Marian Keyes often uses a phrase that her grandmother used to say: “I don’t have the houlding out.”
It basically means one doesn’t have the stamina required to endure long periods of time being sociable; weddings are tricky, as are weekends away with large groups of people with nowhere to hide when you need to stare at a wall in silence for an hour or so.
I have come to realise that I most definitely don’t have the houlding out. It’s almost embarrassing, at this stage, how exhausted I become after prolonged interactions with other human beings. I was in London last week for work, and the city felt like an assault on my senses. Everything was so busy and hectic, hundreds of people milling past me on the streets, voices and car horns and police sirens and music cutting through the air.
It amazes me to think of the year I spent in New York, spending two hours on the subway everyday as I commuted to my job in a high-rise building in midtown Manhattan, and how normal that seemed. When did I lose the ability to move through a city without feeling completely overwhelmed?
I spent the first two days of my trip in a writer’s room, storyboarding ideas for the pilot of a television series that I’m co-creating with an incredible showrunner from the UK. The project is in its infancy — if I’ve learned anything in the years since my first book was published, it is that nothing is definite in TV/film until the cameras are actually rolling — but it was interesting. I’ve never worked in such a collaborative manner before. As an author, the work is solitary, so to be in that room, bouncing ideas off three other people was an entirely new experience.
Leaving the office, my brain felt as if it was melting and I was ravenous — does anyone know why being creative can make you feel as if you’ve run a marathon?! Or is it just me? — so I decided to spend my evening wandering around the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in an effort to decompress.
(As an aside, it’s a very good exhibition and highlights how innovative and sharp she was, particularly when it came to marketing and branding.)
Trudging back to my hotel afterwards, I faceplanted onto the mattress and fell into a coma-like state of sleep.
“Now,” my editor said after our last meeting of the week. “Just cross the street outside the office and get the train from Euston station to Hereford.” I must have looked suitably terrified because she added hastily, “It’s foolproof! A child could do it.”
As I waved goodbye forlornly, I realised I have become increasingly useless on these work trips, accustomed to publicists holding my hand (and my train tickets), telling me exactly where to go and what to do, when to eat and when I can have a toilet break. I’m one step away from asking them to carry me around, swaddling me like a newborn baby, but I suppose you have to be JK Rowling level of successful to merit such treatment.
I’m taking the train to Wales because I’m speaking at Hay Festival that Thursday. The Surface Breaks has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and the winner will be announced at the festival. It’s a gorgeous town, full of quaint tea shops and cafes, and it’s so gratifying to see how many people are there, laden down with tote bags full of books. It’s an honour to be asked to attend, although I had forgotten what the accommodation can be like.
Because Hay-On-Wye is such a small town, there are no hotels; thus, the locals offer up rooms in their homes for visiting authors to stay in. It’s usually great fun but this time, I have been housed in a toddler’s bedroom, my legs dangling off the edge of the tiny bed.
A senior partner of one of the Big Four auditors’ firms is staying in a room next door — he’s just flown in from China, has never been to Hay before, and seems utterly bemused by the entire situation. He remains impressively cheerful, I — the person who is not a senior partner at one of the world’s most prestigious companies — do not, and beg to be rehoused somewhere with a bed long enough to fit my 5’9 frame. (I know, I’m a horrible diva.)
A full day of events and book signings followed, an amazing opportunity to meet readers. There is nothing like the Young Adult literature community, their indefatigable enthusiasm is a beautiful thing to witness, and I know I am so lucky to be included.
But when the last book is signed, I feel completely spent. I watch other authors make plans to go for drinks and meet for dinner and I wonder what is wrong with me when all I am fit for is to return to my room, take a long bath, and fall asleep?
When I was younger, I would have forced myself to be sociable, forced myself to go to the dinner and make small talk, smile at the right times, laugh when everyone else was laughing, internally berating myself for not being the life and soul of the party.
There’s a genuine relief at the age of 34 to be able to say, I’m tired. I’m going to go home to bed. I simply don’t have the houlding out.
Read: The Outsider by Emily Hourican. Two very different families meet on holidays in Portugal — one rich and confident, the other less sure of their place in life — and their lives are changed forever after. Hourican is an insightful, astute writer, and this is everything you could want from high-end commercial fiction.
Watch: Booksmart. This wonderful film has been described as the female Superbad, but it’s much more poignant and hilariously funny than that. One of my favourite movies of 2019 — do not miss out.
- Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours, Asking For It, Almost Love, and The Surface Breaks