You don’t have to tell them everything, say the wise voices in my head.
Yes, you do, say the reckless voices.
The reckless voices have a thing for candour. They like getting everything out in the open. Say the thing, they shout, giddy with delight. They have a theory, which might not be that wide of the mark, that if all the human stuff is out there, then it has no power to wound or frighten. Shame and doubt hate sunlight. Tell your story, bawl the reckless voices, and then you need never be afraid. Let people judge, as they will.
Sometimes I wish I did not listen quite so much to the reckless voices. On about six different occasions in the last few months I have yelped and squealed about book deadlines. I have sat up all night to finish a manuscript, and, transparent with relief and triumph, spread the news on the Facebook, on the Twitter, on the blog. There is a terrible side of me which must do a tap dance. Look at me, Ma, with my jazz hands.
Then the reality bites, and the agent has questions, and kind suggestions, and frets. So even thought I’ve hit the deadline I have to go back to the drawing board all over again and do the sober, stolid work, which does not make a good story for the social media. It’s just grind.
I loathe editing. All the joy and freshness has gone from the book, and the criticism and nit-picking must start. Darlings must be killed. The bloody pile of corpses sit dolefully in their special file, all those happy phrases and dancing paragraphs, all those words which were once written with such delight and now will not do. They do not fit, or they are self-indulgent, or they are just not quite good enough for the pitiless spotlight of the world.
Today, I finished yet another draft. I met, almost, another deadline. (This one is a bit late, which is unlike me, but my girly swot self, the one that always has an apple for the teacher, has apparently run off to join the circus.) I did not howl and yelp on Facebook. I did not stay up all night. I just sighed a long sigh, and wrote a serious appraisal to the agent, and sent the damn thing off.
I thought, as I trudged down to give the mare her tea, what an odd job writing is. It is entirely dependent on the approval of others. The agent must like it, and then a publisher; then an editor, then the marketing people, then the booksellers, then the putters-on of festivals, then the reading public, then the critics, then the beady compilers of the Amazon lists, then goodness knows who. There is no fixed mark; no objective standard. Every word I write is a shot in the dark.
I get to do what I love, and I get to set my own hours, and I have the luxury of being able to ride a horse and say that I am working at the same time, because of course I can do a sitting trot and think deep literary thoughts at the same time. I can’t complain. But tonight I felt a little weary in my soul, as if my sense of self was being worn, a little, by all the judgement on which I depend.
Richard Hughes, an exceptional jockey and an interesting man, who retired from race riding last week, was asked by Clare Balding how he dealt with the not eating. He has not really eaten for twenty years. He weighed himself fifteen times a day. Every morning, his eyes strayed to his watch, to see how loose it was, as that would tell him whether he could make the weight. ‘How did you do that?’ said Balding, almost in a whisper. He smiled. ‘Every job has its sacrifices,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t take the underground to work every morning.’ No more could I, I thought.
He smiled again, with a combination of rue and delight. ‘It’s the horses,’ he said. ‘I’d cut my arm off to ride the horses.’
I would write even if I were not paid for it. I do write even though I’m not paid for it. The damned old language of Shakespeare and Milton has me in its crocodile grip. There’s nothing I can do about that. The price I pay is constant uncertainty, a very British embarrassment every time I have to speak to my accountant, and a vague tiredness of the spirit, from time to time. It’s a price worth paying.
You really did not have to tell them everything, says the wise voice. You told them everything, shout the reckless voices, triumphant.
No time for the camera at the moment. Here are my two beauties, from a few days ago: