by Ashley Lister
“It’s better to stay silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
The above truism has been ascribed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein. Regardless of who originally said it, I think it’s without doubt one of the sagest pieces of advice that could ever be given.
The words came back to me a year ago when I was attending a university lecture. The guest lecturer was an eminent linguist and the author of more texts, journals and academic books than most of us have ever read. He discussed phonemics and phonetics and their relation to prosodic features (including phatic communion). He talked about the development of specialist areas of semantics and pragmatics in relation to the contemporary phenomena of text messages. I was particularly impressed to hear him talk about the identified differences and similarities noted in communication between British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken language.
I mention all of this not just to make this blog full of long words or to make myself sound particularly clever. I’m sure everyone reading this already knows I’m as dumb as a sausage. I’m trying to impress here that it was a fairly heavy and intense lecture. By the time he asked if any of us had any questions I was not sure I could say anything that would be construed as sensible in the face of such a flood of high-level knowledge.
“I have a question.”
The raised hand was close to me. I recognised a colleague of mine sitting upright in her seat, snapping her fingers for the lecturer’s attention.
“I have a question,” she said again.
The lecturer smiled kindly in her direction. “Please,” he encouraged.
The room was momentarily silent as everyone strained to hear what was going to be asked. I sat more rigid in my chair, wondering if my colleague had spotted a flaw in the logical progression of the speaker’s argument. I was genuinely curious to find out what vital piece of information hadn’t been imparted in the extensive and exhaustive lecture we’d just enjoyed.
“My question,” she said proudly. “What’s your favourite book?”
I mention this because, when I think about the lecturer’s face following that question, I wonder if I wear a similar expression when people ask me, “Have you done all those things you write about?”
The lecturer was polite and struggled to answer the question, but it was obvious his thoughts were still tied up with the nuances of advanced linguistics. When someone else quickly chimed in with a question about contemporary studies throwing doubt on long-held theories of linguistic determinism, his relief was almost palpable.
As a writer of erotic fiction, I do get asked, “Have you done all those things you write about?” At times it does become predictable, but I’ve got no real issues with predictability. My wristwatch and calendar are both predictable and I never have issues with either of those useful accessories.
And, whenever I’m asked the question, it reminds me I’m talking to someone who has taken the time to read one of my books. Considering there are so many wonderful authors out there, it’s humbling to think that someone has spent time reading my meagre attempts at literature. I certainly don’t have such a sufficiently large readership so I can pretend to be bored with their questions.
As a writer, if a reader asks me a question about my writing, my head automatically goes into ‘technical mode.’ If we’re talking about characters my thoughts are involved with the way I constructed the individual and shaped them into the events of the narrative. A reader might be more concerned with why the character drove a convertible, or picked one brand of lubricating jelly over another.
Consequently, when my colleague asked the lecturer, “What’s your favourite book?” I could sympathise with what she was doing. She didn’t care what his favourite book was, just like no one cares whether or not I’ve done all those things I’ve written about. She was simply trying to instigate a conversation and show that she had a grasp on some of the things that had been said. He’d been talking about words in books.
I’m not saying this is the case every time. Some people are genuinely curious about the nocturnal habits of erotic fiction writers. Others are just too nosey for their own damned good. But, oftentimes, this familiar question is simply a convenient way for readers to approach their favourite writers and instigate a dialogue. So, if you are reading this and wondering, ‘Has he done all those things he’s written about?’ let me answer with another question: ‘Would you like to help me research my next erotic scene?’