Ever since WHSmith’s list of ‘The Best Crime Authors of All Time as Voted by You’ was published on the web, I have been thinking of Desiderata, the 1927 prose poem that begins ‘Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…’ In the middle of its sensible, generous advice for a contented life, it includes: ‘If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’
Every human being I have ever met has had difficulty with this. Whether it’s the innate competitiveness of natural selection, early-years experience, or sibling rivalry, we all compare ourselves with other people all the time. Writers do it more than most. Bestseller lists, advances, royalties, Public Lending Right figures, and reviews all conspire to make us measure ourselves against each other.
In a way you can understand it. We writers spend so much time alone, talking mainly to the wholly imaginary figures created from the darkest places in our own subconscious, that we can become approval-junkies, for ever in need of the next fix of approbation from agents, publishers, booksellers, critics, and – above all – readers. I can remember how surprised I was in my first publishing job to hear well-established and admired writers ask plaintively whether I, the youngest baby in the editorial team, really liked their book.
All this explains why I read the WHSmith’s list with such delight. To find myself on a list with writers I have loved and admired since my early teens is amazing. To find myself well into the top half…. I think I’d better follow the Desiderata now, at once, and stop comparing my rating to anyone else’s and just say to all those who voted for me: thank you.
By N.J. Cooper