July 25th, 2019


I Didn’t Hear Me Arrive

On a friend’s FB today I had occasion to quote from one of my favourite C. S. Lewis essays, “The Inner Ring”:

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.

I read that when I was far too young to be able to judge whether or not it was true, though the idea was always appealing. But I think there’s quite a lot in it, perhaps especially in the professions that Lewis had as author and a scholar, which happen also to be mine.

You plough your own furrow, doing your own thing, because it’s interesting rather than because you think it will win you fame and/or fortune, then gradually you discover that a modicum of the first at least has indeed come your way. In the last week I’ve had several people come up to me (in person or online) in a strangely star-struck manner that doesn’t sort at all with my self-image or even with my image of my image, as it were. Admittedly I was one of the keynotes in Valencia, so it’s not surprising people would say nice things there, but I was still taken aback to have a Polish scholar tell me how excited her students would be to hear that she’d met me. I mean, wtf? I even seriously wondered whether she might be thinking of a different person, since there was someone with the same name at Cardiff before me and I occasionally get things that were obviously meant for her - but no.

Then there was the person at the children’s book publisher, whom I had to contact to request a review copy, who wrote back telling me how much she had enjoyed Four British Fantasists. How did she even know that was by me, since I wrote it under a different name?

Also, literally while I was writing this post, an email dropped into my inbox informing me that I’d been promoted to Reader.

That, along with the lavishly complimentary reader’s report I just got on my “Japan Reads the Cotswolds” article (which should, all being well, be out in Children’s Literature next year), have gone some way to swell my head like Keats’s autumnal gourd, albeit mine probably contains far less pith.