woman standing alone in crowd

Impostor Syndrome and Alter Egos – and the like!

This week has been draining on social batteries and anyone who knows me well is aware that mine run flat frequently and fast. Anyone who delights in the solitary room, the blank computer screen with only imagination, a few scattered notes and a cup of coffee for company will appreciate this viewpoint!

That’s not to say that the London Book Fair which took place this week was an indifferent occasion. On the contrary, it was a fantastically exciting and dynamic event and one that I would not have missed for anything.

But as soon as I arrived at the mammoth and massive event, proudly placed my lanyard around my neck, I was overwhelmed as always with that nagging voice in my head: What do you think you are doing here? Who are you kidding?

My familiar yet most hostile friend was perched boldly on my shoulder – my impostor syndrome buddy was belittling my inclusion in the day.

I find this despotic creature pursues me endlessly these days. You would think that age would rid me of it. But no. In fact, it’s the opposite. For the simple fact of now being of an older generation has become another curse with which to berate me. Not only, my tyrannical fiend whispers in my ear as I prowl the endless lanes and avenues of the LBF at Olympia, are you lacking the intelligence and the talents to be here, you are also too old now to compete and keep up. You have left it too late!

I blame it on failing the 11 Plus.

In the days when this divisive exam separated 11 year olds into two camps, I was demoted to the rung belonging to children who couldn’t work out If two trains left the same station at the same time but travelling at different speeds and taking different routes which would reach their destination first?

Never mind the fact that I could write endless stories, page after page, and never run out of ideas or inspiration, I was labelled, along with too many others, according to my lack of a mathematical mind.

That kind of stigma never quite goes. As I struggle to keep up in my weekly Modern Greek language classes, revering the superior skills of others, that voice in my head reminds me that the others no doubt passed those tests at junior school and are therefore of a superior intellect and standing.

And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the protagonists in my novels are certainly not intellectuals. They have not got degrees from illustrious universities but tend to drift a little in their early years before eventually finding their place. They tend to lack self-belief, dwell too humbly before discovering their sense of self. Grace (Counting the Ways) Mary (The Legacy of Mr Jarvis) Catherine (Miller Street SW22) and now Lily (The Odyssey of Lily Page) all fit into this category. Yet I can’t say there were conscious intentions behind these choices – it’s simply the characters I appear to create.

Unlike many other writers.

I have always loved Penelope Lively’s novels, but do find her characters rather too clever on the whole. The one exception to this is Passing On which happens to be one of my favourites.

It’s the same with Anita Brookner, another author whose novels I love. So many of her characters seem to slip off to Oxford or Cambridge, the Sorbonne or some suitably superior academic institution with consummate ease.

Hardly an exhaustive survey of authors, admittedly, but something to get me thinking about the characters that we create.

Do they reflect their creators as my examples suggest? A form of alter ego at play, you could say.

Of the protagonists in my four novels, Lily Page, the eponymous character in my most recent novel, is the one I found easiest to write. I understand her foibles, her weaknesses, her susceptibilities and needed to write her to rid myself of some of the same traits. Lily certainly suffers from impostor syndrome but by the end of the novel, by the end of one ‘odyssey,’ she is ready for the next, unfettered, hopefully, from what has gone before.

And when I saw a copy of The Odyssey of Lily Page, proudly displayed on the Troubador Publishing stand for the world of the London Book Fair to see this week, I thought how incongruous – yet how marvellous – it was to see her there – and hoped that both Lily and her creator were at last beginning to shrug of that old fiendish sense of inadequacy to embrace whatever comes next!

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