31 March 2010

'The New York Times' is having a Bake Sale

Yesterday, I finally felt like a writer.

Although I’m the author of three works of scholarly non-fiction – for which I occasionally receive royalty cheques/checks in sums that might possibly allow me to purchase a book of postage stamps. (Well, that it is until Royal Mail puts up stamp prices next week!)

I am always somewhat dim-wittedly surprised when these cheques arrive in the post. I open the letters, and say aloud, almost yawning, “Oh, yeah. I wrote that.” 

My nonplussed attitude stems from the fact that these three tomes, although sources of great pride, have -- due to their status as scholarly works (and their exorbitant price-tags) – remained largely unread and unknown.

In fact, it is quite soul-destroying whenever I walk through the Bookstalls in The Courtyard Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company and NEVER, EVER see a copy of my book, Studio Shakespeare on their shelves.

My book is the definite history of the RSC’s studio theatre, The Other Place, and biography of its first artist director, Mary Ann “Buzz” Goodbody. I had the honour of being distinguished as the “Buzz Goodbody scholar,” at a memorial event for her in 2006; where I shared the stage on a panel with Patrick Stewart.

I toiled for eight years to produce that work, to commemorate that place and time in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s history. I am told, whenever I pursue the topic with them, that everyone in the Company admires the work, thinks it’s great and invaluable, &etc. – it is their history after all – but regrettably, the book is too expensive for them to keep in stock.

Sad, isn’t it, how things always seem to come down to money at the end of the day?

So, the way I have chosen to cope is to just try and forget about it, and to remain indifferent when it appears that another copy has actually been sold, somewhere in the world.

What a different feeling then, to be a “Columnist” with a regular column in a magazine that people actually read!

And yesterday, said-magazine hosted a fabulous spring luncheon at the Alveston Manor in Stratford-upon-Avon, to celebrate its on-going success, and congratulate its staff and contributors.

When I received my invitation, I danced about the house with glee. I was more excited receiving the invite to the magazine’s posh lunch, than I was about receiving my pay slip!

I jumped into the car, and rushed over to Warwick to see my friend Ella at her fantastic vintage shop, Corina Corina to find something fabulous to wear. Ella kitted me out with a splendid pair of delicious Dolce & Gabana knickerbockers.  (A steal at £55.00)  They made me feel every inch a diva!

I sauntered into yesterday’s lunch feeling fabulous, but also more than a little bit nervous, as I feared I wouldn’t know anyone. I needn’t have worried, as I soon felt right at home, when our wonderful, wonderful Editorix-in-Chief, Jane Sullivan made a beeline to me, to say ‘hello’. (She’s mega.)

Everyone was very enthusiastic about my column; at one point the Publications Director grabbed the forth-coming April issue, and through pales of laughter, started reading out bits of my column to others around the table.

Needless to say, I was flattered beyond belief!

There is a book (on our newly assembled IKEA bookshelves) by George Orwell called “Why I Write”.  I bought that book for the title, and the way it prompted me to contemplate why I write. People write for lots of reasons: for profit, for pleasure, for fame, for fun, and so on.

I will say it was such a great, great pleasure to witness people actively enjoying something that I’d written. Quite a wonderful feeling.

I left that lunch walking on air. As I drove home on the windy road through the tiny hamlet of Loxley, I thought about the funny journey I have had as a writer.  I was giddy, and despite the light splattering of rain, I lowered the windows of the car, and shouted ‘Helllooooo, hellooo!’ to the sheep grazing, not so peacefully, in the lush, green fields beside the road.

I laughed at myself. And recalled an episode from my high school (secondary school) journalism days. I was a staff writer for the school paper, and every year we were given the chance to apply for the various leading, editorial posts on the paper. For years, I’d coveted being Features Editor.

Our newspaper teacher, Mrs. M., was a stickler for precision and organization, she was hard to please to say the least.  The day before she was to make her final decision for editorial posts for the coming year, she scheduled a fundraising “Bake Sale” for the paper. We were all meant to contribute to sale and put in the time selling the edible wares.

Every girl knew this was the last chance to shine before Mrs. M. – to show your undying commitment and dedication to the paper and its survival.

Alas, dear Reader, I am sure you have already guessed my predicament: I forgot. I arrived at school blithely, and brownie-less, as if it were any other day. I was devastated.

My best friend, Noël, found me beside myself in tears, in the restroom.  “C’mon Al,” she cajoled. “I can’t believe you’re seriously upset over the fact that you forgot a stupid bake sale.”

“You don’t understand,” I cried. “I want to be a writer, and I’ve just blown my chances with Mrs. M., I’ll never be more than a staff writer now.”

“Look,” Noël said defiantly. “If she doesn’t pick you for Features editor because you didn’t stay up all night making chocolate chip cookies, than she’s crazy. What’s that got to do with writing anyway? Oh, yeah, I can just see it now, ‘The New York Times is having a Bake Sale.’”

That conversation cheered me immensely, and I still laugh heartily when I think on it now. In the end, I wasn’t selected for Features Editor (absence of brownies aside, it was most likely because I’ve never met a comma that I didn’t like).

However, my ever-defiant friend set me to a task that pushed my writing far more than that editorial position ever would have. Daring me to ‘just write,’ Noël set us both to the challenge of writing a daily short story. 

We’d meet at our lockers, blurry eyed, at 7:55 AM and exchange massive, handwritten bundles.  “You’re going love this one, I was up till 3 AM writing it!” Noël said, shouting back at me, over her shoulder, from the midst of a sea of navy-blue uniforms, as the bell for homeroom rang…

Brilliant, wonderful, writer-ly times.






Sunflowery said...

Absolutely loved this post! Brings back the heady days of youth - as an editor and contributor for our high school poetry magazine, haha! I applaud how you've continued to pursue writing beyond the halls of academia. I really enjoy your blog.

All the best :)

Hans said...

Just found your blog and wanted to say hi. I've done the reverse of you - moved from the UK to Boston for love. It's still very early days in the settling process, but I'm getting there.

I actually did my undergrad at Warwick uni so it's nice to hear about an area I know well.

Nice to meet


TheLadyWhoLunches said...

I love this post! Writing is such a journey, isn't it?
Congratulations on your post as a columnist. That's my goal right now, (as well as getting book published), and I'm sure it feels amazing!
And, what a great story that your writing goes back so far to writing everyday. I'm sure that's a lesson that has continued to this day.
So happy for you!