Sunday, 24 May 2009

Guest Review: Mortification: Writers' Stories Of Their Public Shame, Edited By Robin Robertson

My thanks to Katy Jackson for this review.

I first read this book some years ago and its stories are both compelling and appalling. It's essential reading for anyone considering a writing career: but be prepared to cringe!


If I was published, nay, when I am published, my life will be long one colourful conga of delights. My make up will never run or cause me to look like a performance mime artist. I will lose that last stone of flab and my wrinkles will disappear overnight. I will waft from suave literary luncheon to sophisticated cocktail party in a fragrant cloud of peer approval and tinkling laughter. Everybody will love me unconditionally and without pause, hesitation or deviation. Yes, when I am published, my life will be transformed.

But like some rather more intimate acts, the event itself can be something of an anti-climax full of accidental clumsy embarrassment and unintentional hilarity. Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame gathers together contributions from seventy writers who share their shame, blushes, mishaps and misdemeanours in a collection of laugh-out-loud funny tales of book signings gone wrong, AWOL public appearances, and fragile egos crushed at the hands of jaded local radio presenters. With pieces from Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Val McDermid, Colm Toibin and Andrew Motion among others, this collection of writers’ tales of the should-have-expected is a charming and hysterical account of what really happens on the other side of the gulf of publication. From cases of mistaken identity and the self-inflicted wounds of over-indulgence to a whip-cracking S&M prostitute at a literary festival, Mortification is a cringe-inducing carnival of delights. Or as satellite TV would probably put it, when good writers go bad.

It is life affirming to know that even the finest and best known writers have ignominy thrust upon them and suffer humiliation and rejection at the hands of an occasionally indifferent world. Whether published or not (-yet-), Mortification also reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously or to let our attention-craving ego strap itself too firmly into the driving seat only at our own peril. This wildly entertaining book provides the perfect antidote to an attack of the writers' blues. You will never look at a literary event in quite the same way again.


Katy blogs at Moving Back, Moving On. Her first book, The Self-build Survival Guide, was published in 2007 and its publication day came, as it turned out in the wonderful bad timing of things, as she was in the process of splitting up with her long-term partner. She probably spent the day itself up a ladder, painting and muttering swear words. She is currently working on her next book.

8 comments:

Barb said...

Great review. This sounds like essential reading!

HelenMHunt said...

I must get a copy of that. Great review.

Nik Perring said...

Brilliant book - well worth a read.

Jenny Woolf. www.jennywoolftravel.blogspot.com said...

I've read this book and it is as good as the review suggests. Makes me want to go back and take another look, if only to reassure myself that my own experiences won't be like that. Of course not. No, they won't, will they?

catdownunder said...

Reminds me of some 'die with embarrassment' moments at Writers' Weeks of old.
Being able to laugh at yourself becomes essential!

Kristen said...

Ooh, I so want to read that!

Jane Smith said...

It is a very funny book, but you will end up cringing yourself into a tiny little ball in the corner if you have any writerly ambitions at all. I read a lot of it again last night, and it's still makes me squirm with embarrassment.

DanielB said...

It is very funny - Simon Armitage's contribution in particular, which is a conflation of all his worst "appearances". One of those "have to put the book down and compose yourself" moments...