Since The Class Ceiling was published, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot by people who know me is ‘Will I recognise anyone?’ Or in a more quivery voice, ‘Will I recognise myself?’
The truth is the characters in all my books start with a whisper of someone I know. A messy house, a turn of phrase, a funny little obsession, an idiosyncrasy of some sort. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’ve absorbed and retold a story that someone has mentioned in passing. (Note to friends: I am NOT the person to tell about your affairs, haemorrhoids or secret nudist holidays.) But while I’m sure that many readers might recognise a certain ‘type’ of person, it’s highly unlikely they will recognise themselves even if I’d copied them on to the page, personality trait by personality trait.
And how can I be so certain? Because we rarely see ourselves as other people see us.
Unfortunately I know this first hand. I am scarred for life from announcing to a group of my close friends, ‘I think I am very easygoing.’ There was a pause. Then that face that people pull when they’re trying to understand someone foreign. Then laughter so loud it made the cutlery rattle. That was about twenty years ago and they’ve never let me forget it. While I was seeing myself as a jolly, conciliatory, live and let live, anything goes model of laissez-fairedom, my friends were seeing me as an uptight, demanding bulldozer of a woman, rooting her feet as deeply as dandelions with her ‘my way or the highway’ approach to life.
|'I'm very easygoing, I am'|
(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
It’s one of the great conundrums of the human condition that our view of ourselves is so divorced from the vision that others have of us. Let’s take someone afflicted with that most unattractive trait of meanness. Do they look in the mirror and think I truly am the tightest wad that I know, the most clenched together duck’s behind of the entire animal kingdom? No. I swear they are clapping themselves on the back, applauding their lack of truck with fripperies and frivolities. Not for them the superficial life of splashing out on new mugs when the chipped ones haven’t yet cracked in half. Why offer to buy someone a coffee when caffeine is so bad for one’s health? Why be first to the bar when they’re only having one pint because they’re driving? They’re doing everyone a favour – they don’t want the others to feel they haven’t paid their way.
Or arrogant bores with more opinions than manners? Do they regret monopolizing the conversation, barely pausing for breath while their audience slowly slumped to the ground, eyes rolling back into their heads, searching around for a stray fork to jab into a buttock to shock themselves awake? No. They’re probably wishing they’d clung onto the microphone a bit more, educating the great unwashed on the solution to the Eurozone crisis, the reform of the benefits system, the superiority of the latest Range Rover over some fiddle-faddling fast car. Giving themselves a pat on the back for being the most knowledgeable person in the room, struggling to fit in with a bunch of ill-informed losers, who, inexplicably, seemed far more interested in dashing off to get another glass of that dreadful wine just as they were getting to the crux of the matter.
Or bloggers whose wit is so exceptional, so acerbic, so sophisticated that they would be doing the world a disservice if they kept all that cleverness tucked inside their own heads rather than allowing it to roam gaily about on the internet for all to enjoy.
Oh. Oh dear.