Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In which I am wearing my crazy hat

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes I take off my sensible hat, which keeps the rain off and prevents the heat escaping from the top of my head, and put on my crazy hat. Is this a bit of a tortured metaphor? Yes. But I am going with it. Once I have the mad hat on, I am free to think all kinds of unkind thoughts about myself. Actually, maybe it's not a mad hat, but a mean hat. Maybe it's what the shrinks would call an introject hat. Anyway, here is what I say when I am wearing it:

Ten years since your last novel? Ten years? What have you been doing in that time? (At this point, for some reason, Backwards doesn't really count, even though it was a book and it did quite well.) Call yourself a writer, the hat voice goes on. Pah. If you were Joyce Carol Oates, you would have written twelve books in that time. You are just lazy, lazy, lazy. And good for nothing. And useless, pointless, feckless and hopeless.

At which point I tear the hat from my head and run screaming from the room.

I don't know why I think it has anything to do with a metaphorical hat, but there we are.

The point is that with or without the hat, there are days when I run into a failure swarm. I'm not sure where it comes from. Today was actually a good day. I wrote a really vulgar 1672 words, some of which even made sense. I read and did some notes. I took my library books back. (My love for the librarians is now quite out of control; I just stand there in my gumboots beaming at them like a loon.) I sent off my Polish contracts, only nine months after they were due, which is pretty good for me. The blossom is blossoming.

And yet, and yet. The voices in the head were jabbering on, filled with scorn and fury. The voices only see the dark side. I have to be very, very calm, and very, very reasonable to deal with them. I point out that I did write three novels in that time, it was not like I was sitting around eating Turkish delight. Yeah, say the voices, but no one wanted to publish them. This has the horrible merit of being true. Those were my wilderness years, and there is no getting round it.

I tell the voices that a bit of failure is good for the soul. I talk about grit in the oyster. I say that if it had all been rose-strewn paths of glory I might be arrogant and insufferable. I add that I do at least know an awful lot about American politics, which turned out to be my displacement obsession during the fallow time, when no publisher wanted me. At least I have something to talk about at dinner parties, if I ever went to dinner parties, which I don't, much.

At this point, the voices get bored, and go and have their party somewhere else.

I think: bloody hell, that came out of nowhere. I never quite know, for all my study of the human condition, where that not good enough riff comes from. I wonder if everyone has it. I wonder if it's not a bad thing. At least it drives me on. Without it, perhaps I would be smug and stultified. I cannot quite be sure.

I think: I shall go and take some pictures of the blossom now. Just as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Berman always had Paris, I may always have the blossom.

Here it is:

19th April 2-1

19th April 1-1

19th April 3

19th  April 5

19th April 6

19th April 10

There are some lovely green hellebores, growing wild on my wall:

19th April 1

19th April 2

19th April 4

The lime leaves are spreading their wings:

19th April 5

The light was dull today, but the trees are green:

19th April 7

I like the little random clumps of daffodils growing in the wild places:

19th April 8

The dogs are in stately mood:

19th April 11

19th April 12

19th April 14

The hill:

19th April 15


Have been rather at sixes and sevens the last few days, so I have not been replying to comments. Thank you for them all, and forgive me for not responding. They are always so much appreciated and happily read.


  1. Hello Tania - hah - funny you mention that hat, I was wearing mine this morning on a tedious motorway drive. The hat said that I had a ruinous influence on my own daughter's dressing habits - I am too dictatorial, allowing her no self-expression! The hat then proceeded to tell me that in caring what my nine year old wears I was an overbearing mother. I got to work, took the hat off and felt much better. We all have a turn with it, every now and then.

    What you should tell yourself is this: no matter how many books in how many years, the fact is you are a WRITER! You write for a living. Nothing can be so noble as that. So many try, but you - you have done it. Whether it's one book or a hundred isn't the fact of being published the most important thing? What would the Bronte sisters have made of their annual rate of books?

    Throw that crazy hat away!

    Lou x

  2. I understand that hat, it is the one that forgets what has been acheived and focuses on what has not. I'm better at recognising it now though. I was just mentioning it to one of my members of staff today in fact.

    I really love your writing. I think you know that now but sometimes it is worth saying again.

  3. What's that Dorothy Parker quote? "I hate writing; I love having written."
    You are published; you are irrefutably a W R I T E R.
    Hang up that hat. Or you can bring it to the bonfire I intend to build for my "demons" (the two more obnoxious these days being procrastination and laziness; they keep shifting).

