Call yourself a Writer?

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.

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21 Responses to “Call yourself a Writer?”

  1. Potty Mummy Says:

    Great post about the contrasts of living in the shadow of depression, and jealous about your assignment on the beach? Me? HELL YES! (Please remember it is -15degC and my response may be somewhat affected by that minor fact…)

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh poor you Pots! Gawd that’s cold. i’ll send you sunshine and sand and a jar of salty sea. x

  3. nuttycow Says:

    You lucky thing (beach assignment, not book traumas). Have a wonderful time. Having just had a look at their website, Saadani looks absolutely fantastic – I am very envious!

    As for the writing – you *are* a writer, as any of us who read your blog will tell you. It may just take a little time for those stupid publishers to realise how amazing your work is.

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Nutty: it does doesn’t it? look amazing. never been so this a first. and thanks x

  5. Robyn Says:

    Wow-there are more hardships to undertake than writing about Saadani! fantastic!

  6. janelle Says:

    you keep playin’ darlin’ because it is only then when it happens…and i totally agree with you – the stark difference between good times and bad, the blazing light the deathly dark, being in the jaws of the Black Dog and on the flip side irretrievably happy. of course it’s like that….! do NOT be discouraged by those publishers….keep AT it!!! yes please. much love always…when are you next in A Town? always a bed for you. x j

  7. R. Sherman Says:

    One should never judge the “truth” of someone else’s life, until one’s lived it. The editor who dismissed your memoir on the basis of it not “ringing” true, should’ve bothered to do a little background reading on the subject.

    Good luck on the beach commission. The park sounds wonderful.

    Cheers.

  8. Iota Says:

    Mmmmmm…. (the beach assignment, not the awful publishers’ rejections). But you’re right up there in the Tots 100 list this month, I noticed. (Not that I pay any attention to league tables.)

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    ah janelle, how lovely to hear from you. whizzing thru ars en route to saadani. taking the long way round. is there another way from the outpost? xx

    thank you Mr R. and i agree: never judge somebody else’s life. choices and opinions are wrought of experiences we, or others, might never have had. And that’s no foundation for either.

    Oh thanks Iota. I hadn’t noticed. i know, lucky aren’t i? to be going to the beach, an assignment with a notebook and a swimming costume x

  10. Addy Says:

    You lucky girl. As I write it is trying hard to snow again in London and the temperature is hovering around freezing with an Arctic gale thrown in for good measure. A beach project following elephant trails sounds so good .

  11. Paradise Says:

    Am very happy for you that you get to do this assignment. So sorry abt all the rejections. What a tough skin u must have to keep plugging away. I get demoralsied far too easily. I hope you are paying as mch attention to the compliments as to the criticisms. It’s all too easy to give the negatives more weight than they have a right to.

  12. Barbara Says:

    Check out this blog called “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.” (Not my blog, but one I’ve been reading). http://jakonrath.blogspot.com. It’s by an American author who had several books published in the traditional way, and sold some books but didn’t hit it really big. When his publisher turned down a next book, he went to electronic publishing, and he’s been making a lot or money and lots of people are reading his work. It seems there’s a revolution among authors who are no longer satisfied to deal with the traditional publishers. Many of the writers publishing this way had agents trying to sell their work or were previously published. Of course, there’s a lot of drek from wannabe writers.

  13. doglover Says:

    What a vivid explanation of how the highs and lows alternate! Should that be the opening chapter of the book?

  14. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    I’d love to read your book.
    Keep going, so many famous authors had their books rejected time and time again!

  15. Leilani Lee Says:

    Well, you are a wonderful writer and I would buy your book in a heartbeat. Surely there is some way this can see the light of day so those of us who think you ARE a writer could read it.

  16. Mwa (Lost in Translation) Says:

    You are right about the contrast. It was only in our twenties that my sister and I discovered that both of us had always thought of ourselves as having two mothers. I used to fantasize about one leaving with a suitcase while the other one arrived. We discovered it when one of us asked “Which one is here today?” and the other one knew exactly what she meant. (Can’t remember which of us it was.) You are so right – it’s like night and day.

    Have a great time on your assignment!

  17. Family Affairs Says:

    How lovely and I am convinced that your book will be published one of these days Lx

  18. 3limes Says:

    Keep going. These words “When Depression descends it obliterates the light like a wet finger to a candle. When it dissipates, the dazzle is startling.:
    Were written b a writer. Do not give up.

  19. kathleen Says:

    I would be totally interested in reading your story, what is wrong with these publishers? A lot of people stateside are publishing their own books, I am working on a cookbook. Have a lovely time on your assignment.

  20. carol Says:

    Fab post – and I want to read your book! Enjoy the beach – I’m struggling to keep head above water in terms of work… but will get there in the end. Lots of love

  21. aminah Q Says:

    what a wonderfully honest post…nice to be reading the blog again

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