Perhaps sometimes you just have to choose. And maybe making the wrong choices now and again is okay. Maybe it’s doing that very thing, and recognising when your choices haven’t been for the best, that brings you to your own fulcrum moment.

Good luck for all your choices in 2016.

Beauty and inspiration – or dealing with a ridiculously good-looking vet

When I started writing this blog I read lots of advice about what you should and shouldn’t do to attract your audience and keep them interested. Apparently, you should never bang on about how long it’s been since you last posted anything. That’s partly because you should be posting regularly so the need for an excuse doesn’t arise, but also because no-one cares except you. Either your readers are interested in your stuff or they aren’t – you’re not going to convince them with sad tales about how busy work has been, and that nasty bout of flu, and how you’re now sporting an attractive Harriet Potter type scar in the middle of your forehead as a result of an uncharacteristic bout of fainting and an unfortunate collision with a basket of bath oils.

So none of those excuses here. Promise.

All the same, whilst topics for posts came and went, it’s taken something a bit special to give me the spark of inspiration to fire up poor, neglected Mrs Holder and put virtual pen to virtual paper. I won’t keep you on the edge of your seat any longer. That something special was yesterday’s encounter with the World’s Most Good Looking Vet.

By vet, I should be clear: I’m not talking about a grizzled ex-soldier with haunting war stories, but a lovely, warm-hearted human being who spends his life being kind to animals. Yesterday was the second attempt at getting our cats to what’s known in our household as the V-E-T for their jabs. Embarrassingly, we lost this annual battle of wits two weeks ago when the most timid of our two felines, Poppy, displayed a frankly supernatural ability to work out that Something Was Up and hastily exited stage left, legging it under the garden fence and refusing to come back until well past the allotted appointment. This time, though, the Husband and I had a battle plan and arrived at the surgery – which, to protect the innocent, I shall say only is located in south east London – on time, with two cat carriers complete with occupants.

Now this is not the first time we’ve visited this particular vet’s. We’ve been turning up regularly, usually shaken and scarred from the Clash of the Cat Carrier, for the last six or seven years. We don’t often see the same vet, but here’s the thing: they are all of them, Zoolander-like, ridiculously good-looking.

Almost as good-looking as the vets at our surgery. Almost.

Almost as good-looking as the vets at our surgery. Almost.

Where they find these people I do not know. Perhaps there’s a vet school somewhere that only takes students from Models One. Perhaps the head vet, who is – naturally – a George Clooney/Richard Gere type (though not in a way that would make you worry for your hamster) travels the globe searching out potential colleagues able to meet his own standards of aesthetic beauty. Perhaps they’re all injecting themselves with some kind of Ridiculously Good-Looking-Making serum. However they do it, it’s almost a trial to deal with.

Let me tell you how it goes.

 Scene: Yak and Husband, sitting in reception each with a cat carrier on their laps. Plaintive mews are emanating from one, eerie silence from the other. There is a door to the left and a figure emerges.

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:        Patsy and Poppy Cooper?

Husband:                                            Yes, that’s us.

[Yak thinks:                                        Oh God, not again…]


Scene changes: Yak, Husband and Ridiculously Good-looking Vet in small consulting room.

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:        Everything okay?

Husband and Yak exchange looks.

Yak:                                                     Well, they really don’t like the cat carriers, and they don’t like coming to the vet’s, so we’re all a bit traumatised actually…

[Yak thinks:                                        It’s this guy again. I think he’s the most good-looking of all of them. Is he the most good-looking? He must be. Surely he must be. But then there’s the one that looks like George Clooney…]

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:       Ok, which of them is the most scared?

Husband:                                          Poppy – the black one.

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:       Ok, let’s take a look at her first, get it over with.


Ridiculously Good-looking Vet takes the lid off one of the cat carriers and lifts out a black cat. The cat has gone floppy, playing dead. He cradles her gently in his arms and carries her to a weighing scales.

[Yak thinks:                                       Oh, he’s so gentle with her! He’s definitely the most good-looking one. The way his eyes crinkle at the edges… Oh My God, he’s kissed her head! HE’S KISSED MY CAT! Though – is that entirely appropriate?]

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:       She’s lost a little bit of weight.

Husband:                                          They haven’t eaten much of their food for the last couple of days. They’ve gone off their usual stuff.

