Archive for January, 2011

Call yourself a Writer?

January 27, 2011

When you pretend to be a writer your work is subject to a sweep of criticism.

My book about growing up in Africa (obligatory, really, everybody’s writing one) was dismissed variously by at least two dozen publishers. Some were very kind; It is really charming and I’ve so enjoyed reading it: She does a lovely job of recreating her childhood. Some less so, I’m not convinced there is enough of a story here.

So, for now, despite my wonderful agent’s (see: a real writer!) valiant attempts to secure interest, my manuscript is, aptly given that it’s nicknamed Dust, gathering quantities of the stuff as it sits skew on a shelf. Head tipped downward in appropriate shame.

But, because I call myself a writer (lest anybody accuse me of sitting on proverbial in an outpost twiddling thumbs which, of course, I do plenty of, assumed literary title or not), I have begun on a second project. Motherhood. Madness. Making Jam. Minding Gaps. Naturally.

And that’s begun the rounds too, tiredly trudging in the Dusty footsteps of its failed forerunner.

Some publishers have been very kind; As you say, there is a wonderful openness and honesty to her writing. Some less so: Many thanks for sending this memoir to us. I enjoyed reading it and admired its honesty and the memorable voice. I agree that the memoir of living with somebody with depression would be a very important book to publish, and the feminist or female aspect of this book is particularly attractive. I am sorry but I did not fall in love with it. I felt that the structure was a bit too schematic with good times and depressive times alternating each other and, for me, the contrast between the two was too great and somehow didn’t ring true to me.

But that’s just it: living with – loving – somebody who has battled Depression renders life one big fat contrast: light and shadow, black and white, happy and sad. The fact of Depression is this: it changes a person so fundamentally that their life – and the lives of those around them – morph as distinctly different dependent on whether the beast is in residence or not.

Last January was bleak and Mum was unwell and unable to get out of bed and engage or think or smile or plan lunch. This January and she is back: delivered intact from the jaws of the Black Dog and she is well and up at 5am to Skype with smiles (I can hear them as I could tears this time last year). She is making plans. She is going out to lunch.

Reading is subjective (all writers are told that every time they are floored with another rejection); not everybody is going to like everything you pen.

But not all publishers know what they are talking about: the good times and the depressive do alternate sharply and it is in that acute contrast – bitter cold, enveloping warmth; smudgy shadows, bright sunshine – that the disparity is most, most striking.  When Depression descends it obliterates the light like a wet finger to a candle. When it dissipates, the dazzle is startling.

Trust me on that.


And now I must pack. For I have been commissioned to do the words for a book about a park where beach and bush merge so that – I am told – you can place your bare foot in the tread left upon the sand by elephants.

I shall lie in my tent at night and listen to pachydermic purrs and crashing waves and I shall remember that sometimes, just sometimes, there are advantages to playing at being a Writer.

Making Scents

January 10, 2011

I thought he’d never get home. My son. I thought – as did he – that he might be winter-bound forever. Waiting, watching anxiously, as British Airways continued to roll flights to an ominous Cancelled. But he did. He arrived four days late. And in time for a Christmas we feared he’d miss.

‘I’m rank Ma’ he warned as I moved to envelop him: too many days Heathrow hostage as he drummed fingers and sought to find a place to charge his phone and laptop and there hadn’t been the luxury of a shower. The help line collapsed he related later (when he’d showered and got out of days old clothes) and the website. They gave us cardboard mattresses to sleep on, like a UN refugee camp, and they threw bottles of water at us from moving trollies and he demonstrated by pretending to hurl one my way. But the angst had morphed as adventure: he’d learned alot in those few days. Mainly how to beat the melee and get home in a hurry: ‘I’ll go anywhere in East Africa’, he had urged the British Airways staff who kept him on hold for an hour and a half, his phone stuck determinedly to his ear having finally got through on Day 3. Dar es Salaam bound he ended up in Entebbe, bribed his way past a sticky immigration official and made his way to us on the east coast. It’s hard not to feel a little bit proud. Even of the fledgling five pound bribery. He’s learned to Make a Plan, I thought, such a necessary skill: improvisation.

So we were five then. Five again. And I don’t know where the days went? They blurred as one, as things do when they whip past too fast: they smudge and blur, collide, collude so that you can’t pick one end up from the other and before you know it the episode has slipped out of your fingers entirely and it’s time to go back to school and college and work and an outpost.

But you can distil the memories as metaphorical fragrance to dab upon wrists and inhale deeply when nostalgia and solitude conspire to overwhelm. You can do that and remember to laugh and so sustain yourself.

For there will be more. More of the happy, fullfat, satiating same.

Of course there will.