Otherness, writing & real letters
My dear Ren,
I’m so glad I followed my instinct and wrote and sent you my last letter in its physical form. Glad it arrived with you on a dark day (for us all). Glad it reminded you of your grandmother’s letters – even if that was just because I ran out of one type of paper. Mind you, I don’t believe there is any such thing as coincidence. I believe in serendipity instead. Your letter made me happy.
I believe that all conversations are meaningful and change the world. We could be talking about the weather and it would mean something – it’s that effect of butterfly wings thing. It’s words being released into the world. My mother used to tell me to be careful of what I said out loud, because my words would travel around the world and be heard by many people wherever the wind chose to take those words. I think what I do now is probably the opposite of the cautious approach she wanted me to take.
My not caring about what people say comes from my laziness rather than male confidence. I am tired of having to jump through hoops to impress people, be they gatekeepers or not, tired of having to be politic and playing the game. That’s why I’ve never dived into that whole marketing and algorithms thing, why I hardly read anything about self-publishing, why I am actually useless about marketing myself. The media whore thing is just that – I love being the centre of attention. But I only do it so much; I don’t push myself at all the media outlets I should be pushing myself at if I really wanted to be plastered over all the papers and radio and TV. I often see that as cowardice, not just laziness. And yes, I do still hanker after external validation, but … . The silence I interpret as not being read rather than my writing being poor. I also interpret it as review fatigue when people are being asked to review every little thing they buy.
Another thing on male confidence – I am not an alpha male, and never have been. It’s not in my makeup – maybe because I have 3 sisters. In my youth, I refused to compete for girls, would just walk away from such overt male competitions. I even did the same with M, before we were properly together, because, as I said to her then, I refuse to let others lead my life for me. I don’t think that’s confidence; if anything it’s diffidence. I have to shrug my shoulders here and say that it’s just the way I am, and that I have never spent a huge amount of time thinking about it. Having said that, I’m still the same about alpha male behaviour – because A (youngest daughter) plays a lot of ladies cricket, I get to hang out with a lot of 25-year-old ladies at after-match drinks etc, and to watch the young men preening themselves around them. They (the ladies) come and sit with me when it gets too much for them, and we talk about how silly alpha males are. Maybe that is a sign of me getting old – being a father figure to these women.
I sometimes think you and I are polar opposites – I am very weak on self-analysis. I do overthink, but usually in relation to other people’s actions. I am very chaotic, which is why I write back so quickly, and you’re much more organised than you think. Oh, by the way, I reckon you achieved 2 out of your 7 checklist items on 9th November, because you wrote lyrically and eloquently about how you felt about the election on facebook, and for me that counts as writing.
My children were very cross with me for not choosing another pen name for The Failed Assassin, what with it being 95% sex (and some of it not exactly nice), but my thinking was that when history judges me, I want my body of work to be in one place, with one name. My agent hates me for writing so many different genres, and, in keeping with our fairly fractious relationship, refused to read a historical fiction novel I wrote a couple of years ago (which I might publish next year). And no, I don’t pay him to read my books. And agents over here don’t normally charge, not if they’re bona fide agents. But then novels aren’t academic papers or learned essays.
The plan had been to use nanowrimo as an external deadline, but I’ve fallen way behind because my day job is very busy all of a sudden (more busy than usual), the political situation has grabbed a large part of my brain, and because the short days are making me struggle. However, there is time to catch up, and I will very much try to. Oh, and having a bad back (though it is much better) doesn’t help, because it always feels like the centre of my being has been ripped out, and I hate not being able to move freely. I’m working on a sequel to Dead Men, provisionally called Ice Child, which I hope will do its characters and the Antarctic justice.
The thing is, I have so many other novels running around in my head that I just want to get them down on paper and move on. I’m especially keen to write the one that’s all about why time is going so quickly right now. I even read Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter & The Dinosaurs as research, a good, great book if you ever get time to read it and have a fascination for astrophysics. If I can make the time to write more. I am lucky in that I can write quickly – 1,000 words in 30 minutes if I’m really inspired.
To come back to books and agents etc, I am fortunate in that I started life as a proof reader, so at least I am confident in my ability to read what I have written fairly objectively and efficiently, and that’s what persuaded me to become a hybrid author after having one book traditionally published. Not that there’s any money in it for me yet. And that’s not really about the money; it’s about having the independence to be able to write full-time. You must tell me more about your situation with the kulturråd. Perhaps sharing will let you be more sure about what to do.
Parenting – it is complex, isn’t it? And no, don’t adopt an accent. Be you. The thing is – Norwegians don’t say much, so any voice appears strident to them. This was the issue we had with M’s family – they were notoriously even more taciturn and silent than the average Norwegian. Is it our sense of otherness that makes us think even about the way we speak and are heard? Is it part of that, our, searching you talk about in your letter? I think it may be. Perhaps that part of us that’s uncertain and insecure is that part of us that analyses how others see us. In the end, I always think that parents who question themselves make the best parents, not those who think they have done everything right. I still question our decision to have moved back to England, in particular this rural part of England, but the children seem to be doing well despite that decision, even though, to my great disappointment, none of them have become linguists. M used to tell me off for treating them as adults from when they could sit up, but I think/hope that this is one reason for them being, now, people that I can spend time with, even when we/I do things the other disapproves of.
I do miss Norway. Mostly the landscape, I must admit, and some of the male friends I made there. I found the people very xenophobic, I have to say, and when the shootings happened in 2011 (I have decided to cross his name out because I won’t give him the oxygen of publicity) I wasn’t really surprised that it was a terror attack by one of Norway’s own. The one good thing I experienced as an immigrant was the free language lessons I got, thanks to which I became fluent in what I still hear as a beautiful language. On the other hand, I think I’m an immigrant wherever I am. Another example of otherness? Yes. I don’t really feel at home where I am now, and I can see us moving away as soon as the children have all left home. Although, as I have promised them, wherever we move to, we’ll always have a house with five bedrooms so they always have a room to come back to if they need sanctuary. That limits our options financially, but who cares? It’s the family that counts.
Looking out of my office window, I can see C in the garden with the cat (they love each other) a few hours before she goes back to uni after 4 days here with us to recharge. It feels peaceful to be sitting here writing, and although I’ll miss her and she’ll dreadfully miss the cat, I’m glad she’ll be going, and I’m glad that our children are strong enough to make their own ways in this difficult world.
Finally, I was so touched by the beginning of your letter. ‘E gently asked me,’ you write, and that created such a wonderful picture of love. When you first told me you had met a man, I hoped for a gentle one for you. And when I met him for the first time, I knew you’d found the right one. I am so so happy for you both. May that gentleness last for all time.
Thank you for letting me find another outlet (this letter and the last have used up 1 full reservoir of ink in my pen) for my thoughts. Actually, for kicking me back into writing. If Ice Child gets finished by the end of November, it will, in large part, be down to you.
Much love to you, and yours,