Landlubbers, and life on the ocean wave.

It’s hard when you don’t get a ticket. It’s hard and it’s sad. I mean, after all, this isn’t the Titanic we’re talking about; this ship really is unsinkable, and some of the very best people you know are onboard already – or racing down the gangplank – and the worst thing is that you’ve been onboard before, a few times, years ago (you hitched a lift to the Cape of Good Hope but the Horn of Bad Luck was just round the corner and you fell with a splash into murky water)… So you can’t even tell yourself it’s a shit boat and the entertainment’s Jim Davison and the captain is Old Gregg.

No, it isn’t the boat that’s the problem. The boat is just fine. More than fine. It has all the English canon onboard and most of the Yanks as well, except people like Hemingway, who’s gone off in his own fishing boat with a bottle of turps (it takes a special kind of drink to get a ghost pissed), and Salinger, who went shopping for ear plugs on shore leave, once, and was never seen again.

I am, of course (of course! You mean you didn’t realise?) talking about rejection.

I’m talking about rejection through the hackneyed metaphor of ships setting sail. More specifically, the ship of literary success that was docked in the harbour for years and years and years and yet somehow, in spite of the fact you were once at the front of the queue, you failed to get a ticket.


It’s a little bit rubbish, sometimes, this writing lark. You put yourself out there, and the editor says:

And your heart goes bang-bang-bang and the critic that lives in your head says never write again and then these guys appear:

Call yourself a writer? I'd call yourself a taxi to Loserville if I was you...

Call yourself a writer? I’d call yourself a taxi to Loserville if I was you…

And yesterday it was sunny but now:


And your face is all:


And you come across this on the internet:

I can tell you now, God. You need a bigger jar.

I can tell you now, God. You need a bigger jar.

And you feel a bit:


So you go for a walk, and you walk to a bridge, and you stand on the bridge and look down at the river. You take out your phone for a photo and tap a few words in a memo:

Upside down world

Look in the river. It goes down forever. The sky is in it. 

Darting insects make the river wink. 

A boy is fishing.

Shirt as red as flags. I’m here, it says. I live.

Birds fly through the water-sky. 
Or is sky-water better?
You put your phone in your pocket, go home again, and boil the kettle. Book, tea, blanket. You always get sick on boats, anyway.

Me time (85% cocoa).

I ought to have been in an orchestra, really. I ought to have played a more sociable instrument (i.e. not the piano, the sulky loner of the music world) and gone to rehearsals with seventy other musicians and hung out together (I see us all wonderfully stylish in polo neck jumpers) and made sweet music en masse. There’s a lovely sense of solidarity in that.

Instead, I chose writing. And writing, as everyone knows, is the sulky loner of the art world. I’m a sulky loner myself, so it’s no surprise, really, that we found each other. And yet there are times – this is one – when I question the wisdom of two sulky loners conspiring like this. Isn’t writing a thing best done by those with more resilience? Is it good for us loners to really embrace our aloneness? The danger is one that’s befallen me recently: life on your own becomes so flipping normal – status quo – that the world recedes, with the flesh and blood people who live there, till what you’ve got left is a notebook, a Scrivener file, and long stretches of silence. It’s frighteningly easy to get yourself so swept away in a book that the whole of your life becomes ‘me time’. The question I’m asking, then, is this: Is so much ‘me time’ good for the soul? And would miserable writers be miserable whether they wrote or not? Would Virginia Woolf have drowned herself if she’d played second bassoon in the London Symphony Orchestra? Would Hemingway have been happier tooting a horn than exposing the innermost core of his soul? And dear old, mad old Sylvia Plath – perhaps self-examination on a daily basis wasn’t the healthiest way to proceed. Might her tale have ended differently if she’d spent that February night with a gaggle of polo-necked viola players instead of surrounded by rancour-filled manuscripts and an empty flat?

Well, sigh. You’d be right if you thought I was bitter. If blog posts were chocolate bars, this one – I have to admit – would be 85 % cocoa. I’m currently stuck on that hamster wheel of The Road Not Taken, and anyone (musicians, actors, dancers) who gets their arty kicks in a gang of likeminded folks – and not staring, alone, at the screen of a laptop – is garnering my envy at this present moment. God, but it must be so nice – so bloody, bloody nice – to have someone else physically, actually, there when you’re knee deep in doing your thing – and I don’t mean disturbing you (breaking the train of your thoughts with the offer of tea when you’ve just bloody sewn up that sentence at last but you haven’t quite managed to scribble it down); I mean, doing it with you. Collaborating. You actors, musicians, and dancers – how lucky you are.


To be fair I should probably mention the fact that I did once play in an orchestra, long, long ago. I was ten at the time. I wanted to play the cello. There weren’t any cellos at school; there was only an oboe.

My playing was so bloody awful I ended up having to mime in school concerts. The whole thing was torture from start to finish. Perhaps I do prefer writing, after all.