When I was seventeen, I wrote a novel. It’s not like it got published or anything, and I cringe when I think of it now. Still, I recognise that it was an achievement just to finish writing the whole thing.
A friend of mine liked it a lot, and got his aunt, a fairly well-known journalist in Belfast, to take a look at it. I met her for coffee one Saturday when I was eighteen, and a while later, she sent me a letter about the book. I found the letter this summer while I was going through the boxes of clutter saved from my teenage years. It was a kind letter. She began by highlighting the parts of the book she liked best. Then she suggested I take the rest with a large dose of salt, and acknowledged her own potential biases, before going on to discuss the parts that could have done with more work, the characters who didn’t feel developed enough. She was absolutely right.
Unfortunately, I think I was too busy being eighteen to do anything other than react defensively. I don’t remember properly, but I’m fairly sure I wrote back to explain that no, actually, this character wasn’t the way she had been interpreted, and that there was a reason why that scene featured so little description, and so on and so forth. Of course, the point I had completely failed to grasp was that potential readers of the book, in the absence of a personal letter from me, would likely draw the same conclusions that my friend’s aunt had. (As soon as I found her letter this summer, I wrote to her to apologise and to thank her for the time she spent on my work, not knowing whether the letter would reach her. As it turns out, we’ll meet up when I’m over at Christmas.)
I mention this now because #168 seemed to have a similar thing going on. At nineteen, he had written, produced and acted in a Fringe play. It wasn’t a bad play; I had quite enjoyed it, and I was impressed at the risks he took onstage. But it was overly earnest and it tried too hard to be profound, and, since I’d gotten to know him, I was relieved that I wasn’t reviewing it. Instead, I sat with him in the VIP bar and listened quietly to his theory that the critics “just didn’t get it”. No, honey, they got it, I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to actually say it.
We’d already stayed up late at my place one night listening to Johnny Cash and Lynched, and I’d had the impression that maybe stuff was supposed to happen, but my brain had been too fried. This time, though, I think I made out with him when the fire alarm went off and everybody had to leave. Besides my pleasant Californian couchsurfer, I had another house guest whose company I was finding a little grating, so I opted to go home with #168 and share his single bed instead. I don’t think we saw each other again after that.