Saturday, May 22, 2010

22. Smiling, distracted

Windows over darling harbour, tall ships, a submarine, and the yacht that a teenage girl just sailed around the world.

There were four writers – two men, two women – and a group of girls, all around the table. They were beautiful listeners, the girls. Once, a few of them smiled, distracted, but it was only that a dragon was passing behind the glass.

‘I wouldn’t dress up in that,’ said someone, ‘if you paid me a million dollars.’
I would. It was a sparkling, colourful dragon suit. It was magical! I would like to wear it to a cocktail party. I would wear it to water the garden!

But only if someone was likely to look over the fence and say, 'Look at you! You're a dragon!'

‘Once you have written your novel,’ said a writer, ‘it is no longer yours.’ He was talking about criticism, and how you have to learn to take it. He told how a reviewer once said, of one of his books: this should be pulped, and so should the person who wrote it.
Which was fine, he said. He didn’t mind that.
I would have. I would have minded a lot.
Another writer said that she had read that very book and loved it.
‘I’m glad that some people liked it,’ he said, ‘but—’
‘Not liked it,’ corrected the writer. ‘Loved it.’

It was good to hear what the other three writers had to say. They were all sensible and smart, and made me want to read their books.

Someone asked about names. Do you need to get the names of your characters right before you begin. Someone asked about character development. Then someone said: look, is there a publisher—is there one particular publisher you can go to—who will—who is most likely just to publish your book, and get it right?

It seemed to me to be a perfect question. What is all this talk of criticism, character, dialogue, and polishing! Just tell me where to go to be a writer! It was oddly soothing, the question, like saying: I see there are many coloured doors that I could take in life from this point — please stop describing the various paths to the doors, and tell me. Just tell me. Which one — which one goes direct to happiness?

Everyone was quiet for a moment.

Eventually, one of the writers said: You will get rejected. Probably several times.
You will knock on the wrong door. You will be unhappy. Maybe over and over.

I didn’t mention the writer I once met whose first novel was accepted by all five of the publishers he sent it to. That's unusual.

Later, the youngest writer at the table said, ‘Writers these days are getting younger.’
And the other female writer — who was older — said briskly, ‘And older too.’
‘I didn’t mean—’ said the young writer, ‘I’m just saying — that they are.’

I hope writers these days are getting younger. I took the ferry home thinking: I hope I’m getting younger.