I went to a Quiz Night at my Legion. Long story, short – we wound up middle of the board, partly, because I couldn’t recognise Faye Dunaway on the photo round, and partly because the music round consisted, largely, of music we knew but couldn’t name. However, we did have a supper of cheese, pâté and a vast amount of bread. It was pretty terrific.

Now, somewhere round the middle of the Quiz, we had a break. I scuttled over to the bar because – obviously. It’s what I do. The Guinness doesn’t drink itself. Luckily.

Anywho, while I was standing at the bar, making small talk with the barmaid and waiting for my drink to settle, a chap I know enough to say ‘hello’ to wandered over, took me to one side and said that he’d read my first book.

I thanked him – which is the right thing to do. It might seem counter-intuitive because – surely I should wait until he says he liked it, right?

Not so. The man bought the damn thing and bothered to open it. That, though seemingly small, is a success.

So, thanks given, he told me that, even in the first few pages, he felt I had such a gift for description that he had no business entertaining the notion of writing something himself sometime.

I promise, I am not posting this so we can all think I’m brilliant. At least, not until the next paragraph. You ready? Here we go…

I shook my head and told him that he must write. If he had something to say, someone would want, or even need, to hear it. Even if he only does it for himself, if the need is there, it shouldn’t be suppressed. He must write. Authors can’t and shouldn’t compare themselves to each other. It’s not a competition. I wouldn’t turn down Jeffrey Archer’s money, but I couldn’t begin to write like him. Or do much of anything else like him.
All of us see things differently.

But I extend my Guinness-soaked advice to all the writers out there: you must write.

He walked away chuffed, and my Guinness was the right shape when I wandered back to my table.

So, there you have it, writers: A writer’s voice is special and individual. Admiration of others is lovely and, when you’re on the receiving end, is always nice to hear, but sounding like yourself is vital. It’s what speaks to a reader.

Conversely, the next day, I was working behind the bar, and a chap who I know has written a couple of books came in. He saw my proof copy of ‘Other People’s Granddads’ sitting on the bar, waiting for someone to flip it open and find a world of fellas, and he frowned.

“Did you write this?” He asked me.

“I typed it,” I replied. “The fellas told the stories. I wrote them down.”

He threw his hands up. “As if I need the competition!”

A few heads turned. There was a dreadful silence. An embarrassed – thankfully momentary – silence.

I did a very similar speech to the night before – although, arguably, with slightly more alarmed eyebrows – and once he’d calmed down, he forced on a smile and assured the rest of the crowd that he wished me nothing but the best. To give him his due, he back-pedalled as hard as he could and I thanked him, but it was really rather awkward.

Two main points to this post:

1) It’s not a competition. It’s more important to walk your own path than worry too much about what anyone else is doing.

2) If you’re going to stomp around like an angry toddler, make sure your readership isn’t watching.

All right, then. Carry on.