First day and night of the Literature Festival! Cheltenham is covered with invisible threads of excitement, taut and gently buzzing. Fine marquees brown the unseasonably green gardens. The Locals all feel a little bit special, stand a little taller, talk a little bit louder. Well – or, in my case, feel a little bit stupid, hop from one foot to the other and bite on my lower lip to stop it shaking, as I’ve come straight from the gym and forgot my trousers so have to wear my gym capris under my top. I am so bloody cold, and in my bizarre attire I look like one of those deliberately crayzee people I reserve a special disdain for.
The first discussion with two authors evokes in me both interest and envy in equal measure. I have nobody but myself to blame for the sadness which puts its arms affectionately around me like an old friend. I am immersed in books and the people who create them and I am so jealous of them for succeeding that my eyes are pricking. Perhaps it’s the season, which always evokes in me fear that I haven’t done enough and am running out of time to do it (whatever I should be doing), but Failure’s prodding finger is jabbing me in the back with tedious regularity at the moment. I want to be sitting on the stage, drinking elegantly from a glass of water and reading from my Whatever It Is; not because I like public speaking, although I do immensely – but because I want whoever’s nestling in my head to be presented to the world. If I haven’t smothered them in sensible things like washing up and saving and ironing and audio mystery shops. If it isn’t too late and they’ve wandered off to find someone who will give them the time they deserve. Don’t we always say that to friends seeing knobbers – “You deserve better.” My stories, my characters, definitely deserve more than I’ve been giving them.
I shake the gloom off me like a dog shaking off water (discreetly). I give the authors the attention they deserve, file away important comments, make notes of their books so I can get them out of the library. This time it will be different, I vow to myself. This time next year I’ll have written It. As I leave one forum I’m given a notebook and a pen courtesy of a national newspaper. It’s a sign.
But instead of going home and writing, I scour a couple of burned saucepans, sweep the floor, catch up with Ripper Street, check my eBay account and waste an hour on surveys which, if I spend several years on them, will net me £5 in Amazon vouchers. Then I unroll my purple yoga mat and look at the list of exercises I’m supposed to do every night and haven’t done in almost a week, so it’s no wonder my backwards walkovers aren’t improving. (There is a theme here.)
LitFest audiences are full of people I’m not. In front of me sat several sylph-like young girls with impossibly glossy hair tied into Hebe knots. One took off her mustard-coloured coat, showing off in a strappy top despite the October chill. Her pale-gold shoulder-blades were so fine and fragile she looked like she was sprouting wings. Opposite was another fine specimen of a woman with artfully styled crazy hair and a poncho. There were men who could carry off red trousers and navy v-necks, clutching hardback books and smelling of real leather. Everyone looked intelligent and well off and cultured. I could imagine them going back to warm homes with wood-burners, pouring port and discussing their plans for the following day. Not for them a night spent sweeping up sawdust before practising the splits in front of Schindler’s List.
I read Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy this week. Acutely well-observed, sad, funny and very original. I think you ought to read it, too. You can practise the splits while you do so, if you really want to. But whatever it is you really want to do, make time to do it.