Don’t get me wrong, my parents did a fantastic job of raising me and my siblings. But now that I’m trying to make it the world of writing, they have a lot to answer for. Yes, they encouraged me to read. Yes, they supported me in the choices I made – and still do – but every choice I make is conditioned by the words that surrounded me when I was a child.
My family were fond of the pithy phrase. We grew up shaped by words – a collection of rules to live by, put downs and rallying cries. A neighbour was too slow to carry cold dinners another going so fast he’ll meet himself coming back, a third all fur coat and no knickers. Holes in our socks were greeted with a cheery you’ll never fall while your feet can see and any ideas of spending beyond cautious limits were cut off with an admonition to wind your neck in.
And here’s my issue – amongst these lovely phrases are ones that hold me back. The wind your neck in still has me gasping in horror at my niece’s suggestion that I should buy her a Christmas gift from Selfridges. I see the bright yellow bags and instantly make a value judgement on the shopper with more money than sense.
The killer for me is the rule that you mustn’t get too big for your boots. Along with a strong sense of knowing your place, it carries the message that it’s wrong to think you’re better than others. It’s wrong to think you’re special, and it’s wrong to wave a flag and say ‘hey, look at me, see what I’ve done’. That’s why I struggle to promote myself and my writing. The world of social media seems like a great big shouting match of ‘Me! Me! Me!’. Pitching is painful, submitting a trial, and although I know it’s never going to happen, there persists a crazy notion that good work will be miraculously spotted and quietly rewarded.
These phrases have become part of my DNA. They are what I am, but I don’t have to accept to be bound by all of them – I have inherited short sight, but I choose to wear glasses. There’s one phrase that I can call on to help – getting too big for your boots might be a terrible crime, but it’s also foolish to be backward at coming forward.
That, then, is what I need to do – stop worrying about the boots and start putting myself forward.
Wish me luck.