I was brought up with two schools of thought around the premise of needing help. My mother always told me, you only have to ask, whereas my grandmother, Nan, always maintained you shouldn’t ask. But she expected people to know when she needed help. And took great umbrage when it wasn’t offered. She was a strong presences in our lives. It was a minefield. Consequently I was a very confused kid; dithering about what to do when things were wrong, when I needed something sorted out. I knew what Mum said. But I also knew what a hard life she had as well: working full time, long hours, as a winder in a cotton mill, a demanding husband, a difficult mother. She always looked harassed – she didn’t ask for help. So, I didn’t. I sorted things out for myself. After all, would throwing myself around in a dramatic fashion, prostrating myself, horizontal with grief, when bad stuff happened, have helped? probably not. But there were times when I should have asked.
Like the times I was in trouble at school (this happened a lot; I was both a chatterer and a giggler). And once, sin of all sins in that school, I lost a library book. We had the most awful head teacher, Mr Clayton, who delighted in the Friday ‘line-up when the week’s miscreants were made to stand in front of the top class while he listed our crimes and were laughed at by the superior eleven year olds. There was one poor boy who always seemed to be there at the same time as me; Peter Woodhead.. Mr Clayton would rap him on the head with his knuckles, declaring “ Woodhead by name and woodhead by nature.(Not a nice man – I killed him off in a story years ago). I didn’t mention my losing the book at home; it took quite a few weeks’ pocket money to pay for it.
I digress – and ramble. To continue with my tales of woes; I should have asked for help from my parents when the swimming teacher insisted I go in a race at a local gala when I knew I couldn’t even swim a length (now that’s another whole different story of humiliation and near drowning!).
I should have asked someone to help when I was upset when Mum and Dad quarrelled, which they did frequently? From whom though? Nan? Not really, she loved a good row.
Worse still, I seemed to spend my time watching those around me – my family – to see if anything was the matter, if anyone was expecting me to pick up on ‘things gone wrong’. Over the years I became a dab hand at it – ready to jump in with a quick solution, a helping hand (even when it wasn’t needed or wanted!)
Don’t get me wrong here, these were the ‘bad’ times that stuck in my head. Even though i remember a a thousand and one other trivial anxieties when I could have asked for help and didn’t, I also remember the long days and summer months of freedom, when, together with our dog, we were allowed out to wander and play all day in the surrounding filed and playgrounds, with a jam butty and a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock.
Stick with me, there is a point to all this stuff.
Then I was married and had a family – husband and children asked when they needed help. And I realised I didn’t need to be on ‘full alert’ all the time. I learned to judge when I could stand back, when I should offer.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this – something all writers must battle with when connecting with other authors. Supporting one another in our writing world.
A few weeks ago I received an email. This from someone I was friends with in the real world. The gist was that she was disappointed in me: as an established author (yes, that’s me – not J K Rowland, not Pat Barker, not Sarah Waters…. me, the author of three books (fourth on its way in July – little plug there!) and contributor of a few anthologies). I hadn’t helped, supported her, a ‘newbie’, when her first book was published. I hadn’t offered to promote it, I hadn’t given her any tips on self promotion, I hadn’t bought it, read it, reviewed it. In other words, her email was a rant. I didn’t know how to respond; there’d been a good reason I’d missed the book coming out; other things were going on at the time. Then I completely reverted to type – and apologised – and asked what I could do to help. To be met with a stony silence It was only when a couple of close friends told me not to be so stupid that I stopped offering. My ‘friend’ has ‘unfriended me’ in more ways than one!
This is not a rant. And I’m not looking for sympathy here. This rambling epic is a roundabout way of asking how much and in what way should writers support one another? And how they ask for help when needed? And, strangely enough as I wrote this post I read a blog by https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/ who, in turn was reposting the hilarious tongue in cheek blog of http://nicholasrossis.me/2015/04/28/measuring-time/
So, all in all, I suppose what I am I’m saying is, when we want or need help in this complex and seething mass of indecision and anxieties that is our writing world, we should ask… we may or may not be given the answer we’d like from one (busy and time stretched writer) but there are plenty more authors/ bloggers around who might just have a spare couple of minutes. Or an hour. Or a week.
What say you?