K is for Kafka and Kate


Yesterday, in J is for James and Julian, I revealed the names of two of my favourite authors, and today you get a third: Kate Atkinson. I won’t say much about her, though, except she’s one of those writers I only read when I’m confident I can resist. That I won’t rush off and delete my WIP in despair or (consciously or not) transform it into an imitation (minus the virtuosity) of Case Histories or When Will There Be Good News.

No, this is more about Kafka (the one on the shore, that is) and his creator, Murakami. Now, Haruki and I have a lot in common. He runs marathons; I also run. He writes brilliant novels; I also write. Furthermore, as I discovered reading his nonfiction What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, we’re both antisocial. This heartened me no end. No longer do I have to worry about shunning real people in order to be with my characters. Murakami does too. In fact, he says, it’s a precondition – he couldn’t produce what he does if he spent more time chatting to other people. This reminded me of Harold Pinter, who, as one of the leading lights in London’s literary set, regularly hosted dinner parties. But he rose from the table at 10 p.m. (leaving his guests in the capable hands of his wife, Antonia Fraser) to go to bed. So yes, writing and socializing are, on the whole, incompatible.

Which is fine if you come up with Kafka On The Shore or The Birthday Party. But what if it’s One Green Bottle? Have I sacrificed friendship, community, life, in order to produce a dud? Could it be that I’m not just antisocial but have nothing to show for it? Am I an impostor? Doubt. Can’t get away from it. Yet another writer’s affliction.

But doubt is only a problem if it stops me writing, which so far it never has. Maybe I’m wrong, pig-headed, blind to my own incompetence, but I keep going. And doubt is welcome. Of course it’s bothersome, a fly that won’t go away, buzzing around my head when I’m trying to think. But never would I want to be without it. Doubt is what keeps me on track, forces me to revise, only allows me to stop when I’ve done the best that I can.

And it could be worse. Think of the real Kafka. Nothing so paltry as Impostor Syndrome for him. He was into the hard stuff – Cockroach Condition. Strictly speaking, Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis isn’t a cockroach, but some undefined monstrous insect or vermin. Kafka was not just antisocial, introverted and solitary, he was crippled by insecurity and guilt. Understandable, given that he was obsessed with writing, but totally ignored as a writer. Not much wonder he turned himself into a giant, scuttling, repulsive creepy-crawly.

Fortunately, there’s no chance of that happening today. We can all be rich, famous and acclaimed by publishing our works on Amazon.