Thursday, 21 February 2013

In which the unexpected happens. Or, the Dear Readers make me laugh.

Occasionally, I give writing workshops. One of the first things I always tell my students is: never, ever try to guess what your readers want.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that you can never know. I don’t care how many market trends you study, or sales figures you pore over; guessing what the public desires is a fool’s game.

The second is that it bleaches the life right out of your writing. The minute you start thinking about any given audience, a chilling effect descends. It’s the literary equivalent of What Would Your Mother Think? Well, Aunt Edna would not like that, or Uncle Bert hates too many semi-colons, and if I talk about naked women my respectable relations will throw the book on the fire. And so your prose dies on the page, in the face of the wagging fingers in your mind.

It sounds odd, but you have to write for you. If you fascinate yourself, then you have a chance at fascinating someone else.

As always, I fall into the tumbly old elephant trap of not heeding my own excellent advice.

My rule on this blog is not to look at the numbers. It’s not about numbers. I freely admit I started the thing with the cunning plan that it should go viral and then millions of people would buy my book and I could retire and open a racehorse sanctuary.

Viral, schmiral. Luckily, I discovered I liked blogging for its own sake. I came to love the fact that I had a small, very select band of Dear Readers. I know many of your names, and get little slivers of your lives.

I saw a blog yesterday which had over 200 comments on one post, and I thought oh, no, that’s too much. That spreads too thin for the community aspect, which is the thing I love here.

All the same, when I’m feeling a bit grinny and groany, I do occasionally look at the pesky graphs. If the lines fall downwards off a cliff, as they sometimes do, I feel momentarily sad, before giving myself a firm talking to. I am not so free from amour-propre that I do not get a little burst of delight when one post generates a lot of traffic.

So, here is the thing that really made me laugh. Today, after all the work and excitement and effort of this week, I was feeling a bit tired and cross. The weather has gone back to chill filthiness and my time management is still all out of whack and I’ve got a sore eye and that bug which was trying to get me a few days ago is back for another go. It is always in this kind of mood that I look at numbers.

Today, the story was a happy one. Up, up, up, went my beautiful balloon.

I laughed, because it was the picture of me looking nuts in a hat that did it.

There was no good prose at all. I had done nothing lovely with the language of Shakespeare and Milton. There was just a mildly inexplicable photograph.

You see, when I think of all the millions of people writing away on the internet, I realise I must offer something different or extra or valuable, to make it worth your while coming here. The only thing I had which marked me from the madding crowd was an occasional way with a sentence. There’s a lot of shoddy prose out there. I thought that at least I could give you a faint dose of lyricism, or a nicely-turned phrase, or the odd unexpected idiom.

But, my darlings, it turns out that all you want is crazed women in hats. I love you very much for it, and it has made me laugh and laugh.

It feels like a life lesson of the most profound kind, although I can’t quite yet work out what that lesson is. Something about expectations and assumptions, perhaps. Once I have distilled it into pithy, parable form, I shall get back to you.

In the meantime, I may have to buy that damn hat….


No time for the camera today. I’ve still got twenty things to do and no time to do them in. So here are four photographs from this week.

One is of HorseBack, one of the beauty of Red the Mare, one of Mr Stanley with his stick, and one of the lovely harbingers of spring:


21 Feb 1

21 Feb 2

21 Feb 3

21 Feb 4


Oh, and have been meaning to say: I’ve been hopeless at replying to comments lately. Some of you have asked questions, to which I have rudely not replied. I’ll do a Dear Reader round-up at the end of the week.


  1. Hahahahaha. Shows what you know. There are so many reasons I check this blog, you'll never guess them all. Although, as you might guess, one of them is the delightful photos of the animals. One is seeing someone else's life, far removed from my own . . . just seeing, and feeling the humanity of it all. One is hearing the wisdom you occasionally dispense. One is catching your humor, which is never far away. And one (perk up your ears here) is because I love your command of the language. There are others too, but that's enough. Don't imagine you with a fat head would be all that attractive, and anyhow, I'm just one person. No idea what the others think.

    Look at the numbers all you want, and buy the damn hat. It did look like a lot of fun.


  2. I am in love wth the exuberance, as if you've exchanged vows with that state of being. You make me smile. Thank you.

  3. As much as I love your writing, I'm here for the animal photos. Shallow, but there you go.

  4. You mean that hat wasn't yours?

    Please, treat yourself to some wild headgear!

  5. Yesterdays random picture of you in a red hat waving with a horse in the middle of a field put a big smile on my face. All is right in the world.


  6. i've just started reading your blog, I like your talking I have so much trouble with the words side of it on my blog it nice to read prose that flows.

  7. Being myself a daily blogger, I rarely look at reader numbers, but I do like to see which photos get an additional click through. It always brings a smile to my face. It's not always predictable, but afterwards, I understand!

    In your case, it was absolutely wonderful to see you showing off *you*! It's your story, here, on the blog. Seeing you occasionally in it is very satisfying.

  8. You must buy the hat. And... everything Bird said. :)

  9. Don't know if you've ever seen the classic movie "Christmas in Connecticut", starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, and S.Z. Sakall - but Stanwyck plays a magazine columnist who lives in a shabby apartment and writes recipes from her "farm in Connecticut". In one article, she says how much she'd love a rocking chair, and all her fans start sending her rocking chairs. I can see you starting a great hat collection, just from that photo! 8-)


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