Tuesday, 18 December 2007


I have a really bad memory. Or, for a more positive spin, I could say my memory is very selective. I don’t forget people’s names. But I do forget what my mind, of its own accord, seems to consider trivial. And I’m not proud of this fact.

I recently walked into my mother’s house and picked up an ornament.
“Oh, that’s nice!” I said.
“Don’t you recognise it?” she asked.
“You gave it to me for my birthday!”

That’s one example of how embarrassing a 'selective' memory can be. Another is that I had absolutely no recollection of organising the graduation ball at the end of my BA course. Years later, a friend brought it up, remembering every detail. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It seems gifts and occasions stand little chance of being filed in my brain. But I thought I was better with the BIG STUFF.

I used to write weekly art reviews for a London listings magazine. Because they aren't recent, and obviously aren’t fiction, I decided not to include these credits in my query/cover letter to agents. If I could have dropped them in elegantly -- then maybe. But there was really no connection.

Until yesterday!

When out of the blue, I suddenly remembered with complete clarity, an event that had inspired the main character in my novel. (She's a teenage journalist.)

I would usually suggest to my editor the exhibitions I wanted to review. But sometimes, she would assign me. On this occasion, and for the first time ever, I had to review both a lavish coffee-table tome, published by Thames & Hudson, and its tie-in exhibition.

Off I went to the press viewing, toting the tome. While the book was glossy, its content was predictable, and the exhibition -- mediocre. I started to feel anxious. The book AND exhibition were the work of a very grand man; highly regarded in his field. How on earth could I write about this when I couldn't praise it? What slant should I take?

Then it got worse.

The very grand man was there, in a side room, and wished to meet the press. Six of us shuffled in, and sat on plastic chairs. He sat before us, a copy of the tome plonked on the table in front of him. A female assistant, who never spoke, hovered nervously behind. The very grand man didn’t smile or chat about the book. He just sat there, looking stern. I started to shake. I felt like a ten-year-old, in the office of an angry Edwardian headmaster.

A couple of brave souls asked a couple of questions, which received condescending replies. One stood up, and began flicking through the tome. We all followed. It was a relief to simply move. The One made small talk while drifting towards the door. Two minutes later, all six of us escaped from the room. The only words I had said to the very grand man: "Thank you."

I did manage to write the review, quaking. Then, somewhere subconscious, it inspired a novel. And once the novel was written, the memory returned. Amazing!

I think my writing credits can now slot in quite nicely. But much more succinctly than this!!!


john said...

Maybe you block out situations that made you anxious. But that wouldn’t account for your mother’s present - would it?

Mary said...

You make a good point, John. And I LOVE giving presents to my Mum. I think the problem is I’m always thinking about the next thing; the future is more interesting than the past!

P.S. Thank you for the lovely card!!!