To Each Of You

My wife’s 88 year old aunt lost her husband in late 2016. Since then she too has fallen terribly ill. She has been in and out of hospital for over a year.

She is now largely confined to her London home. Council carers come in twice a day. Her son usually also makes a daily appearance.

Many in her situation would probably stare at television all day, but not she. As long as I have known her (nearly 20 years now), she has been a novel reader. Apparently she reads now more than ever; whenever we have visited her over this difficult last year and a half (despite her own numerous problems, she invariably asks me how my dad is coping: “I know he misses your mum…”), beaten-up paperbacks have been stacked up half a dozen high next to her bed, which is now in her lounge as it is no longer easy for her to walk upstairs.

My wife suggested to me back in the autumn that her aunt might like to read Conventions. But I wasn’t entirely sure. However, pre-Christmas, without warning I decided just to send her a paperback and a short note.

[Photo by me, 2018.]

I was never going to say a word more to her about it. Yes, I figured it would probably end up in a conversation between us the next time we saw her. But if she did not mention it, I was not going to bring it up.

Since then I had essentially forgotten about it…until two days ago. We have not been in direct contact with her since I sent it. However, speaking with my wife on the phone on Thursday, my mother-in-law told her, “I spoke to K______ the other day. She is reading Robert’s book. She said she is loving every page of it…”

I bring that up here only because I was genuinely touched to hear that and wish to make a broader point: That is why I write.

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Paperback version. Click to expand.]

From my teens, I witnessed my now late uncle’s financially erratic writing career. From the outside, often it looked cool and glamorous (I remember sitting star-struck at him once telling me about meeting Sean Connery), and while he did far better professionally than most writers because for years he supported himself with his writing, usually he just “got by” and never made a fortune. The harsh reality is overall he was the exception and relatively speaking actually did GREAT: most writers do not, and never will, support themselves with their writing.

Our world measures success primarily in terms of how much money we earn in whatever we do. A writer is likely therefore to consider themselves a failure, but that is a mistake. A sense of achievement should come, first and foremost, my uncle had also always told me, from the art of it.

I feel I have accomplished something if all of my effort – and hopefully it appears “effortless” – leads a reader to get caught up in it all, forgetting real-life troubles and losing themselves for a while in what and whom is on my pages. The reader’s enjoyment is paramount, and by that I mean not just some laughs, but a sense of escapist involvement and emotional investment in what they are reading, including, at times, too, maybe even some tears. Above all, a writer is a success when a reader reaches the final page and, deflated because they realize it’s the end, thinks, “Oh, no!”

Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂


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