Desert Island Discs


Go on (those of you who listen to Radio 4), admit it.

You have already planned your Desert Island Discs

( ).

Despite not being famous.

Or massively successful.

Oh, ok.

So it’s just me then, is it?

Never mind: I wasn’t going to share them with anyway.  I’m saving it all for Kirstie Lang.

Choosing my discs was hard though;  I’ve never had strong opinions about music, even though I grew up playing three instruments.  Mostly I just listened to whatever the people around me told me was good – and I don’t mean my peers.  So, I listened to Gilbert and Sullivan, the popular classics, brass band repetoire, songs from the shows and 70s folk-rock.  Friends and family looking to improve matters over the years bought me CDs, and a few of those – Billy Joel, Seth Lakeman, Bob Dylan, Bellowhead, The Cranberries – I still sing along to.

Well, I say sing along:  I can’t sing.  But I can remember all the lyrics.  I’ll be mouthing along to them in the BBC studio.

But you know the really sad thing?  Living with a few tracks on a desert island is supposed to be some sort of challenge.  Where as actually, there would be more music on said Desert Island than there is now in my normal life.  I barely listen to music now. It was brought home to me that my only surviving CD player is in the car when my daughter asked me to play her some music and I had to go to U-tube.  I really need to hurry up and get some MP3s together to subject my kids to.

Anyway.  When I was a teenager I had a crush on a singer.  That is, ‘crush’ in the way that patronising grown-ups used to use the word ‘crush.’  Nothing major.

That is, the all-consuming, daydreaming, fantasising, hero-worship sort of obsession that teenaged girls (and possibly boys) get on singers, that’s all.

So far so normal.  Except, my singer was a real bloke.  Someone I went down the pub with.  I’d never heard him sing.

Anyway.  Enough of that.  Move on a decade to the Facebook era, when I spot his profile picture online.  ‘Singer / songwriter,’ it says – and the inevitable happens.  That is, I’m on U-tube within minutes..

And it’s a bit of a shock, because – you know – he can actually sing.  I’d never suspected this.  I listen to something he’s recorded and there’s the familiar voice and it’s – Wow.  So when we get talking, I tell him I’m impressed.

The singer / songwriter calls me up on it.  He wants to know which songs.  Which lyrics.  So I go to his page and scroll back.

And then I realise.  The stuff that stopped me breathing – those songs were the covers.  The original stuff was cool, but not what stood out.  I felt a bit disappointed – in me, not him, because clearly I didn’t get it, did I.

The singer points out with all the patience of someone explaining to a 5-year-old, ‘Yeah. They’re better songs.  Those are the songs I wish I’d written.’


I go away and chew on this for a few days and come to the (slow) conclusion that the fact that I was automatically comparing his stuff to the massive international hits – the stuff you hear played all the time – is probably more signficiant than the fact that it’s the covers that first made me say ‘Wow.’  I conclude that he’s probably doing OK.

Now.  I suspect that my singer has been songwriting – successfully, too – for a few decades longer than I’ve been trying to write a story.  And he already knows he can sing.

But of course, I’m just discovering writing and when I first read chunks back I sometimes think:  ‘Listen to that!  Maybe I can write!’

But now that I have finished my first story, my general impression is this:  ‘I put five months work into this?  But it’s so ‘Meh!’

But wait! – the main other thing I read, apart from my own work and veterinary textbooks, are novels that are already extremely successful.  So what do I expect?

In fact, there will be a lot of that before I write something that is expected to end up in the same concert as an International Hit.  There will be a lot of ‘meh’ feedback.  A lot of ‘that bit didn’t work for me,’ I lot of ‘I got bored,’ before I ever write – which, with 2 children and the job, I probably won’t – something that’s going to take over any bookshelves.

Anyway, there is a happy outcome to all this gloomy thought.  About a week after my chat with the singer, something occured to me:  I could still hear his songs in my head.  Not just the hits, but his songs as well.  I could still write down a few of the words.  Maybe it’s in honour of my teenage self, but I went back and I listened again.

Two lessons learned here.  First, in asking for feedback on the novel I’ve just finished, I have to understand that people will always compare me to whatever decent, published thing they’ve read lately.  At least they’ll be able to tell me when I finally get it right.

And the other?  Yeah, you guessed.  Just when you think you’ve got it sorted, it will always turn out that you haven’t.  Because now I have to go back and rethink things.  I’ve found a cool new entry for my Desert Island Discs.


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