Advice for Authors from a Temporary Invalid

1st September 2015

The last couple of weeks have been difficult because I've been ill. I'm never ill. I get one cold a year if I'm unlucky, and don't catch the bugs and viruses that from time to time are said to be 'going round'. So to have a raging sore throat, hacking cough and feel utterly exhausted, has thrown me into something of a panic, especially since it's happened twice in the last month. When I think back, I realise I've not had my usual energy for a while. So when I finally talked to a doctor about it, and he told me I was over-tired and should rest, I was both dismayed and relieved. Dismayed because how can I rest? I've got so much to do! Relieved because all my life I've longed for someone to say this to me. Well, haven't you? Legitimately to lie on a sofa all day reading books? The last time I did that I was about ten years old.

On reflection, I think the doctor didn't go far enough. He ought to have ordered me at once to a private sanatorium, where I could lie on a white bed, looking wistful and wan, and have a brisk nurse in a starched cap (actually, when did you last see a nurse wearing a cap at all?) bring me small nourishing meals and letters and flowers from kind friends and admirers.

Alternatively, he could have said I must depart at once for Baden-Baden, and lie back on a garden chair in dappled sunshine with other women wearing fur wraps, taking the waters and talking about our children and the servant problem. My servant problem of course is not being able to afford them. I'd certainly have them if I could, problematic or not.

I've been reading too many Agatha Christie novels when I have managed to retire to my sofa. I shall turn instead to the Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Jenny Hartley, which R has been reading while he recuperates from his hospital stay (no wonder I'm tired – I've been the nurse in the starched cap this last fortnight!) and from which he has been reading to me from time to time. I cannot resist reproducing below for the edification of aspirant writers everywhere, his letter to an 'Unknown Correspondent' who wished to submit to the literary magazine he edited, 'All the Year Round'.

Dear Madam

You make an absurd, though common mistake, in supposing that any human creature can help you to be an authoress, if you cannot become one in virtue of your own powers….I know that anyone who can write what is suitable to the requirements of my own journal – for instance – is a person I am heartily glad to discover, and do not very often find. …..I cannot undertake to advise you in the abstract, as I number my unknown correspondents by the hundred. But if you offer me anything for insertion in "All the Year Round", you may be sure that it will be honestly read, and that it will be judged by no test but its own merits and adaptability to those pages.

But I am bound to add that I do not regard successful fiction as a thing to be achieved in "leisure moments".

Faithfully yours

Charles Dickens

Ha! I begin to feel better already. Inspired by CD.