Last week, the Olympic torch relay passed through St Albans, cause for much excitement, and a few snarky letters in the local paper about the mysterious filling in of potholes along its route, and the levelling of controversial speed bumps. Didn't attend its passing, I confess, as a certain Scot and an equally certain Swiss were battling it out on the tennis courts.
In the original Games, held in 776BC, the torch was lit on Mount Olympus, home of the Gods, and carried down to Athens as a signal for the Games to start. The purpose in those days was not for this or that country to grab as many gold medals as possible, but more as a showcase for the athletes' various skills. It was the taking part that was important, not the winning. And anyway, they only got laurel wreaths to celebrate their success, not medals, sponsorship and big bucks.
How things have changed! I guess when the 2012 Games are done, success will be judged solely upon how many Golds and Silvers Team GB has scooped, and how much money the various multi-national sponsors have garnered on the back of the event. Now, I'm not a massive sports fan: my idea of exercise is jumping to conclusions, or letting my imagination run away with me. So I won't be glued to the TV all that often. But I have been very moved by the torch relay. To see all sorts of people: famous athletes, ordinary men and women, the disabled, children, people of all ethnic backgrounds, the old, and the young, carrying the Olympic flame, seems to me to embody far more what the Games were originally meant to be.
Have we writers, become too success orientated, I wonder? Are we sucked into a mentality when winning awards, rave reviews or that coveted place on the Amazon top 100 list is more important than anything else? Sadly, I sometimes find myself inching towards that way of thinking. It's insidious. I read a gushy author interview piece about someone who has received a huge advance for writing a story with a plot so banal that my cat could have come up with it, and all at once, I start questioning my validity. Unless my book is reviewed in the Sunday papers, unless I win one of the Prestigeous Awards, I can't be a real writer - can I?
Interestingly though, it's not just me. A couple of years ago, I 'did' the Edinburgh Festival (see dodgy video on my Facebook page). In the writers' yurt, I observed many of the Really Big Writers at close hand. Those of you who do not write for a living may be unaware that most writers spend a lot of time terrified stiff that they are actually writing complete rubbish, which someone will point out one day (or is it just me?). It's the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome. I sat and watched a whole yurt full of twitchy famous writers, many who were household names, mentally peering over their shoulders, waiting for somebody to sidle up and murmur: 'You're not really as good as you think you are. You're a fraud, aren't you? You don't deserve to be here, and you know it.' They looked like the sort of people you hope won't come and sit next to you on a long train journey. It was reassuring, in a slightly unnerving way.
Still, sometimes I forget. I forget what an amazing gift it is to be able to write; I forget how much I enjoy it. How I'd be devastated if I couldn't do it on a daily basis. I become goal driven, medal hungry, chart focused. So this is where I pause, step back and think about all those wonderful individuals who carried the Olympic torch round the country. Most will never take part in an Olympic event, let alone win gold. Not important. It was the taking part that mattered. And maybe I also need to remind myself that I carry the same flame inside me as every other writer, famous or not, published or unpublished. Because in the end, isn't that why we all write...?