Smug as a smuggler

In Current Affairs
July 17, 2006

So, I won that award. After which I was naturally so excited that I had to go and lie down in a darkened room for six weeks, which explains the prolonged lack of content. Or not. Actually, I went away to work on The New Book (TM) and to try to ignore the voices in my head saying “it’ll never be as good as the first one, you know, never ever ever”. (This answers the question I got asked at a reading the other day: “Do you ever doubt yourself?” At the time I and the other writers involved answered with a peal of hollow, desolate laughter.)

I suppose, since this is nominally a blog about being a new writer, I ought to say what it’s like to win an award. The answer of course is that it’s wonderful. Beyond wonderful. It’s like the day the boy you really like finally asks if you fancy going to the pictures, or when you get a call from the job you wanted but were woefully underqualified for, to ask if you can start on Thursday.

There were a lot of very glamorous media types there, compared to whom all the authors looked a bit bewildered and intimidated. Or perhaps that was just how I felt. I must have shaken hands with 50 people, many of whom I recognised by name but not face, which is an unusual kind of fame these days, I think. 150 years ago most people would have been hard-pressed to recognise Queen Victoria – today it’s easy to recognise celebritites, but hard to work out where you recognise them <i>from</i>. At the Orange party, though, I kept being introduced to people I didn’t recognise at all whose hands I shook while mentally processing the name and finally coming up with “oh! you wrote that wonderful book about…” Fortunately, I don’t think I accused anyone of writing the wrong book.

I read a strange article a couple of days after the Orange party complaining that the invitations weren’t very environmentally friendly (they were orange perspex squares) and what was she supposed to do with hers? I don’t know about that journalist, but personally I gathered up half a dozen and intend to use them as coasters. “Oh, that? Yes, that’s the invitation from the night I won that prize. No, no, it was nothing really.” Not that I’m feeling smug, no no.

In any case, the thing that I was actually intending to write about but seem to have completely ignored was this. It is an article which made me very angry for reasons which have been plastered all over the blogosphere so I scarcely need to repeat them. Except (yeah, OK, so maybe I do need to repeat one or two) that it seemed to me to suffer from the Brokeback Mountain problem.

I may be the only person in the Western World not to have liked Brokeback Mountain. And I’d agree it was well-acted, well-shot, well-written and well-directed. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in particular was exquisite. But the intensity of misery was far too much for me. I thought that a lot of people would have come out of that movie thinking “oh, poor gay people, how horrible life is for them, I really do feel sorry for them.” Which is of course patronising, not to mention grossly inaccurate.

Of course, Brokeback was a piece of fiction – it couldn’t be expected to “represent both sides” by showing some happy gay men having a great time. That would have been leaden and dreadful. But that Guardian article is a piece of journalism not fiction. It could have thought around the issues. It might have demonstrated insight and thougtfulness. But instead it said, essentially “oh, poor fat people, how horrible life is for them.”

Does this journalist not know any fat people? Doesn’t she have any fat friends, or colleagues, or relatives? (Perhaps she doesn’t. Perhaps she should write about why that is.) Doesn’t she have anyone to tell her that fat people often have fun, exciting, interesting lives? Some of us even win literary awards, you know.

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