I was listening to Davina McCall be interviewed by Steve Bartlett on the Diary of a CEO Podcast earlier this month. One of the most interesting things she said (among many others) is that a key component of her success has been quite simple: sending emails. Just ask, ask, and ask again. She got hold of the phone numbers of several MTV bosses in her twenties and kept sending them TV-presenter audition tapes. Three times a year for multiple years. Her polite but persistent badgering ensued, with multiple rejections, until one day one of them employed her (perhaps for a bit of peace and quiet).
I was delighted. Was it that easy? Just asking constantly with nothing to lose? “You’ve got to go and get the opportunities,” Davina said. “They never come to you.”
(Which isn’t strictly true, as I was offered this Wymondham Magazine post five years ago when a Kett’s Books staff member bombarded me in the street outside a hairdresser’s and said, “do you want the job?” But I digress.)
Cut to a week later: I’m in a member’s club in Edinburgh called ‘The New Club’. On my normal budget, I wouldn’t be seen within a mile of the place, but I’ve been very kindly invited there by my flatmate’s cousin (whose theatre show I reviewed during the Fringe). There we all are in our black-tie outfits, looking out over the panoramic view of the Princes Street gardens, rocky cliffs and castles above. At the end of the evening, we’re sitting opposite a gentleman who appears to have had a few drinks.
(When I asked him his name, he said, “why on Earth do you want to know that? It doesn’t matter.”)
He gets chatting, and he reveals to us that he has recently been commissioning people to write ghost stories. He feels that ghost fiction is lacking in recent times and that many stories aren’t truly ‘terrifying’ anymore. In the spirit of Davina, I say, “I can email you one!” He gives me his email and I promise him I shall write one up.
I go home full of confidence. I feel I have done the Davina-esque entrepreneurial spirit justice. I sit down to draft and plan this thing.
Roughly 700 words later (the length of this column), I felt unemployable. It was drivel. I remembered the scene in Derry Girls where the group have spent the summer making a film about the Troubles, and after viewing the unfortunate footage, Michelle announces, “We need to face the fact that we’ve spent the summer making something that’s really quite s***e.” Except I’d managed it in an afternoon.
(Speaking of Derry Girls, it’s a phenomenal show – perfect for the current Wymondhammers revising for exams! Watch it during revision breaks.)
The tipsy gentleman had specified that the story should be “a ghost story” and “terrifying” – and my first 700 words had achieved neither category. I had tried to tie in some symbolism about the rise of artificial intelligence…and I had so far neglected to mention any ghosts.
My experience writing Lowe Downs tells me that if you stare at a blank Word document for long enough, the initial drivel eventually turns into something publishable – so I am still in the process of trying to transform the 700 words into something I can email him with a straight face.
Regardless, I chose to write this down because I think it’s emblematic of November in general. We can all feel a bit Michelle-like in November. In fact, it’s the quintessential Michelle month: the dull period before the delight that it is December.
Most importantly, adults with far more important responsibilities than me must have these soul-destroying moments quite frequently – and they just carry on. Their job isn’t to write fiction, but to care for people, or teach the new generation – and they do it regardless of the month. My empathy especially extends to the Wymondham students and teachers with the pre-Christmas mock exam stress. (Remember, the keyword is ‘mock’! You’ll all be grand.)
Here's to these heroes who persevere at all times, whether they feel like Michelle or James. (And if any of them know anything about writing horror, I take my hat off to them!)