What makes you a grown-up?
Leaving home? Moving to the city? First job? First mortgage? Marriage? Child?
Having done all but the last of those, none have succeeded in making me feel adult. Sure, everyone thinks I’m 30 (not YET, people) and I was born with the mental age of 43. But some things make me feel intrinsically childish, and none more than my goggle-eyed admiration of particular writing styles and a desperation to appropriate them for myself. Were you to peruse the backposts of this blog with critical stylistic eye, you would see a wild roaming across the savannah of styles and tones. This is because I am helplessly in the thrall of what I read. As soon as I encounter a good book which I can relate to, my writing style changes instantly. My character pretty much changes. I don’t just want to read that book – I want to have written that book, be giving press interviews about that book, and be working on my next book just like it.
So, for me, a new definition of adulthood has arisen: when one has found one’s own unique and authentic writing style.
Rarely has this needy urge to write-like-someone-else cropped up more pointedly than at reading Esther Walker’s Bad Cook. It’s only published as an ebook, plucked from her blog posts and polished up a bit. Yet my writing changes when I read it.
I am a long-term fan of Recipe Rifle, Walker’s hilarious and stunningly candid food blog. The initial concept was for her to try various recipes – and if she can make it, anyone can. In reality Walker has not stuck to this at all. She does not do sticking to rules. Often, I wait weeks for a post, as she breaks all the rules of blogging by frequently having unexplained and lengthy absences, then posting every day for 5 days before disappearing. Infuriating! But I’ll forgive her ANYTHING, as she is so abundantly hilarious. Vastly self-critical but totally frank, Walker tells us what she’s brilliant at, what she’s awful at, and openly talks about her grumpiness, her hatred of being pregnant, crap holidays, the frequent boredom of being a mother, even about her brushes with anxiety with a totally throwaway, almost louche, style.
This style is in opposition to my natural tendency to tie myself up in long words and convoluted sentences. Ever since I was a precocious child with double the vocabulary of everyone due to my obsessive reading, I have shown off endlessly by writing in an over-complex style. It makes me feel so damn CLEVER! Whenever I proof read something I’ve just written, I need to remove half the words. But Walker makes me more bold and concise from the off. It’s unlikely to last and I can’t do it properly anyway: I could only write as openly as Walker if nobody I knew was going to read it. Which is what makes her so fantastic. The bravery! I am powerless to resist.
But back to the book. Walker writes as much about her life as her food, and it’s her life which I enjoy the most (the recipes I’ve attempted from her have had patchy success.) Since I started reading Recipe Rifle, Walker has got married and had 2 children. As a fairly-newly-wed myself, she gives me a candid-as-all-hell view into my sometime-future. I know all the platitudes – what I want to hear about is honesty about the bad bits of becoming a parent, and being a similar-age woman rattling around London plagued with irritations and doubts as well as more public-friendly emotions. She’s like the incredibly frank elder sister I’ve never had (I do have an elder sister, but she’s not as frank or as deliciously mean as Esther) who leaves me crying with laughter.
So I have one message for you: buy it, buy it now. It’s £1.99! Can you afford not to? If none of this slightly creepy level of praise convinces you, maybe this will: it’s the only book that I have read twice since I started this blog. That’s 60 novels – Rushdie, Greene, Maugham, Proust, Faulks, Amis, Mantel, Waugh – scorned for the second viewing in the place of Bad Cook. Because not one of them could make me laugh like it does.