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Wednesday, 28 January 2009


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any author will at some point have an incredibly annoying conversation with a taxi-driver. There are many varieties of this conversation, and you will meet them all, and you will deal with them in different ways. I have no advice for these situations, since it would not be appropriate for me to recommend extreme physical violence, preferably involving dismemberment, on the pages of this sedate blog. I offer only the warning and the exhortation, gentle reader, that you prepare yourself.

(By the way, "gentle reader" is a cliché and modern editors hate it, so please don't use it.)

Clearly, I am not making this taxi-driver point entirely randomly. Percipient readers will detect a kind of gritted-teeth tone to this morning's missive. I am, indeed, holding myself back womanfully. I am calming myself, having taken a large number of deep breaths; I have restricted myself to three cups of hi-caffeine beverage this morning; I have spent the whole night forcibly self-administering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I am doing my best - I really am.


It started in the usual way:

TD: So, what's your line of business?
NM: I write books.
TD: Really?
NM: Yes.
(As you can see, it's currently not rating high on the annoyance scale, but I know it's going to get there. I am expecting that we may be going for the regular, "They say everyone's got a book in them." To which my answer will be either, "If so, that's usually where it should stay," or "Yes, but would anyone want to read it?" Unfortunately, the situation we are in goes way beyond the paradigmatic version of Annoying Taxi-driver because this is how the conversation actually continues:)
TD: So, how do you get a book published then?
NM: (wondering where to begin with this one, but not actually needing to because the guy hasn't finished)
TD: Because anyone can write a book, can't they? (Stunned silence.) Not meaning to be insulting or anything, but anyone can. I've got a friend who's writing one. He says it's easy. Unless you're dyslexic or something.
NM: Actually, you could be a great writer and still be dyslexic.
TD: Well, that proves it - anyone can write a book. If they've got time. Like, I've often thought of writing a book but I've never had time.
NM (tempted to ask, "What about when you're waiting at a traffic light? Or your passenger has just decided she'd rather walk?"): Actually, it's extremely difficult. Real writers know that - we may make it look easy, but you've no idea of the incredibly difficult technical skills and spectacularly creative gifts that are involved.
TD: Well, I suppose you'd start by writing a children's book. Like, one of those ones with just a few words and mostly pictures. That must be really easy - most of the work is done by the artist, isn't it?
NM (starting to have palpitations, and wondering how much it would hurt if she flung open the door and threw herself out): Trust me, it's very difficult indeed. Otherwise, why do so many people try to get published for years and years?
TD (who is on transmit and not receive): Mind you, you'd be rich, wouldn't you? They earn a fortune, some of these children's authors. You read about it all the time.
NM (wondering why she didn't put a handy weapon in her bag before coming out): You don't want to believe everything you read in the papers.
TD: I don't have much time for books. Like my son - but that's boys, isn't it? Got more important things to do. My daughter now, she's a really great reader. She read the whole of the last Harry Potter book in about ten days.
NM (having lost will to live): Really? how old is she?
TD: Twenty-five. My wife and I, we always told her she could be a writer. Thing is, she doesn't have time. But they say everyone's got a book in them, don't they?

The journey ends fortuitously at this point, with the taxi-driver getting no tip and with me stomping down the street to my front door prior to off-loading onto my long-suffering husband who has many times in the past few years wondered when the pyschotherapy is going to work.

I tell you this story as a cautionary tale about the downside of the fulfilment of your life's dream. Not that I'd want to put you off - not that I could put you off if you want it as much as you need to. After all, we earn a fortune, most of us. You read about it all the time in the papers.