This weekend had me mulling like I haven’t mulled for a long time – seriously and with proper consideration about which I was mulling. (Mulling‘s a great word, but now I’ve typed it thrice, it just looks wrong – like I’ve made it up; like my best made-up word ever: amazappointment. I know. Thank you).
So I have this friend who I’ve known since I met her as my Osteopath’s Receptionist (why do we say that? ‘my doctor’, ‘my bank manager’, ‘my personal trainer’ as if we own them – I’ve always wondered. I know somebody who also says ‘my Christmas’, my summer, ‘my Easter’ as well, and I’ve always felt like slapping them round the face for the whole presumptuousness of it all. “It’s not yours; I’m having one as well, thank you very much”). So, this friend used to sit on the welcome desk at the Osteopath’s I frequent when I need one. She’s not mine- the Osteopath – because if she were then I’d have her doing the hoovering and dusting a lot more than she does right now – and she could do some cooking while I was in fine fettle as well, please. But I digress. I do that a lot. It’s the writer’s mind, I’m afraid – it starts in the head and spews through the fingers and ends up … well, before you.
Anyway, during those days (4 years ago now) we discovered that we both wrote. Were writers. Are writers. We write. But now one of us is living the dream,having secured the elusive Dream Agent, had her novel in a bidding war with publishers, is being translated into 20 languages, meets up with foreign publishers, has her own accountant and ‘business’ and is talking possible movie rights. It’s all very *gulp*able to me; the little provincial scribbler who plods and plods on, squinting at the ribbon at the end of the egg and spoon race but never quite reaching it; and I’m envious as heck – of course I am. But this is a deserved Dream for my (there we go again) writing friend. She writes beautifully. She’s one of those rare writers whose perfectly-placed words make every bone in your body relax and curl up, knowing that you’re in the capable hands of a master at storytelling, and I am as pleased as punch that she’s made it. (Still envious, but that’s healthy, right?)
Until this weekend. We were at our Writing Group; well, more trio than group, but we like it that way… and she was keeping us abreast of her latest news and for the first time that I can EVER remember, I didn’t want to be published. If it means getting on a train and going to London to meet agents and publishers and all other kinds of sensible business-type people then I’m afraid I would have liquidised with petrification way before St. Pancras was even in eyeshot. I do not travel well. I have never travelled well, ever since the 8 hour journeys to Dorset when I’d throw up at 45 minute intervals the entire way down and don’t even get me started on buses or coaches. I go clammy at the very idea.
I’m not so bad if I have a grown-up with me; somebody who isn’t scared of trains or travelling and knows what they’re doing. And if I did manage to get as far as John Betjeman’s statue, then I’d be quite happy staying right there because just the whiff or the sound of a tube train and I will throw up where I stand. I don’t think it’s Claustrophobia or Agoraphobia – although now I’ve Googled it, it very well may be Agoraphobia – because I get it when the door bell goes or the phone rings as well. I think it might have something to do with being under-confident; I’m just convinced I’m in the wrong place, at the wrong time, saying the wrong things and doing wrong stuff that people will laugh about (now, or afterwards) so I’d rather just not be anywhere but here. Please.
And then, as serendipity would have it, after Writing Group, the husband came in from his workshop to tell me there was a thing on the radio about a ‘famous anonymous Italian author‘ and I should listen to it. My lappie wouldn’t connect for some reason, so I did some Googling and discovered ‘she’ is Elena Ferrante, the pseudonym for the author, born in Naples who has many novels under her belt, all bestsellers – her latest being up for this year’s Man Booker Prize. But nobody knows who she is. Or rather, she has been interviewed but never face-to-face and she does have an English translator although they also have never met… she’s frankly a bit of an enigma but for all the right reasons. And this is the kind of author I’d prefer to be.
This is what Elena says about her choice to remain anonymous during an interview on the Paris Review:
“I’ll try to state it from the reader’s point of view, which was summarized well by Meghan O’Rourke in the Guardian. O’Rourke wrote that the reader’s relationship to a writer who chooses to separate herself, radically, from her own book “is like that which we have with a fictional character. We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination.” It may seem like a small thing, but to me it’s big. It has become natural to think of the author as a particular individual who exists, inevitably, outside the text—so that if we want to know more about what we’re reading we should address that individual, or find out everything about his more or less banal life. Remove that individual from the public eye and, as O’Rourke says, we discover that the text contains more than we imagine.”
And this is the kind of author I’d like to be. If it ever happens. Because I don’t like the attention being on me (god knows how I managed to walk up an aisle – twice. Gin may have been present) and I don’t like having to say things I’m uncertain of because I know that when I’m nervous, I’ll start talking sh*t. About Unicorns (it’s happened. Seriously) Or rainbows. And then I’ll laugh shrilly, like I believe it’s Tippex for faux-pas. I have foot-in-mouth-disease. I can’t help it. Which is why I feel safer being at home or if I’m out, then in a state of tipsy (because then I can blame the Foot-In-Mouth on the % abv).
This is probably why when I self-published on Amazon, none of the 4 books (yes, 4) on the system, ever made me any money. I cleared perhaps a tenner over the 3 years I had all 4 books on the site. Because I don’t market. I’m not a pushy person. Even the idea of being an Avon lady scares me rigid; I’d end up placing orders myself and making up customers to appear ‘normal’. It’s just not me.
So my dream publishing deal would be this:
- Have an agent who likes tea and cake and is willing to always eat it here.
- Find a publisher who enjoys much the same.
- Do interviews and suchlike via the interweb.
- Signings? Book Readings? Book tours? . ….
- Where’d she go?
- Oh wait, follow that little trail of vomit and fast-retreating dust…