Actually I was feeling relatively secure as I sat down to write my blog. Then an 85 mph gust of wind hit a tree just to the right of my office window. Several tons of wood split from the trunk and destroyed my neighbour’s garage and a good portion of the house roof. The rest of the tree now leans towards my very position. Now, I’ve always maintained that any sense of security in this world is misplaced. We are helpless creatures of no account, clinging to our fragile capsule of individual conscious time. As dear old John Keats wrote for his own epitaph “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”. I’m OK with the water, but I wonder if I could have it 50/50 with a decent brandy? Of course, John Keats did not have the benefit of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. The course of English Literature could have been so very different…
Insecurity as a writer is of course another thing all together. I mean, who is not a writer? Any time I tell someone I’ve written a book I find that they have already written several or believe that they have a host of unwritten brilliant narratives ready to wow the Readerverse. So – who would bother with me? Um – well – there are always the critics.
When I first launched “Knockout” I came across a lady who offered to review books. Her verdict opened “I knew at once that I would hate this book.” All the same she carried on in what I can only assume was an orgy of masochistic self loathing. “The characters were unrealistic since no Police Inspector would just fall in love with some guy.” She followed it it with the suggestion that “The writer is clearly a foreigner with no idea of England. (I am a Londoner) Names of places in London are used as if it were a guide book.” The critic then turned to the matter of a restaurant menu which she felt was a poorly designed combination of dishes. Finally she declared that the character of a Police commander was “unrealistic since such a bombastic character would have been brought up before some kind of employment tribunal”. I thanked her for her kind efforts but some small part of me wanted to say that it was a Romance where rather larger than life characters behaved rather “Romantically” in a world of unsuitable menus and horrid bosses. I could also have said that the Police Commander was based on someone I knew and if anything, underestimated his odiousness. As a final salvo the lady opined that the choice of the name Freddie for the French/American male hero was a ridiculous pun on a sitcom character called “Freddie the Frog” of whom I had never heard.
The choice then was whether to accept all her criticisms and not publish or kinda stick to my self belief that, although not high art, it was not that bad. Perhaps some of you guys will let me know.
I think I’m in my 35th year of more or less continuous rejections. I suppose my confidence wavers as I wait for the letter. By now I feel utterly secure in my prediction of the outcome. I know there is a novel from 20 years ago possibly in a slush pile, still out there somewhere. Some rejections have become treasures. A famous poetry editor wrote back to me to say that my work was ghastly but that he loved my covering letter. I felt validated and secure. It was the only time. I have always taken comfort from the notion that all the GREATS were rejected, cut their ears off and ended up in a pauper’s grave. The only problem is that this is not true.
If I’m being serious I would say that all the years of rejections have never stopped me from trying and have convinced me that I’m unlikely to please any publisher/agent. This realisation is my freedom and I am secure in it. My good friend Oscar Sparrow, the poet, has recorded the supposed world’s worst poem. People get in touch with him just to say they love it. If you wanna hear the sweet sound of heroic failure here is a link. By the way, the “world’s worst” poet Theo Marzials was a huge success in his own life-time!
Emma thinx: The trouble with insecurities is that they tie you down.