It is that time of year again. People who really should know better hunt up the local author and insist on inviting her to some sort of soiree. Of course you can spare the time. All work, you know. Oh, come on, it won’t kill you.
So because it’s easier to cave than to build a moat, you end up at some shindig wearing your best sparkly dress, drinking something lukewarm and sour, and that’s when it happens. Someone much too cheery sidles up to you and says, “I hear you’re a writer. I have a great story for you…”
You suck on an olive and try to look interested while they guffaw their way through a hilarious account of Uncle Arthur and the ferrets. Or maybe it was Aunt Edna and the weasels. You really can’t hear him over the screaming in your brain. You are desperately scanning the room for an exit, for someone who will rescue you from Mr Jocularity holding you hostage. Where’s Liam Neeson when you need him?
Mr J finishes his tale at last and you’re just about to make some polite response and flee when he tosses this verbal hand-grenade at you: “All you have to do is write it up just the way I’ve told you and we’ll split the millions fifty-fifty.”
Over too many cheese dips, I’ve come up with a number of responses to this, which I share with you now. Don’t mention it. I think of it as a public service.
- Throw your drink in his face and scream, “I’m an artist!” as you waft out of the room, chiffon scarf fluttering elegantly behind you. (It doesn’t work without the scarf. You just look like a loon instead of, you know, an artist.)
- Say, “I write porn. Can I tell the story with your Uncle and Aunt have a menage-de-thousands with the weasels or gerbils or whatever?”
- Alternatively, you can act as if the story he just told you is porn and tell him he should be ashamed of himself, then go whisper about him with the other party rejects.
- Take notes and make him retell the story to you a dozen times so you get every detail. Be relentless. Too much relenting will backfire and he’ll think you’re really interested.
- Ask him what he does for a living and proceed to instruct him on how to do it better. Then tell him he owes you 50% of his weekly paycheque for your sage advice.
- Give him JK Rowling’s e-mail address and tell him you’ve heard she’s just dying for new ideas.
If you find anything that actually works, though, let me know. I can never quite shake my English reserve and manners to do any of the above.
The holidays are full of pitfalls for the writer. Most of us do not do well in a cheery environment, unless it’s one we’ve written for a character. We’d rather spend our free time pen in hand than sampling a great-aunt’s cheese dip.
Then there are the presents. Most of us are rubbish at it. We’re not organised. December descends and somewhere around the third week of the month all those Fairytale of New York snatches start to penetrate our noggins. Christmas? When did that happen. Followed swiftly by,
This is when having a family becomes a two-edged sword. On the plus side, they know when you’re caught up in a novel and that you resent every second away from it. They’ll try to minimise the interruptions. They’ll buy presents on your behalf and even wrap them, too. What do you mean, enabling?
Then again, with a family you kinda have to be there. They will expect presents of their own. They will demand you escort them to the office party or your mother’s house for dinner. No escape.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some writers love a good party. Some celebrate with cake, like Dame Agatha Christie. Isn’t she having fun?
Others, like Ernest Hemingway, prefer the alcohol route (not that Papa needed a party in order to have a booze-up)
For real revelry, here’s Allen Ginsberg letting it all hang out. Isn’t he a howl? Sorry.
However you choose to celebrate this holiday season, I wish you joy of it. I’m planning on loading up on food, wine, and episodes of Sherlock until it’s 2017.