Yak:                                                    Yes, they’re ever so fussy, the pair of them. We have to change the brand every so often…

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:        That’s cats for you. The thing to do when you’re choosing cat food is to look at whether it’s fixed or open formula…

[Yak thinks:                                        Oh God, he’s looking at me. I have eye contact. Eye contact! Am I being normal? God, please let me be acting normal…]

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:        …because if it’s fixed formula, it contains what it says on the packet, but if it’s open formula…

Yak:                                                   No! Can they really do that? I didn’t know they could do that!

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:       Yep, if it’s open formula, one week it can be, say, chicken, the next week, it’s whatever’s cheapest from the abattoir floor…

[Yak thinks:                                       He must know how good-looking he is. Maybe I should just say something and get it over with. Address the elephant in the room…]

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:      Consumers just don’t know. So sometimes their pet gets ill and they think, well, it can’t be the food, because they’re having the same thing they always do…

Husband:                                         Goodness, I had no idea…

[Yak thinks:                                      I could just say it. ‘Look, I’ve got to acknowledge this. You really are spectacularly good-looking…’ Oh God, he’s looking at me again. Why can’t he look at the Husband more often? It must be the woman-as-carer thing. I’m not blushing, am I? Please don’t let me be blushing. I should just say some words. Say some words!]

Yak:                                                  To be honest, we just keep trying to find something they’ll eat. I mean, we’ve tried Felix, and Gourmet Perle, and they eat it for a bit and then they just stop, refuse, as if they’re saying, “What is this crap?” And I bought loads of Science Plan, and that has a 100% taste guarantee, right? And they just wouldn’t eat it at all…

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:       And what about drinking?

Yak:                                                   Well, they never touch the water we put next to their feeding bowls, but…

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet:        They like running water, right? Sinks, toilet bowls…

Yak:                                                    No, actually. I mean, we bought them one of those drinking water fountains and they hated that, wouldn’t go near it…

Husband:                                           They like drinking from glasses…

Yak:                                                    Yes! We have these two little glasses outside the bathroom and they drink from those. They seem quite happy with that…

[Yak thinks:                                        He’s still looking at me. I’m being normal, though. My voice sounds ok. I’m definitely being normal. Well done me! I bet most women don’t manage to be this normal around him…]

Ridiculously Good-looking Vet turns away and starts tapping on a keyboard.

Husband (sotto voce):                      Calm down – you sound really stressed!

Yak (irritated):                                   What are you talking about? I’m not stressed.

[Yak thinks:                                        Well, I don’t know what he’s talking about.]


Honestly, it’s a nightmare.

Still, at least it’s got me writing, and I do have a book to get on with. They say beauty’s good for the artistic soul, don’t they? I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere. Maybe I could go back every time I need to put a dent in the word count.

No, that would be ridiculous.

Though now that I think of it, Poppy hasn’t been quite herself today. I’ll keep an eye on her.

Just in case.


Amazon’s amazin’ – so sue me

There are a lot of people out there getting their knickers in a twist about Amazon. They’re doing terrible things to the publishing industry, apparently. They’re single-handedly sounding the death knell for sweet little independent bookstores everywhere. And they kick puppies.

I like sweet little independent bookstores as much as the next person, I do. (And I really like puppies.) The thing is, the Amazon-haters are just so demanding. They want me to pay more for my books – and to do it with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. They want me to spend my precious hours of free time getting on the train to my nearest non-chain bookstore, failing to find what I want on its shelves, ordering it, and then heading back out in a week’s time to pick up my purchase.  They want me to sacrifice the joy of finishing a really good book by an author I’ve never read before and immediately finding another one by the same writer, downloading it onto my Kindle, and getting stuck in.

In other words, they want me to act in a way that’s contrary to my own interests.

They say it’s the right thing to do.  They claim it’s worthy. They almost go so far as to suggest that we

An Amazon-hater at rest.

An Amazon-hater at rest.

owe it to the owners of those sweet little independent bookstores. That to expect anything so uncouth as a profit motive to enter their cultured heads is somehow unreasonable! Apparently, I should pay for these corduroy-wearing luvvies to stay locked up in their ivory towers, secure in the knowledge that I’ll keep shelling out more than the minimum of my hard-earned because doing anything else marks me out as an unconscionable Philistine!

Call me a hardened capitalist if you like, but I resent the suggestion that buying books on Amazon is one step away from clubbing baby seals.

