Friday, 3 August 2012

Embarrassing moment

You know how when you embarrass yourself it can just be a really small part of a bigger experience that was mostly positive, but your brain likes to keep reminding you of the bit you feel embarrassed about, rather than the general positive feeling of the whole?

Well, my brain is really attached to an answer I gave at the interview for a Writer In Residence post (I didn't get it) at a secondary school back in May, and every so often, just when I'm minding my own business, my brain likes to throw this memory in my face just to see my face do what can only be described as a grimace. So I've been wondering WHY.

The question was something like:
Suppose you have 2 very different students who we'd like you to recommend books to. The first is a reluctant female reader of 13 years, and the second is an avid reader - male, who is 17. If you had to recommend a book to each of them, which books would you choose?

I immediately felt thrown by this. Not so much by the reluctant 13 year old, but the 17 year old boy who reads loads - I had no idea what to say. I tried to keep my cool, but the pressure increased when one of the interviewers said the last candidate 'had given really great answers'.

I knew the longer I waited to answer the worse it would be. I said I'd recommend 'I Capture The Castle' by Dodie Smith for the girl. I'm okay with that, I think it's a great book full of humour and wonder and it has an engaging female narrator.

But I just couldn't think of something for the boy. Brain went dead. I said, and this bit is all right - I believe this bit is true: I'd suggest the boy reads something out of his comfort zone, and both interviewers smiled and raised their eyebrows in agreement. Good so far. But I still had no idea of a specific book.

I ended up saying, and this is the bit I cringe at: 'Something by Virginia Woolf'.


But WHY. Why is this a moment in my history I feel icky about? There isn't anything wrong with saying a 17 year old boy should have a go at reading Virginia Woolf.

I think I'm unearthing the WHY bit now and maybe I can exorcise it from the Embarrassing Moments Holding Area in my brain. (Just so another one can rise to the surface, surely.) 

It's because I didn't mean it. It's because I haven't read much Virginia Woolf. I keep getting halfway through Mrs Dalloway then I read something else. She is a writer I want to read, I feel in some way that it's important for me to read her. But I have no reason to recommend her. So, I was on shaky ground. If they'd asked me 'Which book?' or - even worse - 'Why?' I would have totally folded.

And, also, it's to do with the fact that I didn't read much when I was 17, beyond magazines and the odd text book for my A-levels. In fact, I didn't read for pleasure until I started writing seriously, when I was about 24. I used to feel odd about this, when I heard other writers talk about how books and stories were such a part of their early lives, I'd feel a bit inferior. I don't now, by the way, it's just a fact.

Oh, so now I've just typed that out - I don't feel inferior - I feel better. This is live therapy!

Thanks, Blogger. In your face, Brain.

I'll get on with my day now. Oh, and I see that the top event in my Embarrassing Moments Holding Area is an old favourite: the time I saw my old (not in years) (and he's very handsome) A-level teacher 10 years after he taught me and accidentally insulted his new (and actually he's very successful and you will all have heard his voice LOADS on TV) career as voice over artist. It must be noted that as I did this, I was serving him a box of popcorn. Eugh ew eugh ah horrible.


Sophie Playle said...

Ahh... I feel your pain! I feel like this so often. But I don't think you should be beating yourself up too much for suggesting Virginia Woolf. It could have gone a lot worse. You could have suggested '50 Shades of Grey', for example. That would have been cringe-worthy!

Teresa Stenson said...

Oh dear, I'm chuckling in public at that, Sophie. Haha. I feel even better now, thanks!

Nora Nadjarian said...

Funny the things we come up with when under pressure... I've been trying to think what I would have answered in a similar situation...And my mind has also gone blank. I love your blog Teresa, even though I'm often too lazy or busy to comment...

Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Nora - Glad to hear your mind went blank too! Well, you know... Thanks for saying hello - it's lovely to hear you like the blog. Have a splendid weekend.

Miss McFish said...

Oh Teresa, I feeeeeel your pain! I would have blanked exactly the same, and then - like you - said something that was actually ok, but probably on shaky ground for ME personally, like with you and Virginia!

Capture the Castle is an excellent choice though!

Mandy x

Teresa Stenson said...

Ah, hi Mandy - yep that's exactly why it made me feel icky!

Hm, think it's time for a re-read of 'I Capture The Castle'. I've never actually read a book twice before, but I've been thinking about it with that one.

Thanks for stopping in, hope you're well.

Ossian said...

I think it was a good enough answer on the spur of the moment. If they didn't like it, sod them.

Miss McFish said...

Hi Teresa

I'm very well for a Tuesday, thanks for asking. Hope you are too.

By spooky coincidence I just re-read 'I Capture the Castle' whilst on holiday three weeks ago...

And like you, I rarely read books more than once!


Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks, Ossian - yeah I agree it wasn't that it was a bad answer, just bad for me, and that's why I kept re-living it. Thanks for your support!

Mandy - oh that is a bit weird... have you seen the film? It's not that good. I'm def going to re-read it now. Just finishing a Raymond Carver collection then that'll be next. Quite a contrast.

Miss McFish said...

Oh dear,you'll think I'm making this up, but I've just finished a Raymond Carver collection too!

No I haven't seen the film of ICTC! And I won't bother now!

Bella De La Rocher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa Stenson said...

Ha, well - if it was 'Short Cuts' that'd be even weirder...

And if you're reading Ali Smith's latest novel now, well - we might need to go on a TV show or something.