Do you ever find yourself fighting against the tide of self-doubt? I’m pretty sure its something most writers suffer now and again – even those who seem eternally buoyant with the combined self-marketing prowess of Walt Disney, Katie Price and Jedward. In the current publishing climate, it’s not enough to write well. It’s also essential to believe in yourself with evangelical conviction. I am forever locked in a mental battle between wanting to embrace the delightfully pretentious single-mindedness of the tortured aka penniless artist, and needing to press on with maniacal commercial drive and ‘just earn, goddamn you!’ It can be exhausting – all this ego, all this self-belief – and so easy to lose yourself.
Then something comes along which acts as a metaphorical hand to pick you up and brush you down and set you on your way again. This can come in the form of some sound advice, a blowout with friends, or a reminder of why you wanted to write stories in the first place.
For me, the reminder came recently in the form of a beautiful tattoo design created for me by the artist Su Haddrell*. Su had very kindly agreed to piece together my random thoughts about the kind of image I wanted – a scarlet fairy to reflect my love of fae imagery and stories since very young (an obsession now carried on by my daughter ‘Scarlet’), art deco styling and incorporating 1920s’ flapper fashion. These latter two elements were in homage to a period I love stylistically and also to my nana, Doreen Roberts. A ballerina who travelled throughout Europe with a troupe in the twenties, Doreen instilled in me a love of theatre and all kinds of artistic expression. As a child I was enthralled by her tales – of watching fairies in the woods with her grandfather. Of dancing The Firebird and accidentally stepping onto the burning coals that edged a trapdoor. Of doing loop-the-loops in a two man biplane on her 21st birthday. Of hiding under a stationary train with her three young children in a bid to escape Nazi machine gun fire, and of making their escape from Paris to Calais on foot. Of violinist boyfriends and costumes and ballet shoes and panstick and curtains down. So many wonderful stories. So much fodder for a young girl’s imagination.
I look at my own stories now about gothic fantasies, rock star gods, flying circuses, puppeteers, and time travelling Vaudeville theatres and see so much influence. Last week, seeing Su’s tattoo design for the first time, I was reminded that often we are peeling back the layers of ourselves when we write. Here is a scrap from a great aunt, here a stitch from a lost mother, here the eccentricities of a grandfather.
Acknowledging the debt that I owe to my grandmother does not stem the self-doubt, but it does remind me that I am proud of the weird tapestry of stories that have evolved from her influence. And that helps me to believe in the weird tapestry of me and continue putting pen to paper.
* Su Haddrell accepts commissions for tattoo design and artwork. She can be contacted on Twitter via www.twitter.com/@CherryBomb1618 and Facebook at – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Su-Haddrell-Artworks/369025237779