And in any case, all this stuff about boycotting it misses the point. There’s no need to don hair shirts to save our independent bookstores: they simply need to focus on the things they can provide that Amazon never could.

Amazon can’t give me a happy hour or two wandering around a store that’s filled with temptations, unearthing a title I would never have realised I wanted until it called to me from the shelf and quickened my heartbeat (the last one was the “The Hallucination of Words”). It can’t compete with the simple pleasure of admiring your new purchases with the rich aroma of coffee in your nostrils and a mouthful of homemade carrot cake. It can’t get people together over a glass of wine to listen to an author or a poet read their work. It can’t do any of those things, any more than independents can offer hundreds of classic works of literature for precisely no money at all.

Amazon makes it easy for people to buy books. It encourages people to read, and to read more. And if if its success means that other retailers have to adapt to survive, that they have to work harder to offer something that people continue to be prepared to pay for – well, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

The hotshot, the hero and the loathly lady – creativity and archetypes

Tuesday evening took me to the environs of Liverpool Street for another treat from the London Writers’ Café – a workshop on characterisation run by Rowan Coleman, author of no less than twenty-three books under three pen names.  When someone has been published that many times with still not a grey hair to be seen, you know she’s worth listening to.

The workshop was great, the Q&A even better.  Having spent the previous hour and a half poring over exercises to get under the skin of the characters in our various works in progress, an annoying little doubt was niggling away at me: was it really possible to invent an entirely new set of characters for any new project? Or if, as it’s often said, a writer’s characters are all really aspects of him- or herself, does the time come when we exhaust our cast lists and begin to reproduce essentially the same people?

What better person to ask than someone who’s half-way through their twenty-fourth book?

Rowan started by saying that she believed all her characters were unique. Perhaps, she suggested, I should buy all twenty-three of her books and let her know whether I agreed? (That’s a challenge I may yet take up – although if anyone reading this has got there ahead of me, please let me know what you think.) But, she mused, perhaps there is a signature that an author leaves on her characters, something that you might discern if you read all her works back to back. Rowan, it turns out, is a fellow fan of Stephen King, and having done just that with a sizable chunk of his output she thought that was the case.

But what then is that signature? Is it simply that a strangely high proportion of The Master’s protagonists are white men of a certain age with more than a passing interest in creative writing? Or is it something deeper – something about their way of speaking and interacting with others? About their way of looking at the world? And do we, as readers, connect with those characters because, no matter how different we may be on the surface, there’s something there that we recognise in ourselves?

Jung hypothesised that there were twelve primary archetypes, including the hero, the innocent and the jester (Bridget Jones’s Diary, anyone?). But a bit more online digging reveals that’s a long way from the end of the archetype listing: the intriguingly named www.howtofascinate.com tells me that there are, in fact, 49 personality archetypes – which, with the help of their “senior strategists” can be analysed to determine someone’s “Personality Brand”.  I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated…

Then there are the archetypes-within-archetypes: eight hero archetypes apparently (http://www.likesbooks.com/eight.html), and sixteen master villains (http://www.tamicowden.com/archetypes.htm) – well, the villains would have to go one better.

The loathly lady - she was furious when she found the artist hadn't painted her best side.

The loathly lady was furious when she found the artist hadn’t painted her best side.

And that’s before you get to Wikipedia, which lists over 130 stock characters. These include the fabulously alliterative (“loathly lady – a woman who appears to be hideous, often cursed”), the satisfyingly rhyming (“hotshot – also known as ‘badass'”) and the weirdly specific (“Herr Pastor – an authoritarian pastor in an ethnic German congregation”).

What conclusion to draw from this little lot? I’m not sure I know, but I’ve decided on one thing: if, as writers, our characters really are aspects of ourselves, I can’t wait to unleash my inner Herr Pastor.

They call me Buttercup…

Well, not me, but the rather beautiful 1975 VW Camper in which the Husband and I spent a happy, rain-sodden weekend two weeks ago.

The story begins last Christmas in the living room of the parents-in-law.  Picture the scene: mother-in-law is very excited, father-in-law hardly less so.  Most of the presents have been unwrapped and we think we’re about to settle down with a glass of vino and the Doctor Who Christmas Special when they hand the Husband and me an envelope.  This, they tell us, is the last and most special of our gifts.  It is, in fact, “the perfect present”.

