|New friends! Image courtesy of John Jackson|
All right, I confess. I sat in the car park at Lancaster University on Friday in a state of complete dread. I even contemplated turning the engine back on and driving away. No-one would have known. The organisers would have assumed I hadn’t turned up and hadn’t told them (which, of course, would have been true). And I’d have holed up in some little guest house in the Lakes and phoned home from noisiest part of the local pub, pretending I was surrounding by a chattering crowd of writers.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone. I had many good friends-in-the-flesh among those on the list, and a host of other friends-in-the-ether whose full acquaintance I was dying to make. There really should not have been a problem. But here’s the thing. There were over 200 of them. That’s 200-plus writers. That’s lots and lots of people like me.
Now that’s scary.
I’m glad to say that my courage not only prevailed but was immediately vindicated. I queued to register next to a couple of old friends. Within minutes I’d found new ones. And that was always going to happen.
Why? It’s because these — writers — are my tribe. Of course those two-hundred-odd can’t all be my very best buddies. Among them there will be those with whom I have profound differences over everything from politics and religion to whether to go out for a Chinese or an Indian or whether it’s okay to have characters in your novel swearing as much on the page as the might in real life.
In the end I did more than survive the weekend. I thrived on it. I discovered that, after just a moment or two of conversation, writers reach common ground. They get each other. I might share the same things with my non-writerly friends but somehow they don’t quite grasp what I mean when I talk about writer’s block; nor do they understand the irrational, gut-wrenching intensity of killing someone. (Not in real life, of course. Not in real life.)
Any group will be the same. I’ve heard complete strangers suddenly spring to life when one of them mentions cutting fabric across the grain; I’ve been at a very serious meeting when two people suddenly discovered the supported the same football team and suddenly found themselves locked into a heated debate about who “we” should have as the new manager.
Your tribe is the group of people who get you. You may disagree, fundamentally on a lot of things. But they understand you. Two hundred and twenty people who understand you, all in one room together, is a terrifying prospect. But if you can face it, the rewards are unbeatable.