Articles - Casual Enquiries

How best to reply to that casual enquiry, ‘You still scribbling then?’?

Is there any need to say anything beyond, ‘Er yes.’

‘So are you writing anything special?’

Of course it’s special. The story being transmitted from the fertile mind to the white screen via the speedy fingers is always special. But can one dare to talk about it when open discussion might destroy the delicate process? An admirable SAS member once explained in a talk to young readers how, in mid-creation, she couldn’t reveal even to her husband what she was writing and covered the screen if he came near.

So should one offer instead some inaccurate yet enthusiastic response to enquiries? ‘Yes, it’s about teenage smugglers and it’s going swimmingly well.’

Suppose, however, that the enquirer persists and really wants to know? Does one give an honest, detailed account of the singular agony and unique turmoil of the current, most special work-in-progress? Probably not. Ramble on too long on the complexities of the oeuvre and one muddles oneself still further. Anyway, the enquirer is already turning away to ask someone less mumbly.

One mustn’t alienate a future readership. So, never mumble. But, equally, never waste creative endeavour trying to explain the work-in-progress before it’s finished (unless he/she is a commissioning editor with a contract to hand ready for signature).

Another solution to, ‘Hello. You still a scribbler then?’

‘Oh yes! Absolutely! Still breathing, still writing! Ha ha!’ Then give a short, upbeat description of a long-since published story. One can even save effort by merely quoting the blurb. ‘A thrilling tale of 17th century smugglers, aimed at the 7-10s.’


If, however, the enquirer is astute, this may flounder. ‘Wasn't that the one that came out in 1999?’

At which point one must nod, implying one’s referring to some recent re-issue.

A splendidly senior novelist was asked by a casual enquirer what she was working on. ‘Didn’t you know?’ the splendid novelist snapped back. ‘I don’t write any more! I’m retired from all that!’

Nice one but entirely untrue. Eighteen months on, her latest title was published and declaring retirement had been her means of keeping her work’s progress to herself.

Yes indeed, a nifty solution to the issue of the casual enquirer.

‘So you’re still at it then?’

‘I am currently in retirement.’

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