I still find it hard to say aloud, I'm an aspiring writer. It sounds so pretentious. I keep trying different ways of saying it - 'I'm trying to write a novel', 'I've always wanted to be an author', 'I'd like to write a book one day' - I don't feel comfortable with any of it. In fact, I think it might be easier to confess to being a naturist. (No, I'm not.)
For a start, people look at you as if you're a strange beast. They clearly don't know how to react. It's so much easier to tell them I'm a teacher, and there's so much I can say about that, none of which transgresses into the highly personal or intimate. Writing fiction isn't like that. You invest a lot of yourself in a story or novel: it does make you feel vulnerable and unmasked.
And then there's the gentle questions. I don't blame them, and maybe they're only trying to be polite and show an interest anyway. When a practical, no-nonsense mother asked me in the school playground how I'd got on at the publishing event I'd gone to, I was quite stumped how to answer. I could see that any in depth answer would bore her; I had the unnerving feeling that any talk that strayed too far into the creative realm would be viewed as if I'd admitted to an alien abduction. So I mumbled a half-hearted, 'It was good, thanks,' and fudged a change of subject. No doubt she thinks I'm socially inept, or a monosyllabic moron. Oh, well. Maybe that's better than her thinking I'm a deluded aspiring writer.
On holiday with the in-laws, I felt equally self-conscious, setting up my sister-in-law's lap top and typing away on it. When my lovely father-in-law passed by on his way to make me a cup of tea, and tried to read over my shoulder, with a patronising, 'What are you writing, anyway?', I slammed the screen closed so fast it trapped my finger. Biting back a howl of pain, I gave a bit of a sheepish grin, and tried to explain the received wisdoms about not sharing plots, or showing drafts that were too tatty. He gave me a look that made it very clear he thought that a/ I was ungrateful about the tea-making service, b/ I was somewhat mentally unhinged and c/ I must be writing something erotic.
I tried to argue with myself that it wouldn't have hurt to let him read over my shoulder (even though I don't ever like people reading over my shoulder). It's not as though I feel superstitious that talking about the plot, or sharing too much might jinx the whole creative flow. But I can't shake the conviction that if I stop for a moment and allow myself to see these early drafts through judgmental eyes, I might stop and never start again. The project might be aborted before it has had chance to grow and breathe and be. I want to protect it from that; I want to nurture it for a while longer, till it's ready, and until I'm ready, too.
And one day, maybe I'll be able to say with a straight face and a sense of pride, 'I'm a writer, you know. Yes, I have had a book published....'