Have you ever heard your voice on an answering machine and cringed? Has someone every handed you a photo saying, Here’s a good one of you? And you find yourself thinking, 'That’s a good photo of me! Oh my god, what’s a bad photo like?’
Not many of us really like the way we are. But what can you do about it? Well you could have voice-training lessons or go in for radical plastic surgery, I suppose. But that sort of thing didn’t make Michael Jackson very happy, did it? Alternatively you could just shrug and forget it.
It’s exactly the same with writing, in my opinion. There’s absolutely no point in agonising about whether you writing is any good or not. Editors and publicists will tell you your latest book is terrific and with a glass of wine in your hand you will probably believe them. Then, when they drift away to talk to someone else, you remember that this is their job. They were never going to tell you anything else. Ten minutes later you overhear them say the same thing about a book that you feel from the very centre of your being is complete and utter tripe.
There are the reviewers of course, but often they seem to have their own agendas. Some of them are simply using your book as a sharpening stone for their wit. Then there are those who seem to be writing about a completely different book from the one you remember writing. I’ve read reviews praising things about my books that I have always felt were their greatest weaknesses and criticising things that I happily assumed to be their strengths.
Of course there are the readers who send you letters and emails telling you that your book made a huge difference to them. That’s always a joy to hear but it’s not necessarily a measure of worth. There are certain pop songs that cause a huge explosion of emotion in me every time I hear them because they are so inextricably bound up with events in my life. They seem like the most brilliant expressions of what was happening to me at that time. But to other people they are just nice tunes.
Finally there are award ceremonies. I’m heading up north to one later this week and I can’t deny that I’ll be pleased as Punch if my book wins and thoroughly gutted if doesn’t. But I have to remind myself that getting shortlisted or even winning an award is not a goal in itself. It’s not even a light to guide you through the darkness. How many prize-winning books have you read and thought, how could this possibly have won?
My solution is simply not to try to decide whether my books are good or bad, but just to get on and write the next one. I write, not to be liked, but because somewhere deep in my childhood everything inside my head got scrunched up like a piece of paper thrown in a litter bin. On that piece of paper was all the information about who I really am. A magic spell to make me happy and contented with myself. There’s absolutely no hope of ever finding it again. So, somehow I have to make a new spell. I keep trying and trying but whenever I get to the end of my latest attempt it never has exactly the right cadence.