Now if this were a film, there’d be a close-up of their expectant faces as the Husband and I fumble with the corners of the envelope, laughing as shreds of paper fall to the carpet; a pause, then cut to our expressions of barely-disguised dismay as we reveal a voucher for a walking tour of the architectural delights of Milton Keynes, or tickets for a Justin Bieber concert, or a token for 30% off six sessions with a personal trainer (“SWEAT with Brett!”).

But no, this was no film – and this time it was a proper, kosher, honest to goodness, fab present: the envelope contained a voucher for a trip in a beautiful 1970s VW campervan called Doris.

“Er – Doris?” I hear observant readers ask, “I thought you said she was called Buttercup?” Well yes.  The thing about these masterpieces of funky gorgeousness, it turns out, is that they’re not that reliable – hardly surprising, I suppose, when you consider they’re regularly hitting the road around 40 years after they were built.  The day before our much-anticipated trip we had a call from Doris’s owner to tell us that she’d developed a fault and needed medical attention. Our date was off.

Happily, there was a standby waiting in the wings: step forward Buttercup.  She was beautiful, she was yellow, and she made us sing Gilbert and Sullivan. What more could anyone ask for?

According to the Husband, she was hard work to drive – and the pull-and-twist hand brake that you only had any chance of applying after you’d parked made for some interesting moments at uphill traffic lights – but hey, that wasn’t my problem. So what if Buttercup took a few attempts to splutter into life? So what if she swayed gently as yet another twenty tonne lorry rumbled past her? I’m sure the Husband secretly loved that three point turn in the one track country lane when I failed to spot the turning to the campsite until a moment too late. Whatever he said at the time.

As for me, I just sat in the passenger seat grinning like a loon and praying to see another camper so I could practise my newly-learned VW wave.


On the campsite we were celebs, basking in the instant coolness Buttercup conferred.  Envious campers threw her sidelong glances as they walked past to fill up their water bottles just one more time. Others, bolder, sidled up to ask us how long we’d had her, or if they could take a look inside, or to share stories of their friends’ campervan-owning exploits. From the skin-headed woman in the tie-dyed harem pants, to the middle-aged couple in the sensible sandals, they all loved Buttercup.

I felt like I was on a date with super-model.  Oh yeah, baby – she’s with me.

Buttercup basking in the calm before the storm

Buttercup basking in the calm before the storm. See the toilet block? Exactly.

Of course, the weather was rubbish; properly rubbish, in the way that only a British coastal town in August can manage.  On our first afternoon, the sky that had been a flawless azure was smothered in a moment by a flock of clouds that blotted out the sun.  There was that odd moment of stillness: I swear the birds stopped singing.  Then it got Biblical.

But what did we care? We had books! We had a kettle! We had Buttercup!

The rain drumming on the roof was cosy, romantic even.  And surely it would stop soon.  Surely it couldn’t rain that hard for long, not when it had been so lovely and sunny for weeks beforehand? Surely not when the only footwear I had with me and with which to navigate the footpath through the field to the pub was flip-flops?

How I under-estimated the British summer.

After a few cups of tea (“Isn’t it lovely to have the camp stove?” “Watch out for the f***ing bunting!”) the drawbacks of camping began to make themselves felt. The electrical hook-up point in front of which we’d parked was about as far away as it was possible to get from the toilet block. The walk there was a slippery slide to the bottom of the hill.  The walk back was worse.

And that’s the weird thing about camping. There’s the irresistible compunction to kit yourself out with all kind of crap that make this allegedly cheap-as-chips experience about as pricey as a week in an all-inclusive in Barbados: the rechargeable lantern, the fold-away washing-up bowl, the little tables to put your cuppa on as you sit on your brand new pop-up chairs. And then there’s the satisfaction that you take from sweating for half an hour over the two ring gas stove to prepare bacon and eggs, eating standing up for another ten minutes while you wait for the kettle to boil.  There’s the way everything takes longer and is just that little bit less comfortable than it would be if you were doing it… oh, I don’t know, let’s say, if you were doing it at home.

“Ooh!” we say, “Buttercup has a camp stove! And look, there’s a little fold-down table to put your cups on when you make tea!” But you’ve left behind a kitchen! With a kettle you can plug in, and a real, honest to goodness four ring hob, and actual worktops. And that’s before you get to the sleeping arrangements (and believe me, Buttercup’s suspension wasn’t made for anything more adventurous than sleeping).

