Writers, does this happen to you? Catching up with friends, someone will relate an amusing and/or interesting and/or convoluted anecdote. When they reach the end, instead of being satisfied with a few moments’ entertainment, they – or another from among the group – will quip There’s a novel in there somewhere! A novel? Excuse me, but it shouldn’t take a novelist to recognise this is not the case. But is the reference to novels an innocent, albeit clumsy, metaphor, or are nastier issues afoot?
Calling out envy, can be as tricky as refusing to accept everyday sexual harassment. You’re perceived as making a fuss about nothing, because often the harassers genuinely don’t realise what they’re doing. And these friends who want to turn every tale into a novel aren’t horned devils. They’re actually rather nice.
When diagnosing envious attacks, I’ve learnt to attend to context. How much do these friends acknowledge there’s an actual novelist in their midst? Have they brought her books and let her know they’ve enjoyed them? If they have, perhaps they’ve earned their right to joke about what a novel is.
But if they haven’t, how do you deal with what surely must be, even unconsciously, a putdown? Do you laugh along, bat back a volley of your own, or walk away? Up until now, I’ve simply kept quiet, but I’d welcome your opinions on what to do.
I’m not saying that all my friends should support, or like, or even care about, my writing. But there’s something weird going on when they pepper the conversation with references to writing when it’s not relevant, yet barely acknowledge the writing that is.
I’d already drafted this post when Charli set her flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story about self-care, which chimes perfectly with my theme. Here’s what I made of it as I lay in bed this morning:
I made a mountain
I made a mountain. They could not knock it down. But they did not join me on the zigzag path through meadow, woods and moorland to the craggy top. Instead, they dragged me to molehill, had me admire its contours, the texture of its soil. They bathed it in sunshine, cloaked my hill in mist. The only mountains they’d acknowledge were the Everests that pierced the cloud.
I fought through fog to find my mountain, and walked alone along its trails. Birds sang, flowers bloomed, rock glistened in the damp air. I made a mountain. I made it mine.