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Be great in their face and have a good day on purpose

25 April 2023

Be great in their face and have a good day on purpose

We Brits are mightily suspicious of a person who radiates joy and self-belief. They must be on something, cocaine or at least happy pills, and what have they got to be so smug about anyway? Being pleased with who you are and what you’ve achieved is at best indefensible and at worst a heinous sin - how dare you not put yourself down and drown in a swamp of self-deprecation like the rest of us?

This first struck me when I was teaching in a primary school and set up a penfriend arrangement between our Year 6 and a class of Spanish children the same age. The first letters exchange contained basic physical and character descriptions of themselves and their families, and one of the recurring phrases in the Spanish letters was ‘soy guapo’ which basically means ‘I’m good-looking’. You had to be there. The outrage my class felt towards these shameless braggards was the last straw and marked the end of their enthusiasm for language-learning. We’re not writing to them again. They’re weird.

I’m not advocating showing off as a hobby, because firstly it’s rude and mean to hog the limelight and set yourself up on a shelf the rest of us can’t reach and secondly if you’re alienating people, you won’t get rescued when you fall off your perch. Think ahead.

Which brings me to the middle ground - where success isn’t just a world stage, but a platform for doing marvellous things. In the writing world, there are a gazillion multi-million selling authors out there, a good proportion of whom are reaching a hand down to the lesser beings who are out of contract after their first two-book deal. Take hold of those hands. They mean it. They’ve been where you are. They could be talking on podcasts, running workshops, engaging with you on social media and sharing your posts. Who knows, you could become friends, or you might find a patron like Lady Danbury in Bridgerton.

Sometimes the universe delivers an extraordinary outcome. 

I was exactly there, out of contract, writing book three, plotting book four, biting my nails in a will-they, won’t-they frenzy of insecurity, when the message landed in my inbox. I had bought a ticket to Crimefest in Bristol (very hesitantly as I surely hardly qualified as an author if I was effectively having to reapply for my job) and understood that I would be given a panel to moderate. Moderation is not a word I normally understand - but this kind had a certain appeal. It would give me something to focus on while waiting for my publisher to re-employ me for a start. 

When Crimefest confirmed my slot, I looked at my list of panellists and had to blink and look again. What in heaven’s name had possessed them to give me these A listers, miles out of my league and beyond my pay-grade? Adele Parks? Lisa Jewell? Imposter syndrome flooded my body like a hot flush. Surely there musht me some mistake? (I’m so flustered I start thinking in a Sean Connery accent.) But eventually I did grasp the mettle, I wrote the questions, I emailed the team who even emailed back, despite their hectic lives which must surely be filled with red carpet appearances and turning down Netflix deals. 

So don’t give up. Sometimes we feel we’ve just slid down the snake while others are nipping up ladders a few squares on, and fair enough - there’s plenty of rejection and disappointment in the publishing world. But that’s not to say that other avenues won’t open, and being great in the face of those avenues is a good start. Right now I’m off to have a good day on purpose. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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