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Is it because we like to pretend we’re getting back to nature? Are we all harbouring secret fantasies that come Armageddon we’ll be fine because we have four-season sleeping bags? That we’d be able to cope without the comforts of modern life because we’ve walked three minutes to use the shower?

I think that’s it. And I’ll tell you one thing: I bet there’s a statistically significant difference between campers and the general population in one all-important aspect.

I bet everyone on that campsite had a zombie escape plan.

Why do you write?

That question was posed by the wonderful Jackie Mallon (http://jackiemallon.com/2014/05/25/why-do-you-write/) as part of what I’m reliably informed is called a “blog hop”.  Now I’ll be honest, I don’t usually hold with this kind of stuff, but I love Jackie’s writing, and I enjoyed her answers to the questions and so…

The thing is, Jackie sent this to me back in May.  And while I’m the first to admit to being a bit of a lazy cow on occasion, I have to ask myself why it’s taken this long to do anything about it. After all, we all get to the point when those blog topics aren’t exactly tripping off our fingertips – am I right? And here’s a subject that’s relevant, tried and tested, that other people have written and commented on already but where the personal perspective is mine for the taking – and yet… almost two months on, and I’ve yet to put virtual pen to virtual paper.

I have a whole pile of reasons.  They’re nothing particularly original: I didn’t have time; would anyone really be interested; wouldn’t it be better to write a poem about the plastic lid on a takeaway beverage cup instead.  They’re easy enough to trot out.  But they’re not real.  The real reason is simple and strangely embarrassing.  The truth is – deep breath…

I don’t think I know the answer.Why write

I wish I could sit here and say that I have an urge to write. It’s something deeply ingrained in my very being.  That if I go for more than a couple of days without exercising my creative muscles, I become listless and irritable and unfulfilled.  That my poor, tortured artist’s soul needs the oxygen of the written word in order to survive. (Okay, I know souls don’t need oxygen. Jeez – everyone’s a critic.)

If only that were true! At least I’d feel authentic.  I could tell myself that I didn’t really have a choice. That my muse could not be denied! That loafing around in my pyjamas, drinking endless cups of green tea and arsing around on Twitter was an inherent part of my creative genius – rather than, say, just a strong preference to having to get out of bed with the alarm clock.

I’d try and stake a claim to altruism – I just want people to enjoy what I write – and that would be true, up to a point.  But it’s no good pretending that the idea of anyone other than my husband actually reading anything I’d written didn’t bring me out in a cold sweat until well past the point of completing the first draft of my novel. And let’s face it, in the continuing absence of my six figure book deal, the chances of more than eight people actually having an opinion on my writing one way or another are slimmer than Kate Moss on the 5:2 diet.

I could say I write because I enjoy it: I enjoy playing with words and the pictures they can paint. And every so often, that’s true too.  It’s true for those times when it feels like the story is flowing, and I can hear my characters’ voices, and some idea has just popped into my mind and I don’t know where I came from but I’m suddenly absolutely certain that that’s just the way it has to be. About ten per cent of the time, in other words.

And it’s true that I like thinking of my writing as something that will outlive me.  I mean that in a very practical sense – I don’t have delusions of Shakespearian grandeur, little twenty-third century school kids poring over the collected works of the Yak, the teacher misting up her personal visi-screen and adjusting her face mask as she suppresses quiet sobs over the beauty of my prose. No, I just mean that there are a few hard copies of my manuscript out there somewhere, and that it’s possible someone will one day come across one whilst cleaning out an elderly relative’s loft, and might be curious enough to spend a few minutes leafing through it before they go back to sorting the recycling from the charity shop pile.

But I also think there’s a bit of magic in writing. No matter how hard the words come sometimes, no matter how disappointing the results.  There’s something amazing about clicking your fingers and bringing a little clay figure to life: his name’s Neil; no, it’s Andy. Click.  He’s a mechanic, but he dreams of being a professional footballer. Click. He’s got sandy coloured hair that falls over his forehead and gets in his eyes when he’s leaning over a car bonnet.  Click. He’s planning to murder his brother.

Click, click, click.

Layer upon layer, clothes and gestures and expressions, impulses and secrets and lies – lies to themselves, lies to others.  I add something here, take away something there.  There are no secrets from me.  I know it all. I create it all.

So maybe that’s really why I write: not because I’m an artist, or an altruist, or just a plain, old-fashioned egotist, dreaming of immortality.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a massive Nosey Parker.


Comment below and let me know what drives you to put pen to paper!