More about Charles Causley: a bonus post

In “Tea on the Lawn,” I mentioned the poet Charles Causley, who lived in North Cornwall. It was an aside, but R. emailed to say that she was involved in Causley’s care toward the end of his life and that he was a lovely man.

I never know what part of a post is going to activate someone, and that’s one of the things I’ve come to love about blogging.

Causley “wrote one of the first poems that ever really struck a chord with me,” she emailed, “’The Ballad of the Bread Man’. It was a reworking of the Christmas story. I was eleven or twelve when it was read out at the Christmas assembly at my school. I didn’t know who’d written it, and though it always stayed with me, I didn’t actually come across it in print until after he’d died.”

Irrelevant photo, but foggy cliffs seemed to suit the mood.

Irrelevant photo, but foggy cliffs seemed to suit the mood.

As a result, she never got to tell him what it had meant to her. But that didn’t stop her from talking about literature with him.

“We used to have some wonderful conversations about Laurie Lee, and Ted Hughes and the like. And I remember a Fortnum and Mason hamper arrived at Christmas for him; a gift from his publisher. I was so impressed, and all he said was: ‘Well they do get money from selling my books, you know.’

“He was made Companion of Literature. It was 2001 and he got it at the same time as Doris Lessing. It’s held by a maximum of ten people at any one time, and it’s for life. He said they’d only given it to him because he wouldn’t be keeping it for long.

“He’s extremely well loved in Cornwall.”

She added the following memory to give “an impression of his ready wit, even at eighty-four: I was helping him walk down a corridor and the call bell went off.”

Making a reference to the poet John Betjeman’s blank verse autobiography, “he said: ‘Oh you poor girls – summoned by bells, as my friend John would say.’ “

(I’m not sure how important it is to know this, but Cornwall inspired many of Betjeman’s poems.)

“There was a campaign to have Causley made poet laureate when Betjemen died.”

Waiting for the publication fairy

The Divorce Diet is available today, and having promo’d it shamelessly up to now, I’m not doing that today. This is about waiting for some publisher or award committee to wave the magic feather of approval over your work.

A.L. Kennedy, speaking at an awards ceremony, said, “It’s a hard and a lonely life to be a writer—it’s not hard in the manner of being a nurse or a coal miner, but as a writer you have to believe in yourself a lot before anyone else does.”

the divorce dietSome days it’s harder to believe in yourself than to think, Maybe I should just pack it in, which is probably why so many of us look to an outside source for proof that what we’re doing is worth the bother.

Before my first short story was published, I believed publication would transform me into—although I didn’t use these words, even in the privacy of my own head—a real writer. I still believed that before my first book was published, and my second book, and I’ve kept on believing it as The Divorce Diet, my third, worked its way toward publication. Somehow, we never stop believing in the good fairy, even after she morphs into the publication fairy. We still think that as soon as we’ve proved our worth she’ll wave that magic feather. The problem is that the way we have to prove our worth keeps getting harder. There’s always one more test. I’ve read about famous writers who felt slighted because they hadn’t won the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the Massive Damn Whaddayacallit Award. They were still waiting for the publication fairy and her fancy feather.

But before writing can be about publishing, it’s about the act of writing: putting one word after another; and even before that, it’s about finding the place inside you that needs to speak, and charting a path from that place into the world. And then—once, twice, and a thousand times—it’s about believing that the act is worth the effort.

And after you get published? It’s still about the act of writing. We keep going back to that or we’re lost.

I’m writing this in advance of the TDD’s actual release date, so I can’t report on how I feel moment by moment, but I can predict pretty safely: At some point I’ll remember that what day it is and I’ll look around for a big feeling to match it, and it won’t be there. I’ll be the same me that I’ve always been. And when I next sit down to write, I’ll be the same writer I was before, not some magic-feathered genius.

Let me go back to A.L. Kennedy. She’s worked, as a writer, with “people in care homes and hospitals: psychiatric outpatients, people in prisons, people trapped in their own homes, people with all kinds of degenerative diseases or learning difficulties.” And writing could be life-changing for them not “necessarily …because they will end up being writers professionally,… [but] because they get practice to find the words to say who they are and what they want and how their world is and—in short—they will find their voices. And having a voice and knowing you can use it is a very beautiful thing.”

If you blog or write for other reasons, you know this, but it’s easy to lose track of in the scramble to transform ourselves into whatever we think real writers are.

I’m not saying that recognition doesn’t matter. I want it as badly as the next fool. But never think that it’s all that matters. Write because you must. Write because you love it. Write because it gives you strength. If you reach only yourself, you’ve done something of value. If you write well and purely and reach other people, you can give them strength. Or make them laugh. Or let them see the world in a new way. If you reach one other person, that’s a gift to you both. Take joy in it. For its own sake.