People often say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes. They might disappoint you, or, in the case of fictional heroes, be notoriously difficult to track down. I think it depends on who you choose as your heroes. Or heroines. A lot of mine are in fact fictional, so there is no danger of me ever being disappointed by them. Pippi Longstocking, for instance, can remain safely as cool as she is in my mind for ever, I am unlikely to ever run into her.
Some of my heroines are real. Some are on twitter. Many, I have tweeted; like a demented, love-sick, idiot. And then, the other day I got the chance to go and listen to a couple of them speak, as columnists at The Guardian, at a writing Masterclass. It was only when I got there that the fact that I had semi-idolised these people, in the way that normal people might have idolised rock stars or actresses, was a bit weird. (It is not entirely coincidence that Polly is a Polly, and one of my all-time favourite columnists for the Observer magazine, and yes, Grazia – is Polly Vernon. Luckily Polly is also partly named after PJ Harvey, which makes the whole thing a bit less of a geek-freak thing.)
The two speakers I was excited about were Hadley Freeman and Marina Hyde. Hadley I liked initially because she was a fashion journalist who doesn’t take fashion too seriously, and writes a hilarious fashion-advice column called Ask Hadley. But also because I can identify with the slightly shy, little-bit-geeky character she comes over as in her writing. She has written a book, The Meaning of Sunglasses, which I own and is brilliant. She has another one out tomorrow called How to be Awesome. You see why I like her. Marina Hyde writes a sports column a politics column and a very funny feature on a Friday called Lost in Showbiz; searingly sarcastic and properly laugh-out-loud funny. One of the first thing Marina talked about was not writing in list form, unless absolutely necessary. “If my column appears as a list, ” she said “it means it’s totally sh*t, but I couldn’t think of anything else to write.” (Or something to that effect. I didn’t tape the whole thing, or anything. I’m not an actual stalker.) But she did swear. Marina is one of those gloriously posh people who swears like a sailor, all the time. I do love a bit of posh-person-cursing. So, um, in honour of, but at the same time directly contravening Marina’s advice, I am going to list some of the things I learned on Monday. Because it was f*cking brilliant. (Nope. Just not posh enough.)
*The collective noun for a group of aspiring writers should be, if it isn’t already, a converse of writers. (Navy being the colour of choice.)
*The question ‘so, are you actually a writer?’ almost never has a one word answer.
*Tone is everything.
*Write widely, and often, about stuff you are passionate about, but also about anything else.
*Try not to be angry too often. Or smug.
*Keep it brief. No one wants to read a 15,000 word essay on a blog.
*That I would remove at least two of my limbs for the chance to be a columnist at The Guardian.
*If you don’t want anyone to sit next to you on the train home, you could try eating a tuna sandwich.
There was probably more to be learned, but I was distracted at the beginning of the session by the attire of a gentleman three seats along, who was bravely attempting a red-shirt bow-tie/tight tweed trousers combo (with converse, obvs,) and also the fact that I was IN THE SAME ROOM AS HADLEY FREEMAN.