  4. Everyone has that hat, and everyone has these voices! The hardest thing, I think, is looking back at all the awesome achievements that you have successfully got through, or accomplished with panache. Instead, like an irritating mouth ulcer, it's so easy to keep circling around the things that you havne't managed to do that you really should have. (Can you tell here that when I'm saying "you", I'm actually meaning me?)

    Not only are you a published author, and paid for your writing (I haven't made this transition yet - all my arts reviews are for love rather than money) - but you've created this eager and loving community around your blog, of people like me who can't wait to read whatever you choose to share with us, to watch the changing seasons through the plants and the hill in your pictures ... not many people can say as much!

    So hey - we're here for you. And for what it's worth, I'd be honoured to hold a dinner party for you should you ever visit Brighton.

    Very best wishes x

  5. I understand entirely, and I've also been at sixes and sevens for the last couple of months, and, although I've been reading, I haven't been commenting because I haven't felt energetic enough to do so or thought I had any meaningful contribution. I'm sorry. Of course this is crazy hat talk, and I've taken stock, resigned from a job, acquired a dog to sit (the kindest, cleverest, most affectionate lady German Shepherd in the world). Now I'm undoubtedly happier, even though I'm working out my notice period (another six weeks). I'm not donning the crazy hat as nearly as often as I was, but still sometimes it beckons from the coat rack in moments of pure panic. Am I good enough? Can I do this? What if XYZ happens/doesn't happen? Argh. Now I'll only be doing what I love (OK, so I have to earn money, but if I have to earn money I want to do it by doing this).. And I know there'll be times when I don't feel good enough, so I collect thank yous and testimonies from clients to remind in the darker hours.

    So I say don't chuck the crazy hat; it might sharpen your focus, but don't allow yourself to wallow too long before it goes back on the crazy hat shelf.

    Imogene xxx

  6. I agree with LouBoo (and the others) you are a writer, and a super one. Everyday you write something illuminating. Throw the hat on the ground, stamp on it and it won't fit anymore! Jude x

  7. You do know, dear Tania, what they say about people who hear voices in their heads. Uh, paranoid schizophrenia? I have no such worry for you, and hang the hat. You are brilliant, you are generous, you make me laugh, you make me cry. Your writing frequently challenges me to think a bit more deeply than I might. WE LOVE YOU! Don't change a hair.

  8. Dear Tania, don't give yourself a hard time. Backwards should count and it's a great book. You've done loads on the new one!

    And finally, I see nothing wrong with sitting around eating Turkish Delight. I have to say that because I often eat an entire box of chocolates myself in one afternoon xx

  9. Slightly overwhelmed by the dearness of you dear readers. It is late now and I am too tired to reply to all individually; also, if I did, I would write an essay to each of you. Forgive me. Instead am sending out a hymn of THANKS to you all for the raging kindness. The most lovely thing is knowing I am not alone in the occasional wearing of the hat. The other absolute balm for the soul is the most generous encouragement you all give. So thank you, thank you. x

  10. Agree with all of the above. So throw that hat up in air Mary-Tyler-Moore-like and know that we keep coming back here to READ what you write. And thank you x

  11. We all have it. I enjoy Anne Lamott's description, in Bird by Bird, of the radio station that can run in our heads if we're not careful--in the right ear, how special we are, and in the left ear, how awful we are. I find it to be a therapeutic read. As is YOUR writing!


  12. Hi Tania, I've been a silent follower of your blog for a while now. This post really struck a cord with me. And it made me smile about something that otherwise makes me feel gloomy and temporarily stalled. We all put so much pressure on ourselves to be brilliant all the time but then define brilliance in such a narrow unachievable way. The hat metaphor made me feel happy though. If it's just a mean hat, I can take it off (and stamp on it a bit for good measure). It's reassuring to know that someone whose work and intellect I admire has 'mean hat' days too.

  13. We all have that hat. I certainly have it, and sometimes, in coming from a family of perfectionists, it seems as if I wear it too much!

    We live in a society where we are supposed to have the perfect house, car, job, children (mine are hypothetical, I'm afraid).

    And no, sometimes the bills don't get paid on time, or I spend too long on the computer, lollygagging in Internetland....

    But the point is, we all have it, we all have things we beat ourselves up over, because even though others may look perfect on the outside, it "ain't necessarily so"...

  14. Wirhout coming over too emotional and quite ridiculous, those books were part of my formative years (viz the Dorset plan) and Backwards is one of the great works for women by women of recent times. I might - just might - say get a grip and call in the PP. Might. It might be the lack of sunshine of course you're experiencing.

  15. But clearly you are still a writer, and a bloody good one, because look how eloquent your angst is! Mine takes the rather less impressive form of an inner monologue going "Faily McFailerson. You are a failure you know. FAIL."


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