Q. A friend of 30 years moved abroad three years ago. He then was diagnosed with throat cancer but mercifully has now had the all-clear. During his treatment I wrote several supportive emails. In March my sister had a massive stroke and, since her daughters both live abroad, the bulk of support for her fell to me. Since I have had another sister living in a home since 2005, I am understandably feeling rather overwhelmed. I mentioned this to my friend on the back of his jubilant ‘all-clear’ email two months ago and have had no response. I do think it rather odd. Should I make my disappointment known?
— Name withheld, London
A. First, don’t assume disappointment is in order. Perhaps he didn’t read your email all the way through. Did you gush at the beginning of it? Or maybe he wrote a reply and left it in his drafts box by mistake. Find out by emailing ‘I never had a response from you about my own ghastly news so I do hope you’re still making a good recovery?’. It may well emerge that sadly he’s just being selfish and, now that he’s better, has become complacent and doesn’t ‘need’ you any more. Few of us have more than a handful of proper friends, i.e. those we could ring in the middle of the night when despairing. But you shouldn’t write off those whose value turns out to be merely social. Just refile them in second or third division. You can still enjoy their company.
Q. I have written two novels, which have been respectably published, and have accumulated a number of copies, both hardback and paperback, which I’d like to give away to neighbours and acquaintances. I am retired and none of them knows I have written anything. All are very nice, busy people whom this would put in an awkward position: either having to say they hadn’t got round to reading them (the old problem of the unwanted gift, only more so), or that they hadn’t much cared for them. In this age of narcissism, may I assume you think it best to keep candles under bushels? What is your advice in general about trumpet-blowing, however subtly done? (In my younger days, ‘swanking’ was considered the worst of sins.)
— Name and address withheld
A. Swanking is still unacceptable, however it is right to enliven your milieu with the surprise revelation that you are a respectably published novelist. Just say ‘Would you do me a favour and take one of these books away? I’ve got far too many. Please don’t bother reading it yourself but don’t you find a signed book is so useful when you’re put on the spot and have to suddenly give a present? It’s what the Germans call a “Wanderpreis”.’ Once obligation is removed from the equation, curiosity will take over and you may well enlarge your fan base.