On Still Not Being Famous

wry me

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.

–Virginia Woolf

I’ve written a book that lots of people love. I’ve been nominated for big prizes. I’m doing literary festivals. I’m going into schools. I’ve been interviewed by lots of magazines.

But I’m still not famous.

In films, when writers write a good book, they become famous, almost immediately. In real life, not so much. People squint when they meet me at cocktail parties and say, ‘Should I have heard of you?’ I have to spell my name three hundred times when I sign up for a new service. At the bank, when the machine ate my debit card and I was trying to prove my identity, they weren’t all that impressed with what ID I had in my pockets. In desperation, I went to my car and pulled out a copy of Dreaming the Bear. It has my photograph and name. The bank clerk wrinkled her nose. ‘The thing is,’ she said, ‘Books aren’t on our accepted list.’ Nobody is all that impressed that I’ve written a book people love.

And the thing about awards is that many are long-listed but few get the actual prize. If you hang about, hopping from one foot to the other, hoping for validation, you’re going to have a long wait and might not win in the end. If you look back and see what won and lost in a given year, you’ll see the prizewinner sometimes wasn’t the book you still remember…or sometimes isn’t the book that’s still in print.

The fact is, it’s a long game. You can’t second guess yourself. You keep learning and writing and hoping you’ve done good work. If you are very, very lucky, you’ll get some recognition in your lifetime. Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women twenty years before she died. She knew it was popular. But she had no idea we’d still be reading it – nearly 150 years later. Big names fade. Obscure authors suddenly pop up into our notice…sometimes years after their deaths. If you try and measure your worth as a writer by recognition, you will probably not get it right.

Much better to be in it for the game than the fame. And to take it easy on minding the opinions of others.






Getting A Little Organised


My daughter found her squirrel pencil case and didn’t need her pink one anymore. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘You need one.’

This was news to me, but she’s still young enough to humour. I shook out my bag and put all my pens and pencils into the pencil case.

A week later, I read an article about stationary by Lucy Mangnan (who is nutty about stationary – I was part of a Radio Four programme she did about it). It talked about pencil cases and what women keep in theirs. Phone charge cords featured heavily.

I’m always losing my phone charge cord and not getting important calls. I started keeping my phone cord in my pink pencil case.

The pink pencil case is made out of oilcloth and patterned with butterflies. It has a little Velcro-shut pocket on the side. On my recent tour of externalling, I kept my receipts in there. It is the first time, ever, that I haven’t lost some of my receipts on a business trip.

My daughter was right – I did need a pencil case. I just didn’t know it.

I can’ t get too organised. I can’ t schedule every hour of every day. I need time to be able to say, ‘Hey, that’s a nice flower. I wonder what it would be like to be a bee and go inside. I know, I’ll stop my bike and use my lipstick mirror and get really, really close to the flower and write a little bit in my notebook about how furry and comfy it all looks in there.’ I need time to lie on my bed and worry that everyone writes better than I do. I need time to lie on the sofa and read and time to drive like a lunatic to the cinema so that I can watch a film I just read about on Twitter that starts in two minutes.

But I also need time to write and a place to go to do that. I’ve blamed work, my family, even the dog sometimes for not getting time to write. But, really, I just need to get a little more organised.

Just a little, mind…