Listen, Drongo, You Are Not Elizabeth Gilbert and You Never Will Be

Writers Week (7-12 March) was part of the 2014 New Zealand Festival in Wellington (21 Feb- 16 March).  

I attended some seminars from the Writers Week, one of which was Life After Eat, Pray, Love [EPL] with Elizabeth Gilbert [EG]. EG said she vowed as a young woman to be published and was not at all deterred by SIX YEARS of rejections.

Her recent novel – The Signature of All Things – is about women and botanical exploration in the 19th century and quite a departure from EPL, so good for her.

It’s catty I know but EPL did not appeal to me (I mean the style) but I read the first third in the hope of divining why the book was so successful or to be more honest, in hope of generating osmosis which would better my own efforts.

I often read books solely for this very purpose.

Somewhat perversely I made a list recently of my favourite authors and it transpires they are all boys:

David Sedaris / Augusten Burroughs /  Bill Bryson / Clive James / AA Gill / Alan Bennett / Dave Barry / PJ O’Rourke / Alain de Botton / Nick Hornby / Tony Parsons / Jon Ronson / Roger Lewis / Adam Carolla / Danny Wallace

= 8 Poms, 6 Yanks, 1 Aussie (and a partridge….).

It’s the humour and voice that keeps me coming back.

I did quite a lot of research about gender and humour as part of my recent master’s degree [some reports on this site] because why are there so few funny females compared to men?

It is not as if humour has been closed off to women in the way that perhaps politics, medicine, science, computing and engineering might have been.

And while we’re at it, why are women so little featured in the realm of fashion design and haute cuisine?

But back to EG – she was extremely charming, witty, modest and attractive and – I can’t help myself – really was inspirational.


There was a Q&A and I was doing a bit of praying of my own, hoping no would-be writer in the audience would bring up their own book.

But no.

But yes.

And even though the event took place in a huge picture theatre, that particular selfish girl git was sitting right next to me.

I leaned as far away as possible without actually sitting in the lap of the stranger on my other side.

This stupid, dopey cow (SDC) wanted EG to tell her how soon SDC should send out what was the first draft (to literary agents/publishers) of her book which all SDC’s friends and family naturally said was marvellous (you don’t say!).

I wanted to punch her.

I thought, how arrogant, self-centred and plain limelight-hogging to come along to such an event with the purpose of expecting EG to comment on a book she had never seen.

It’s people like SDC that are trashing up the internet with their rot and thereby making publishing harder for everyone.

Sorry, but putting 80,000 words down on paper does not make you a writer!

I used to make pretty great stink bombs with my chemistry set but that doesn’t make me Marie Curie.

I have been saying for some time that writing cannot be taught – unless you are already a born writer.

And what I mean by that is whilst EG had lots of rejection (as did JK Rowling and EL James), she was actually someone who was always going to become a successful author.

How can we tell which group we are in?

I believe it comes down to self-awareness.

The best people are 100 per cent self-aware, ie, are always conscious of how their words and actions affect others – and they are the ones able to critique their own work – and accept truth from others.

Next time I will present the worst review ever written – and it was written to me about my Maldives memoir (but I took it like a man).

They say all publicity is good and this was so bad it should do me some good (!).

PS My internal outraged pussy is still hovering re the likes of Caitlin Moran, Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling; but here’s some nice advertising for one of them… [yes, I’m jealous].


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