Good Reading : November 2005
NOVEMBER 2005 ı goodreading 23 up close Times asked her to be their sports writer. ‘That was a very strange thing,’ recalled Truss. ‘Europe ’96, the big soccer tournament, was going to be in England and they knew that a lot of people would be experiencing football for the first time, really, and maybe women who don’t nor mally watch it would catch up on it and there’d be a lot of complete ignora- muses like me who didn’t necessarily hate it or anything but really had never taken an interest in it. So I was to represent them – and also to be funny, hopefully, about it. ‘And actually, after reviewing television and writing novels for six or seven years, going ou was absolutely marvellous! I was so excited tha I could actually shut the front door and go an sit somewhere where something actually hap- pened, instead of writing about something tha had already been prefabricated and recorded. This was a bit of grass with people on it, and anything could happen! I even got really inter ested in football, ultimately, because I got into the emotional journey of ’96 – which was of course the usual one; that’s why they have to get new people all the time to write about it, because it’s always the same: you get excited about it and then you lose, if you’re English. And then coping with being beaten by the Ger mans – it happens every time, but it was all new to me.’ But the rest of the sporting press didn’t take kindly to having ‘this strange middle-aged woman who’s larking around making jokes in the press box when they want serious blokes around, so it wasn’t very nice, they weren’t friendly. Someone bought me an egg sandwich in the press box once and I nearly cried, it was such an unusually nice gesture! Here, have an egg sandwich and I burst into tears!’ After her sister Kay died from cancer in 2000 Truss knew she had to change every- thing. ‘I couldn’t bear any stress. I certainly didn’t want to do sports writing any more, because there is a lot of stress.’ So she turned to writing for radio, and although she enjoyed it enormously there was no money in it. ‘Financially, the more successful you are on radio, the more you delve into your savings. It is appalling! Nobody tries to make a living out of writing for radio!’ At that point she was asked to present radio programs – one of which was about punctuation. ‘We went to see some school- children learning to use commas, and we talked to the man from the Apostrophe Protection Society, which was hilarious. And that really did make a difference to me, because I thought, when I met him, how strange to get that so out of proportion, then afterwards it started to really, really upset me.You start to think, what does this mean, that people really don’t know the difference between a plural and a possessive? It means they know nothing, nothing, about the basic parts of language. So it was a sort of Damascene conversion.’ One of the great results of the success of Eats, Shoots and Leaves is that Truss’s novels, writ- ten in the 1990s and once all out of print, have been republished – and they really are a treat. Her favourite – and mine – is Tennyson’s Gift, about the poet’s time on the Isle of Wight in the 1860s. It’s hilarious.Try this brief excerpt, about Tennyson’s wife Emily: ‘The illusion that everybody loved Alfred Tennyson and found no lt in his poetry was quite easy to sustain day by day. It just meant narrowing one’s circle of friends to a small, scarcely visible dot, cancel- ing the literary reviews, and living in a neo- Gothic bunker in the farthest corner of the sle of Wight. If people still insisted on visiting and they did; it was astonishing), Emily’s ter- ble hospitality soon put a stop to that.’ Now Truss has a new book out:Talk to e Hand:The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday fe. It isn’t a conventional book about eti- ette. ‘It’s about being out there with other ople: how do we negotiate public space, or nsactions in shops, or transactions with public mpanies, and how you’re treated, and whether seems to be getting ruder – and most peo- seem to think it is,’ Truss explained. ‘Do you now the expression “Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening”? It’s this horrible saying that comes from the Jer ry Springer show. And you do it if someone is trying to get through to you. I just see the world now as this kind of hand being held up to my face.’ But there’s some apprehension about its reception. ‘The thing about the new book is – people are always looking at my work to see how well it’s been punctuated and having a go, and now they’ll be able to say, “Oh, that was a bit rude when you did that!”; “I notice you didn’t reply to my email for six weeks!” So there’s another rod for my back!’ Truss has an intriguing theory about the suc- cess of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. ‘One of the things that contributed to the success of the book, I think, is that the state of the world in 2003, when I was writing it, was terrible – it was an awful, awful time, wasn’t it? We were all terrified that the world was going to end. And I think that when so many big things are out of your control, the best thing to think about is tiny marks on a piece of paper. It’s a tiny thing that you can have control over – but it’s a tiny thing that represents a big thing. It represents literacy.’ Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss is published by Profile Books, r rp $29.95.
December January 2006