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Rejected by publishers, trumped by seagulls? time to go on the razzle

16 April 2005

12:00 AM

16 April 2005

12:00 AM

Last week was dedicated to boosting morale. Having had my novel rejected no fewer than eight times in a fortnight, I have screwed the lid back on my pen until such time as I feel galvanised into a second assault. For now, it’s all about reviving my flagging spirits.

First up, an attempt to make another kind of valuable contribution to society: I took myself off to the Blood Donor Centre on Margaret Street in the hope that dishing out a pint of my O-positive would make me feel a little less O-negative. But hang it all, even my blood was rejected. According to the nice young man I was short on iron. We both watched anxiously as a drop of blood, squeezed from my index finger, failed to sink after being dropped into a capsule of blue liquid. The nice young man then stuck a needle into my arm and withdrew a syringeful of the red stuff, which he fed into a little machine like a calculator. This, I was told, would make a more accurate assessment of iron content. Perhaps I was anaemic, I thought to myself as the machine took a moment to digest. Perhaps I was in fact too weak to write a decent book…. The machine squeaked its result and the young man told me I had failed by one measly point — not enough for sympathy (or free tea and biscuits) but enough to disqualify me from donation. Foiled again.

Later on, I decided to try a more traditional way of cheering myself up, and went out on the razzle. Now, I am as disgusted as the next person by the concept of binge-drinking, so imagine my surprise when I awoke the following morning face-down on my bed, fully clothed, my house keys clutched in one hand and my handbag in the other. How unladylike. Examining my moss-green tongue in the bathroom mirror, I pieced together the previous evening: a visit to my local pub, followed by dinner at a friend’s house. It seemed a mild enough itinerary. So what had gone wrong? Apparently I had been too committed to drowning my sorrows — I couldn’t even remember whether I’d succeeded or not. There had been shouting and up-ending of bottles, certainly, but for a full recap I would have to telephone my host. ‘Urgh,’ came his feeble voice down the line, ‘I feel sick.’ And so it goes.

Whatever time I go to bed I am woken at dawn by my new upstairs neighbours. I live on the top two floors of a house which backs on to the Grand Union Canal, and I sleep up in the loft. A gang of seagulls have taken to eating their breakfast on the flat lead roof above my head. Rat-a-tat-tat go their beaks on the ceiling. Peck-peck-peck, thud, scuffle. Inevitably they fall into an argument, and voices are raised. Moments later I myself rise, shouting, from the bed, and beat the ceiling with my fists. This doesn’t deter them in the least — after a second’s pause the bickering continues. Given that I chose to live on the top floor in order to avoid noisy overhead neighbours, I have been neatly trumped.

The canal and the little park beside it have come to life in the past week. Geese honk flirtily and flap at the water; mallards swoop up and down (two drakes often in pursuit of just one lucky duck); a moorhen has built a huge colourful nest using crisp packets and chocolate bar wrappers as well as the usual sticks and bits of grass, and the skateboarders have come out of hibernation to rattle-clunk around the outdoor skatepark all day. I love the skatepark. It is essentially a swimming pool emptied of water, and filled every day with skateboarders and BMX riders of all ages and backgrounds. They are well behaved and dedicated — I saw two teenage boys there one morning at eight, using their T-shirts to dry the rain off the inside of the bowl.

The next thing to gladden my heart was lunch at the Ritz in honour of my sister’s and my father’s birthdays. My younger brother (who lives in Bristol) arrived at my flat the evening before, to stay the night. ‘Now Harry,’ I said over breakfast the following morning, ‘you haven’t forgotten there’s a dress code at the Ritz, have you? No denim, no sneakers, a jacket and a tie.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ replied Harry in a bored tone, ‘I’ve got a suit. I just need to buy some shoes and a tie. I thought I’d get them in a charity shop.’ I thought this unlikely. Harry’s feet are size 12, and it was getting on for midday already.

‘And what,’ I inquired, when we had borrowed shoes and a tie from the tallest and most dapper of my male friends, ‘are you giving our esteemed father and sister for their birthdays?’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Harry, ‘I just need to buy them their presents. I thought I’d get them….’ I didn’t wait to hear the end of the sentence, but steered him bossily towards the nearest boutique.

To continue the upspike in morale, I motored to Wales to stay with my friend Molly. She has a cottage and two horses, and I sometimes feel there’s not much more I require from life. We tormented ourselves with romantic films, discussed boys we’d kissed (‘like having my head held underwater’ was the verdict on one poor soul), ate a lot of chocolate Hob-Nobs and watched the Royal Blessing. ‘What on earth is he/she doing there?’ was our most frequent exclamation. The commentary plumbed new depths: ‘What bride in the world wouldn’t want her wedding day to go perfectly?’ droned Piers Morgan. Too frightened to watch the service in case someone made a cock-up, I only emerged from behind the sofa in time for the Grand National. It never fails to make me blub. I smoked anxiously through both laps, my legs twitching before every fence.

It was here in Wales that I remembered the best and simplest way of cheering myself up. It won’t work for everyone, but I can recommend it to the shallow-minded (who are easily pleased, like me) and the able-bodied. Find a tall, steep hill — large enough to have heather on top, but not so large as to have snow. A Brecon Beacon is the perfect size. Walk briskly up the hill to the very top. The climb must be punishing enough to make the throat hurt and the legs go wobbly. Stand on top of the hill in a blasting wind. Gaze at the view — it should be at least ten miles in every direction. Lie on the yellow moss and the jade-coloured lichen for a while. Get up and face the gale again. Repeat until thoroughly rinsed out by the wind. Run down to the bottom for tea and cake.

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