It’s no use me telling you the one thing I wish I could make
you see because I know you won’t do it for a long time to come. However, I’ll
Write that novel now.
I think I know now what held you back. You’d always had your
head in a book, holding imaginary conversations with people. You’d always loved
to write, but everything you ever wrote was non-fiction or satirical.
Were you afraid of revealing too much about yourself? Did
you suspect that writing a novel would be so difficult to achieve that you just
couldn’t face the effort and inevitable disappointment? Were you afraid of failing?
When you went to Oxford, you knew you could never ever write
a book because everyone who did was a genius like Jane Austen, had a tragic life
to inspire them and died young. Of course, everyone there would have laughed at
the sort of book you might have written: funny, sexy and
escapist. (Tip from
me: they didn’t laugh, they were thrilled for you.)
So you became a copywriter and a journalist. You wrote about
supermarket cheese, housing developments and widgets. You interviewed
interesting people and wrote about your travels and perhaps that’s where it
started: the desire to write about the places you’ve been and the people you’d
met, and more important, how they made you feel.
I wish you hadn’t waited so long after that, I wish that the
catalyst had come sooner – maybe five or ten years earlier but it didn’t. It happened
one night in 2004 in the most bizarre way. You watched a TV drama called North & South, you fell for its
hero, John Thornton and you wanted to write about him. So you did and you
cringed at your efforts and your daughter had to show you some basic writing
techniques she’d been learning at school. I think they’re called Show Not Tell,
You started off, thinking you knew a bit about literature
but knowing nothing about the craft of writing. You plucked up courage to share
your work anonymously with a small supportive group of people on the Internet
and that’s when the spark turned into a flame.
You’d become a writer.
It would have been better if you hadn’t been quite so obsessed
and evangelical at the start. I wish you hadn’t thought you had to get your
first book published or die. Perhaps, that naivety motivated you to spend every
spare hour –and many that you shouldn’t have spared – learning and writing.
I wish you’d known how successful that first book would be
and relaxed as little. I wish you’d known that writing is a marathon not a
sprint and that you have to keep going despite all the slings and arrows and
outrageous fortune of this career.
At times, part of me has wished you never started writing at
all but… if you hadn’t been so crazy in love with writing fiction; would you have
done so many exciting things or met such inspirational people?
Dear Phillipa, I’m glad you recognised the moment, even if
it was – almost – too late.