I made the mistake of looking in some boxes. The idea was to throw things out. Why? I hear you cry. Space, fool. Anyway, I thought I’d start with a box which had OH GOD written on the side. I could have started with ODDS AND SODS or MISC (miscellaneous) but for some reason I dreaded MISC and ODDS AND SODS sounded boring, so it was OH GOD that got my attention.
I opened the box and filled with good intentions took out the following:
- the love letters my grandmother wrote to my grandfather during the months they were engaged
- old passports showing my mother in her early twenties and a photo of her whizzing down snowy slopes in the 1940s
- receipts from the 1890’s including one for a fancy lorgnette
- a copy of the Sunday Mirror 1918 splashed across the front cover of which is the announcement that my great great grandmother’s marriage was legitimized by a Scottish court thus legitimizing her 14 children, one of whom was my great grandmother
- a book into which is pasted from the Eastern Daily Press all the golf triumphs of my grandmother in Norfolk between 1907-1911. A grandmother I never met
- a diary my mother kept of a trip to Italy with the Byron Society at some point in the 1990s when she comments on the extremely handsome Italian sailors in the hotel she was staying in. Excuse me, Dad, where were you?
- a poem my great Uncle Norman wrote to his sister (my grandmother) giving moral guidance.
- the photos that same uncle took when he went up to Oxford round about 1905
- research my grandfather ( a history teacher who taught my father who became a historian) did into Tudor Cornwall
- an undated card sent to my mother from a doctor training in south London asking her if she was married yet? Well, were you mother? After all she kept the card
- a newspaper article about the battle of El Alamein in the Second World War, a battle my grandfather fought in with his tiny, indecipherable handwritten annotations on it
I’m a writer. Am I really going to throw out all these tiny fragments of family stories? Well, I’m not, am I? Although I did manage to throw out a thank you card to my great Uncle Norman from one of my cousins saying, ‘Thank you for the shoe horn.’ So I sat back put my head in my hands and groaned OH GOD!
And then I picked out an article by Anne Enright from the Guardian 5/7/08. Hurrah, I thought, this is why I have opened OH GOD. It is to find this article. And here at last we get to the title of the blog. This is what she has to say:
“Writing is mostly a case of mood management. The emotion you have is not absolute, it is temporary. It may be useful but it is not the truth. It is not you. Get over it…. You have no confidence? No one who is any good has any confidence. So, tell me what makes your particular lack of confidence so special.”
Interesting and here’s rather a good bit on ‘butch Americans’.
“Two years in (to a long project) you think of all the great books written in 6 weeks (why is it always six?) – Falconer’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Hemingway’s The Sun Always Rises – and why is it always these butch Americans? Did they all drink?”
Then I come across some reviews of my old crime books. One of JUMPING THE CRACKS in the TLS 4/1/2008. I’d completely forgotten about it but it ends with this paragraph.
“There is nothing wrong with any of this, and the writing is relaxed and literate, with some nice humour, all of which makes reading Jumping the Cracks perfectly pleasant, but in the twenty-first century shouldn’t crime fiction do more than simply please?”
Now then, you’re supposed to be grateful for any review and gracious about it but I have to say this posed an instant test of my mood management skills and it brought vividly to mind a letter which Judi Dench sent to the theater critic Charles Spencer, when he’d given her a bad review for Madame de Sade in 2009. She wrote:
“I’d always rather admired you but now realise you’re an absolute shit.” Referencing a stage accident which had meant she missed a few performances she continued. “I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to kick you when I fell over. Maybe next time …”
Amidst all this I also found at the bottom of the box a note on a bright pink piece of paper which states FREE YOURSELF FROM DEFENSIVE PERFECTIONISM! I wrote it but I’ve no recollection of doing so.
I now know exactly why I wrote Oh God on the side of the box.
Send help. Or advice even. Or Marie Kondo. Doesn’t she say you should only keep things that spark joy? Clearly the review doesn’t but it’s a minor miracle to get a book reviewed these days and it was the TLS. What would the butch Americans have done I wonder? Might it have involved drink?
All this and I’ve still got MISC and ODDS AND SODS to go. I think I’ll need a year of reciting the mantra The emotion I have is not absolute before I dare venture into them. Or perhaps I might try It’s perfectly all right to be perfectly pleasant. It has a rather nice Noel Coward/Cole Porter ring to it, don’t you think? And perhaps I should dance around throwing flowers in the air while reciting.
Have you got an OH GOD box? What did you find the last time you looked in it? And if you’ve got anything to offer on the vexed subject of mood management and writing I’m all ears. A perfectly pleasant response is guaranteed.