Lucy Caldwell: The Story So Far...

We have precise languages for describing how televisions work, but we cannot explain why hearts break

Share

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a writer, and I've never really questioned why I write. It can be hard and solitary and lonely, but you assume that once the book's written - and published - things will get easier.

But no: my resolve was severely shaken this week when the reading I was scheduled to give was cancelled when precisely one person turned up. That solitary audience member was my friend Leo, who, being a poet, could commiserate. He escorted me to a suitably dismal backstreet pub, which, with its frosted mirrors and red-lacquer ceilings and wooden booths, could have come straight out of a Patrick Hamilton novel, and ordered us G&Ts. For once, the gift of the gab failed me: it was a dreary Tuesday afternoon in a nondescript part of London and nobody cared about my book. Disconsolate, I mused on the greats - like Joyce, and Beckett - and wondered about the setbacks they'd had, and whether they'd ever doubted themselves.

In a happy case of literary serendipidity, John Huston's adaptation of Joyce's short story "The Dead" was showing at the NFT. I remembered reading Dubliners as a teenager; the strange, dislocating sense of sadness that swirled and descended, intangible as mist, when I finished the book, although I was too young, really, to understand what it was or why it should be so. Huston's adaptation, intricate and unflinching, was one of the best films I've seen in a long time.

Afterwards, I felt a slow, creeping sense of despair. I thought of being little, pleading with Mum to tell me what flavour of ice cream she'd choose if she were me: I didn't care what I had so long as it was what someone else would have chosen. An early intimation, I suppose, that you can never really know, or know what it's like to be, someone else; not a mother, sister, even a lover.

We have precise languages for describing the calibration of a car engine, or how televisions work, but we cannot explain exactly, or definitively, what it feels like to have a broken heart; or how hearts break, and why. And that's when I remembered, and the moment of remembering was lucid as a Joycean epiphany: that that's what books are for, because they let us apprehend - however fleetingly, however vaguely and distantly - what it means to be a person, connected to other people.

Storytelling is a way of knowing that we're not as alone as we think, or fear. And the relief I felt reminding myself of this was no small consolation even for such a melancholy day.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?