Regular readers are probably wondering if I have any neuroses at all, as I seem to always be declaring that this, that or the other writer’s problem is not my problem. So it’s time to come clean. Becoming a finalist in the University of Hertfordshire Writing Award brought my biggest neurosis to the surface. They wanted a photograph for their press release.
I hate having my photograph taken.
Now that may sound odd from somebody who used to be a model, but it’s not. The point is that I hate having MY photograph taken, because it’s a picture of ME. Being photographed as a model is to enter into a deception with the photographer to produce a picture of an unreal person – it’s a bit like writing fiction actually. You reinvent yourself, rather than characters, and somebody else sets the narrative and location, but otherwise it’s quite similar.
A picture of me though, is somehow meant to represent me – the person. And the reason I write, in part, is to represent, or at least express, myself to the world. And no photograph, no matter how flattering or otherwise, can ever come close to the means of expression I’ve chosen as my own. So having my picture taken causes all kinds of confusion, resentment and fear in my psyche. Hundreds of shots result in one or two images that I can actually bear to look at (although none that please me) and a whole sunny day is wasted as I snap at my nearest and dearest and scowl at the lens.
The me I see has already been taken.
Stephen Donaldson has a wonderful jacket photograph on his Gap series; it shows his head in eclipse, almost entirely in darkness, wrapped (or possibly rapt) in cigarette smoke. It’s like a Leonard Cohen song as portraiture. And that’s how I see myself – and it’s not a bad representation of a lot of my writing which is, as one agent said ‘dark, lovely and unmarketable’ – may she prove wrong on the last one! Sadly though, I’m actually a gerbil-cheeked, rather sweet looking woman, with a completely undistinguished face and a good body for my age.
So, having reduced 137 photographs to two, I am being brave and sharing with you the one I decided wasn’t suitable for a press release – would you buy a novel from this woman? Please say yes …