Sunday, February 11, 2007

And we can be heroes

When you get rejects from magazines and don’t win competitions, nothing is more infuriating than to read from the judges ‘the standard of entries was extraordinarily high’, but now I know exactly what the phrase means. I have been labouring under the misapprehension that most people write piffle and could never understand why I simply don’t shine by comparison.

Today the scales have fallen from my eyes like ill-fitting contact lenses which is rather a shame because my ‘undiscovered’ fantasy is far preferable to reality. I have this morning read all forty-four of the entries for The Moon Topples short fiction competition and mine is nothing special. All the stories are great. I didn’t even short list myself. I couldn’t. Starting with an initial cull of nine I wheedled it down to three finalists and I cannot decide between them. I don’t even like short stories that much but these, I love.

I don’t want to say anymore in case I get in trouble with Mr Moon Topples. This has happened – to Ms Baroque of all people, who got in trouble for ironically hinting that readers should try to spot her story and vote for it. Mr Topples runs a very tight ship. You can vote on the entries until Wednesday, so please do because it is the competition of the year. I’d love to implore you to vote for mine but it’s not one of the better ones, so don’t, even though it would obviously mean the difference between unsustainable joy and suicidal heartbreak.

Recently, I reported that the band I was in the early 80s is to have releases on iTunes. Now the fourteen year old daughter of one of our members has offered to design us a MySpace page. This is the height of acceptance. A very cool fourteen year old offering to design you a MySpace page means you can’t be that naff, doesn’t it? Of course this is more good luck than good management. I used to look at The Thompson Twins and think – why can’t we be more like them? Imagine! Had we been, Boy George would have been the only thing standing between us and total humiliation, and that’s a very slim crêpe de Chine of credibility. Being in an obscure ‘indy’ band now seems like a great past to have had. One review describes our Messthetics contribution as ‘Marc Almond-meets-the Meat Puppets spookiness’ – that’s good, right?

Because I’m writing a book set in Spain, I’ve been going over my old diaries from the time I actually lived on the Costa del Sol (1994-5) and jointly ran a small hotel with the rest of my family. I’m going to dedicate this book to the writer Thomas Firbank who stayed at our hotel while he was writing the first draft of what became his last book A Country of Memorable Honour which was finally published in 2000. Tom died a year later.

He was the loveliest man and quite old when I met him, 84 I think. We stayed in touch after I left Spain and returned to London and I have several letters of encouragement from him in his wonderful spidery handwriting, encouraging my own writing. Tom (or Ton as he was called by our housekeeper Maria del Mar – a nineteen year old who bore a striking resemblance in looks and tone to Natasha of Boris and Natasha in Rocky & Bullwinkle), lived the classic writer’s life. He took breakfast at 7.30 and was back in his room by 8.00. He wrote steadily in his laborious longhand until midday and then went off to lunch with friends. He worked again from 3.00 until 6.00 and was usually the first at our lovely rooftop bar when it opened at 7.00 where he’d have a beer or two before meeting more friends for supper. I have lots of photos of him somewhere in the loft. My memory of Tom is that he looked a lot like Jimmy Stewart.

My personally signed copy of his debut novel, I Bought a Mountain (published in 1940), is one of my most prized possessions. It chronicles the purchase by Tom and his first wife Esmé of a rugged Welsh farm in Dyffryn Mymbyr in 1933. It is the most beautiful book and it vividly illuminated those rugged Snowdonian hills for me. It was an immediate best seller and has never been out of print. I remember reading it in bed at night and marvelling that the fascinating man who wrote it was lying in the room next door to mine.

Tom was one of life’s great adventurers, someone who took his opportunities as they presented themselves. He’d rallied to the war call, becoming a Lieutenant-Colonel and writing another book about his war experience, I Bought a Star. He told me he’d had a ‘fabulous’ war. I thought of my own poor father, who’d also fought in WW2, surviving the ordeal with dignity but never really overcoming the horrors of six years of battle.

Once, when I was by myself running the hotel, I’d saved a baby House Martin that crash landed on our roof. I learned from the incredibly knowledgeable Spanish that you can revive a baby bird by shoving a peppercorn down its neck – it’s probably a kill or cure thing but, in this instance, it worked. The baby bird which I called Feliz (happy in Spanish) survived for two weeks. I was even teaching it to fly. But then it suddenly keeled over and died. Tom was so compassionate about it. It was only a couple of days earlier that I had been reading about him and Esmé out on the freezing hills trying to find lost lambs.

Sometimes I go through very low times and think will anything I do ever strike a chord with anyone, ever? I do think of Tom a lot and how, although he often seemed very old-fashioned (he totally did leave a message on my answering machine raging ‘infernal machine!’ – I so wish I’d kept it), I would love to think that I’d still be writing to the end of my life as Tom did. Even though he never repeated the great commercial success of his first novel, he just wasn’t bothered by it. He’d had a fabulous life, and so have I.

Cover of I Bought a Star from Barnes and Noble.


Ms Baroque said...

So you have! That whole hotel thing sounds great. And the band.

But if you're really, really with-it you don't even say page: it's "a MySpace". Oh and leave your consonants out - I can't even writer the way Mlle B speaks these days but I can rarely understand a word she says.

You have had a fascinating life too! Been there, done that, out there making and doing, having a go - lots of people, myself included, can't match half of it. I was sewing curtains & making my own bread while you were out there in Spain. Not only do I not have a record, but I don't even have the curtains any more!

Reading the Signs said...

ms P, we now have to choose five finalists - I had just chosen my three when I noticed the change on Mr. Moon's site. I'm wondering if that improves my chances of 15 minutes of blog fame, but must say I had similar response to yours.

Very inspiring to hear about your writer friend. I love hearing about people like that.

Your band - yeah, very cool, but I was in a band once too. We played in an Italian restaurant in Golders Green on new year's eve and when we played our stuff were told to shut up and play Havanagila. I won't tell you our name, too embarassing. But come on - what was yours?

That's so pants said...

Why is everything so complicated. Thanks for the tip off Signs - after all the I put into adjudicating I'd hate to be defeated by small print.

Thanks Ms B. I am a bit of a slave to approval so it's nice to be able to laugh at myself for it.

nmj said...

I enjoyed this post immensely, Pants, so much more interesting than most of the columns in the weekend papers.

I can't decide on a Mr Moon's top five, I have six and am reluctant to let any of them go . . .

That's so pants said...

Thanks NMJ - I chose my 5. I did consider spending all day on it again today but that doesn't get books written now does it. I might run for government, so confident am I in my ability to take tough decisions.

GoAwayPlease said...

Oh I do love your blog thank you for causing me to piss away most of the day reading back even through your 'Older Posts' ..... and when I got to The Curse Of St.Custards and your "Instead I find myself wishing I’d kept those shoes." I just know we would be friends (I worship Ronald Searle).
Your Links to Norm Geras and Dear Marrickvillia confirm your good taste and High Mind.
Thanks to our rock gods for that quiet moment of Keef's, preserved for us by the fledgling snapper Annie Leibovitz (what a fabulous First Assignment that stones tour was for her) ...
just keep on rocking Ms T.S.P.

That's so pants said...

Pleasure goawayplease - I enjoy nothing more than wasting other people's time.