I once worked with a woman, let’s call her H., who, several years later, I bumped into in Chiswick High Road, near our house in London. We had coffee. She regaled me with her wonderful life, her amazing achievements, her five-year plans for the future, she showed me her Filofax (for it was in those days of yore), black and blue with A-list social arrangements.
After our coffee, I slunk off home. My ears were ringing with everything she’d been talking about: consultancies, goals, networks… How exciting she was! How focused! How inspiring! How intimidating! What a useless moo I was in comparison! How miserable I was for the rest of the day!
Then, a few weeks later, I met H. again. It turned out we were both working on the same project. We had lunch. She described her work, (without asking about mine). It was marvellously important. She was the only person who could possibly be considered to do such important work. Again, I slunk off, feeling as if something was missing.But when I was on the Tube home that evening, I had my first chance to think about it. During the day, I’d asked around, and I’d discovered that H. was, in fact, doing pretty much exactly what I was doing – writing a load of tosh so some bank could sucker in more customers than before. The only difference seemed to be that H. considered her talent for writing suckering tosh important and valuable. She believed it so profoundly that she’d even convinced her – our – employers that she was worth nearly double the amount they were paying ME! It made me reconsider everything she’d said about her wonderful life, her amazing achievements, her five-year plans… My life seemed pretty wonderful, but I tried not to crow about it; it was just good luck, after all. I’d achieved some good stuff, but then, so had everyone else I knew. I’d screwed up, too, let’s not forget. H’s special talent, it seemed, was for bigging herself up.
I’ve tried to learn from H., particularly when it’s come to asking employers for money. Sometimes it’s worked, but it’s hard to keep believing that writing suckering tosh is a special, valuable skill. I guess I just wasn’t born with those genes.
Which is why, now that I’ve finished The Novel (today, at about 2.30pm, minutes before I had to leave to teach my Wednesday little kids’ English class), I really do believe that it’s not much of an achievement. Most people, given my incredibly privileged circumstances here in Nice, would have worked harder than me, and written a much better novel. I’ve sent it to several friends for a good read, and I’m already in pursuit of an agent, which will be interesting to me, if not to you all, who will get to hear about it anyway. I’ll try my best to get it published, for Joel’s sake if nothing else. My handsome patron!
Meanwhile, I’ve got an idea for a new novel! I might even change the name of the blog to arestaurantandanothernovel.
Also, I have to mention it as this wasn’t a date picked totally out of the blue: it’s my mother’s birthday today, and she would have been 84. Geez, she would have hated that.