I remember a literary critic offering the view that the best writers spend a short time immersed in ‘society’ and then a longer time outside of it, presumably in their room, writing – he offered Proust as an example of this effect.
Well I’m no Proust, but it’s a notion which rings true with me in some ways – not because I have at some period been part of a mad social whirl, then found myself excluded from it with only a pen and a Moleskine notebook for comfort, but because I am the sort of person who can feel a little detached even when surrounded by people.
Whenever I hear something funny for example, part of me has the urge to laugh, and part is squirreling it away for future use. This sense of separateness is necessary I think, but where does it come from?
When I was a kid I was obsessed with books and writing but I spent my days in a comprehensive school in a town in the north of England which has recently been declared the most ‘working class’ town in the UK. That kind of picked me out as different – to the extent that, when I went away at 18 to do my English Literature degree I was the only person in the whole of the town doing such a degree that year, and there hadn’t been anybody at all the year before.
When I arrived at University I didn’t exactly have two heads, but there’s no doubt I was different. It didn’t bother me particularly, not even when one of the junior lecturers asked me: “What’s someone with an accent like yours doing studying English Literature?”
After Uni, I took a job as a newspaper journalist, a profession where you spend your time observing others and writing about them, no coincidence. Then later I moved to the south of England.
People from the UK will understand immediately the perceived social divide between the north and south of England, but, for readers from elsewhere, it basically goes like this. People in the north believe that those in the south look down on them as being poor, ‘common’ and socially inferior. And, having lived in the south for 20 years I can tell them – they are right. Not everyone shares this blind prejudice towards northerners of course, but plenty do. If you have a northern accent it marks you out as different, and I’ve always had one. I could have lost it I suppose, but I’m just not a very good mimic, I still sound like the kid from the northern working class town I used to be.
So, marked out as different again, and again – couldn’t care less!
Wherever I’ve been I’ve felt slightly out-of-place, where I grew up and where I ended up. Not to the extent that it causes me any real problems, but enough so I feel it.
So I do have that separateness that many writers seem to have. It’s been thrust upon me in some ways but perhaps I’ve also courted it. If you write, do you feel this way too?
Why not take a look at my rom com The Pick-Up Artist on Amazon and read the early reviews? Who knows, you could become one of the very first people in the world to own a copy …