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Anybody out there? Been a long time since I posted, I know. I doubt anyone cares, but the reason has been a headlong rush to finish the first draft of a new novel. That’s done (though an edit will doubtless occur soon, oh happy prospect). I’m doing some screenwriting in the meantime, and tomorrow I’m heading to Brighton for the World Horror Convention. But for now…

This may read rather like coming across a re-run of the snow-blown Christmas Special of some old sitcom in mid-March, but this lunchtime I happened to be leafing through old recipe cuttings (yes, my life really is that dull), and came across one of those features that magazines run like clockwork during the festive season:

“Why not try something different to boring old turkey this year?”

Indeed, I thought, as always — or, on the other hand, why not stop trying to establish some dreary measure of self-definition by opting out of well-established and non-harmful ways of being? Christmas and its associated culinary traditions are — for those not directed otherwise through parallel belief systems — one of the few moments of national or international bonding left (apart, of course, from those relating to the death of a ‘celebrity’ or the climax of some witless cultural cancer like The Gag Factor or Big Moron). And… it only happens once a year. How can something you do just once a year have got to the stage of being so unutterably boring? To be fair, allowance must be made for Americans in this regard, who may have eaten the same thing only a month before: but, for everyone else, let’s get this straight — can you only bear one pasta dish a year, or one pizza, or one Chinese takeout? No, I thought not.

So unless you’re actually allergic to turkey, suck it up and eat the bloody stuff. Share in the event. Join the party. Do what everyone else is doing for this one day: don’t try to prove you’re different and fascinating through smirkingly serving up boiled lark’s tongue or a remoulade of mutton with a tangerine foam. Nobody’s watching, my friend. Nobody cares. There is great peace to be found, once in a while, from doing what everyone else is, especially when the tradition has been around for a few hundred years. Take a few minutes off the endless battle to be an individual, from refining and promoting your personal brand. Melt into the undertow for a day. It’s actually a blessed relief.

Which brings me by a roundabout route to a book recommendation. I picked this up for my wife last Christmas, on a whim, and she enjoyed it so much she insisted I read it too. I’ve finally got around to it. The book is DELIGHT, by J. B. Priestly. Originally published sixty years ago — but available now, in the UK at least, in an attractive reissue from Great Northern Books — it’s a collection of over a hundred essays on things that happened to bring the writer ‘delight’. The subjects are extremely varied (I read entries last night on the sound made by an orchestra tuning up, family silliness, and the feeling you get the day after reaching the end of a long, hard piece of work), and all are short, two or three pages at most. The prose is superb (not flashy, just good-humoured, charming and very accomplished), and there are stirring insights into everything from the nature of friendship to the joys of procrastination, but what’s best of all is the project itself.

So much writing these days, especially on the web — my own often included, I know — consists of whining and critiquing and showing just how jolly determined we are not to have the wool pulled over our eyes. We live in a universe where everyone prowls with itchy trigger fingers, searching gimlet-eyed for fault and insufficiencies, where the default review is one star. DELIGHT is just the opposite, and there should be many more books like it. Not eating turkey is not a sign of being grown-up — and neither is the adolescent carping that so many of us seem addicted to, this oh-so-sharp but oh-so-cheap trashing of everything in creation.

Saying that something’s crap is easy. Saying that something’s great… is bold.

Let’s be bold.

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Michael Marshall (Smith): novelist, screenwriter and sitting-place for cats.

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