Went to a Society of Authors drinks party the other day - met some lovely writers and their partners. It was in the back room of beautiful old colonial building, replete with wood beams, deep carpets and sweet staff to help the night along.
We met a writer who had the dream happen to her.
You know the one.
You spend a decade or so trying to write a book, in between work and life, finally getting it done.
You send it out and it's immediately picked up and published to great acclaim by the first major publisher you submit to...
I mentioned to her at this point, "You know that never happens?"
"Yes," she said. "And I feel awfully guilty."
"No need," I said. "Writers need proof it can happen. Just to keep us going!"
We met other writers at various stages in their careers. Some unpublished, some having books coming out of their ears. It takes all sorts - and curiously I realized it's next to impossible to tell how well a writer is doing just by looking at them...
Most have this de rigueur scruffiness about them. I guess because dressing up is alien to most writers and not something that needs to happen much.
A couple of the successful writers mentioned that the whole concept of going out into the world and talking about their books felt bizarre. Clearly, if you're the kind of person who wants to spend long hours alone and writing, you're not going to be ideally suited to being a great public speaker. With exceptions of course.
Many of the conversations turned to how our parents felt about us being writers. And how most of our mothers disapproved or were openly hostile to the idea of writing for a living.
Odd that - because Robyn and I thought we were unique in that regard. Apparently not. Mothers - as a breed - obviously regard writing as some kind of shameful career, not to be encouraged.
I'm sure much of that has to do with our mothers wanting the best for us - knowing instinctively that the odds of success are against us.
There again, in my experience, pretty much all writers who commit to the life eventually make it in some way.
No, it seems to go further. As though the act of writing is somehow a betrayal. As if wanting to be a writer is a kind of slap in the face to our mothers. Like they've somehow failed in their parenting if they spawn so lowly a life form as a writer.
Plus, writing is about commenting on life, our upbringing, our beliefs, making sense of the world's insanity. So I guess if we spend our lives questioning and recording life's inadequacies and people's foibles, then perhaps we really are worrisome individuals who don't necessary feel content in our skins... perhaps that is the bad thing in their eyes.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it - and my mother wouldn't approve. She who got angry when I said - at fourteen - I wanted to be a journalist - and cried a few years later - at seventeen - when I said I wanted to be a rock star.
I'd failed her because I didn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer. But this is the woman who thought I should be an assistant in a hardware store or a factory worker or an office drone - ANYTHING but an artist.
Even when I was turning thirty and we met for drinks in London one fine day, she was still saying, "Oh, Robert, you should settle down. Leave all the music and the writing behind and get a proper job. Haven't you got all that out of your system yet?"
As if I ever would...
Funny things, mothers.
Maybe we just remind them of all the things they gave up to look after us - like being a writer perhaps.
They only want us to be happy, apparently.
And perhaps being a writer is like saying: "I'm not happy!"
But of course, if that's the case, then writing is what makes us happy.
I shouldn't go on so. Ever since Freud mothers have had a bad rap, probably always have, even before. Nowadays they get the blame for psychopaths too. Hardly fair.
Robyn's mother once apologized for not having faith in her - admittedly after her eightieth book! Mine's yet to do that.
Dad's always was a secret admirer - even when he disapproved of my rock band days, he whispered to me confidentially that he thought it was cool I got paid for drinking in the day time (his personal fantasy) and sleeping till noon when I wanted.
Later he was just relieved I'd got a house, a wife and cars. The rest - having bestselling books - was just a bonus as far as he was concerned.
Mom's harder to read.
Maybe we can never live up to our mother's expectations, if we ever knew what they were.
In the mean time, I still have a few projects left to write, Mom, now that I have settled down - as a writer.
(c) Rob Parnell
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