The Writer as Outsider

It’s OK to be you

As writers, we observe and analyse, document and comment, our own feelings and opinions thinly veiled behind the exploits of allegedly fictional characters. A certain level of detachment is essential if we’re to be at all effective in our craft. As writers are typically introverts, this tends to come easily. But sometimes life throws a curve ball that, whether we like it or not, magnifies our natural tendency to exist on the periphery.

…like just about every other kid out there, all I really wanted to do was fit in

When I was eleven, I collapsed in the street near my grandparents’ house. It was a sunny Saturday. I was peeling an orange and chatting away to Henry, when, without warning – lights out.

I was eventually diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy, and although I had only a handful of seizures over the next decade, the condition only served to increase the sense of being different I already felt as an only child. Something else to make me stand out when, like just about every other kid out there, all I really wanted to do was fit in. If you’ll excuse the pun.

As I got a little older and started taking an interest in girls and so on, it became more of an issue. Telling that girl you fancied there was an outside chance you could flake out at any moment generally put the brakes on any developing relationship.

…despite my desire to be in with the out crowd, or at least accepted by them, their apparent destination wasn’t particularly appealing

When in my late teens I found myself in the company of people whose sole aim seemed to be to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible, I was always the sober guy who’d brought some beers to the party even though medication meant he couldn’t drink them.

Instead, I’d sit quietly in the corner, watching the alcohol take everybody somewhere else. And despite my desire to be in with the out crowd, or at least accepted by them, their apparent destination wasn’t particularly appealing: leaning over a wall and throwing up? Fighting in the street? I’m okay where I am, thanks.

Later in life I married into a large Irish family. And, lovely people though they are, the agnostic, non-drinking, only child, morning person sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb – or at least can feel as though he does.

Over the past 30 years they’ve gradually become used to my odd little ways, and I have in turn learned to embrace my own external viewpoint, observing the dynamics arising from multiple siblings, distant cousins, unfathomable traditions and religious indoctrination.

…being an outsider is neither weakness nor disadvantage, or an issue that needs to be addressed

In my role as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, I again find myself an outsider, inhabiting an interesting hinterland, neither student nor staff, not privy to or affected by the shifting of gears within the university machinery.

As I get older I’m more able to identify my boundaries, and have come to understand that being an outsider is neither weakness nor disadvantage, or an issue that needs to be addressed – it is in many ways a privileged position, and the perspective it enables at the heart of what I am.

Martin


First available as a Royal Literary Fund podcast.

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