Being a writer means I come into contact with a wide variety of people. That used to surprise me, as I always thought of writing as a solitary profession and, in many ways, it is. In order to get words down for your next story, you need to actually sit down at your desk (or sofa, or chaise lounge, or deck chair) and put words down in a coherent and literate manner.
That often precludes you from socialising, or so I thought. Instead, I’ve had a lot of encounters over the past few years; the woman who thought my first ever published book was blasphemous and that she needed to complain to the Daily Telegraph about it (feel free; I could do with the publicity), or the shop assistant in a well-known supermarket who accepted the photo in the back of my book as proof of ID when trying to buy a bottle of something suitable only for people over a certain age.
Or, indeed, the time when someone told me that they’ve never met anyone famous before (you still haven’t, I wanted to reply) and asked me to sign their body wherever I wanted, as they didn’t have a piece of paper with them. I was almost tempted by that one, just for the laugh.
I was once asked what I did all day to come up with all these “convoluted words” I’d put into my books. Replying “I spend most of it eating chocolate truffles, sniffing cocaine, and mocking the working classes” got me a nervous laugh and a quick excuse to leave. Still, it got me out of a conversation that I didn’t really want to be having, so making up two lies out of three examples was a necessary evil.
In a school once, a teacher asked me, “How do you get your ideas?” I was fascinated by that one, because it never occurred to me – I genuinely never gave it a thought – that some people might not get ideas regularly, or that they might feel that they need to be in a particular frame of mind in order to channel their ideas. I was stumped by this one in the heat of the moment, and it was only later that I went back to them and said, “How do you not get any ideas?” I didn’t realise at the time that Isaac Asimov had got there first with that response, but I was amazed at the fact that an English teacher wanted to know that as the first question in the Q&A. I eventually ended up talking about creativity to the class that same day, so I hope some of that filtered through to the young people I got to meet.
I enjoy meeting people, I really do, but I’m honestly amazed when people want to learn about my work, or ask my opinion on something. I always expect people to find out that I’m failure in some way, but the longer that I’m asked questions, the longer I’ll keep taking the odd with the sensible. It just means that people are interested enough to take the time to chat.