We asked Alison Baverstock, Louise’s former writing tutor at Kingston University, to guest blog on VossandEdwards.com. With Olympic fever currently gripping not just the UK but the whole world, Alison asks Should writing be suggested as the next Olympic sport?
After all both require talent and tenacity; an ability to take yourself seriously when others doubt – and, above all, a tendency just to keep going. Writers might also further fascinate in the post-event interview, as talking about what we do is increasingly part of the job.
Writers make good interviewees. As a category of notable individual we seem to exceed others chosen for the BBC’s equivalent of getting a knighthood – being chosen to appear on Desert Island Discs – and have extensive other opportunities for media coverage. The fact that you have written a book seemingly shows you both know something and are worth talking to, and non-fiction is not the only qualifying background. The research/thinking time devoted to a work of fiction can equip you to talk on a related topic, witness Lionel Shriver’s at one time regular appearance on discussion programmes to talk about child killers, all related to We need to talk about Kevin, and Joanna Trollope’s emergence as a spokesperson on the particularities of Army life, after publication of The Soldier’s Wife.
It was once said of Gardeners’ Question Time that in reality only ten questions are asked – all the others are adaptations of the same, and I am sure it the same with other presentational formats. Having done quite a few literary events myself, the one thing you always seem to get asked about is your writing process, as if by talking about your own method you can provide the missing link that enables other people to get started – the desire to write being so very common.
In part people are looking to pick up tips, but I think there is also a general fascination with the eccentricities of writers; a delight in hearing just how odd people can be. Here we really deliver, supplying a range of stories about what must happen before you put pen to paper or finger to key-board. We hear of particular music; a specific time of the day; coffee made in a hallowed way with supporting cherished utensil; required clothing or jewellery; a certain weight of paper or type of pencil. The audience lap it up; confirmation that writers are unusual people – and perhaps even dangled solace that another reason for not getting published is that you are simply insufficiently strange.
Well right now take a look at the specific settling-down routines of another prominent group, whose Venn diagram overlap with writers may not be that extensive – Olympic athletes. There are tennis players who bounce the ball a set number of times; runners who take off their outer garments in a particular order and speed to indicate their level of readiness for competition. Who knows how many are wearing lucky pants underneath? Post-match interviews reveal that those who walk into the stadium wearing headphones have highly specific music choices and that they have different sorts of music for different stages of their day (to help them get up feeling positive; achieve the right state of mind before an event; promote sleep afterwards). For me this reached an apogee on Saturday night, watching long jumper Greg Rutherford.
His warm-up for the jump was a min-Haka. He splayed his fingers and wiggled them, rocked forwards and backwards like Louis Armstrong, shook his head a set number of times – and then ran forward. All part of getting ready to do what he does best.
Why should writers be derided for doing something similar? Our setting down routines are for exactly the same purpose; getting ready to deliver. Writers and Olympic athletes, who would have thought we had so much in common? And maybe, when asked the one predictable question afterwards (‘How do you feel?’), we would find something slightly more original to say. Even if not, at least we would be able to write about it…
Alison Baverstock’s is a former publisher who writes about writing and the book world. Course Leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University, her latest book is The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing (Bloomsbury). Much to her surprise, she has been glued to the Olympics.