Brave by Sara Bareilles is my favourite chart song at the moment:
Every time it comes on the radio, it makes me think about the way I’ve recently learned to enjoy “saying what I want to say”.
On Friday I went to the first meeting of my friend Rachel’s new book group. She’s set this up with the remit that we are going to actually discuss the book, and I’d suggested Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, as people wanted something short, and I figured this would be a good short book with lots of material for discussion.
There six of us there on Friday, a lovely group of people, all intelligent and articulate. Everyone had done their homework and not only read the book, but come with background information on the Barnes/Amis feud, listened to Barnes interviews from the radio etc.
With my recent newfound love of discussion would stand up, I’d really been looking forward to the evening, so was surprised by my reaction. While I enjoyed myself, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit tense and guarded. It was strangely akin to the scene where the young Tony in Sense goes to stay with his girlfriend Veronica’s family for the weekend and feels so repressed by the atmosphere that he get constipation.
I felt particularly tense when everyone talked about how much they disliked the characters in the novel. I didn’t know what to say. Not knowing what to say used to be my default feeling about discussion in the past, but it was a shock to be in that position again. I thought that those days had gone.
My other default setting used to be thinking of the thing I wanted to say after the event. I used to think that I was a slow thinker, that I needed time to digest things, but it was really that I was so afraid of hearing my voice and opinions that my brain seized up.
It was on the way home that what I wanted to say finally came to me: the likeability of characters was not as important to me as the presentation of their motives. I had not said that I think it is easy to write a book where the characters are likeable, but it is more difficult to make a book readable without a likeable central character. I think that it is braver to attempt this, and to me, the process of an author exploring concepts is of greater interest than the overall aesthetic of the finished piece of work.
I woke up on Saturday morning with a sense of crushing failure. I thought all the discoveries I had thought I’d made about myself counted for nothing, when it came to the crunch, and that to think that I was “brave” was nothing but self-deception. I felt totally depressed, and went back to sleep.
In the afternoon, I went for a walk and cleared my head. I looked properly at my reactions and realised that the key thing I felt unable to say was that I write a lot and have read a lot on structure and technique of writing, which affects everything about what I want to get out of reading fiction. I had been afraid of coming across as being pretentious, and also of being dry. I also realised that I am particularly uncomfortable with appearing too assertive or knowledgeable when there are a lot of men in the group. This last sentiment makes me feel terrible, but at least I have realised what the problem is and can do something about it.
Next month, I will say what I want to say.
In the meantime, I have decided that walks are good for me. This is one of the walks I like to take (pictured on a good day – not like this weekend!):