Monday, 16 May 2011


Writers' stories of their public shame, edited by Robin Robertson.

I didn't believe in schadenfreude until I read this. For example: even though it's the funniest show on earth, I have to force myself to sit through an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm: I don't get any pleasure from other people's misfortune.

But most of these stories of awkwardness, disappointment and embarrassment gave me a warm feeling inside, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's jealousy? These authors have 'made it', so they somehow deserve it. Maybe it's optimism? If these idiots can make it, so can I. Or maybe it's recognition. These particular neuroticisms are mine as well! I've certainly picked the right ambition.

There's another pleasure here, besides schadenfreude: I love reading about writers. I read about writers all the time, but those accounts are usually about very successful writers, or newly practising writers, and are sometimes fictional. The writers and poets in Mortification cover the wide gamut of success, but are mostly from the obscure middle: they write, do tours and do readings, but they are not well-known.

For someone who wants to be a writer but is scared of success, it's great to know that this strangely obscure middle exists, and functions, and is even fairly well-populated. It's less great to realise how few of it's members I've ever heard of -- and I am a representative of the bookier end of the public spectrum.Maybe I do want success.

Still. It's good to know writers spend the times between writing getting fully immersed in mortification, over-analyzing the minutest moments in their lives, and honing every minor event into a perfectly sleek anecdote. Once I sell a novel, I'm there. I won't have to change at all.

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