I love writers who can articulate the magic and wonder of everyday joys. If you can capture in prose the beauty of a pale blue sky on a frosty December morning, the happiness of being licked on the face by a puppy, the sense of relief of waking up early on a Saturday and knowing you don’t have to haul yourself grumpily out of bed with any urgency, then you are very much the kind of writer I’ll fall for.
Having just read the new biography of war correspondent Marie Colvin and then Joan Didion’s grief memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, I was very much in the market for some light relief. And in J.B. Priestley’s Delight, a collection of short essays about the quotidien things that provide joy, I found it. Published in 1949, Delight is very much a product of its time – still reeling from the war, the nation needed reminding that there was still joy to be had. But it also feels like a necessary book to have on hand now – with essays on things like “fountains”, “gin and tonic and potato crisps”, “reading detective stories in bed”, and “poets that really look like poets” (and you know exactly what he means by that), a copy of Delight would make an excellent Christmas gift in these anxious, exhausting times. And what’s lovely about it, is that it gets you thinking about your own personal delights, the little things that give you disproportionate amounts of pleasure. Here’s a handful of mine…
Tea & crisps
A heaven-made match – particularly when you’re hungover. Once you’ve spent the morning mainlining sparkling water, the thing to have is tea and crisps. The tea must be fairly weak, Earl Grey if possible, but hot as you can stand. I’ve no idea why but I find that crisps are a better accompaniment to tea than biscuits – the saltiness just works.
I mean, obviously. But they never lose their power over me. Waterstones has been my happy place ever since I was about 8, and my gran would take me shopping in Chichester and leave me in Waterstones while she went off and did whatever she had to do. She’d come back an hour or so later and I’d have read most of a book. Buying books for me, buying books for other people – I’m not picky. Just let me be where the stories are.
The beach in autumn and winter
Infinitely preferable to the beach in the height of summer. I love being on an empty beach on an autumn morning – washed-out sunlight, a bite of cold in the air, wellies crunching on shingle. Or on a winter afternoon, when it’s blustery, sea roaring, everything you can see a shade of blue or grey. It’s bracing in the best way.
Washing make-up brushes
It sounds like a tedious chore, but I find it incredibly satisfying. There’s something deeply pleasurable about watching the water turn a cloudy beige-pink shade and knowing that there’s a load of crap that’s now not going on your face. And using super-soft, fluffy brushes the following morning feels pretty virtuous.
Falling in love with a song on first listen
There’s a chemical reaction that takes place the first time you hear a song you love. Something clicks in your brain, your blood moves a little quicker, you feel the chord progression ring across your very heartstrings. It’s like the beginnings of a crush, or making a new friend – it’s going to change you a fraction, just the tiniest bit, but forever.
The most recent song I fell for was the 1975’s It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You. I know a lot of people don’t really know what to make of the 1975, but I have a lot of time for them, and this track, which chronicles Matt Healy’s heroin addiction, is a little stunner. The eighties beat, the yearning in that chorus, the deftness of the lyric, “collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes” – fuck me, they’re a talented band. Other instant song crushes include this sassy, sexy, again-quite-eighties number from KT Tunstall, and this gorgeous song from Hollie Rogers – the latter in particular gave me a real moment of ‘I think this was written for my ears and my ears alone”.
People that really commit to a look, you know? And it’s usually – though not always – women. Women over 35 who’ve seen and done enough shit to know that life is short and therefore you should wear the leather skirt, the silver boots, the orange lipstick, the swoosh of black eyeliner, if it makes you happy. Brighton’s great for outfit-spotting – yesterday alone I saw one woman in a huge leopard-print coat and a hat and earrings both of emerald green, and another in spray-on black jeans, black faux-fur coat and black fedora, looking part rock-star, part pirate, all goddess.
I love well-crafted, dagger-sharp satire as much as the next person, but I have an incurable soft spot for outright silliness. Get me in a giggly mood and I want ridiculousness – weak puns, Dad jokes, daftness for the sheer giddy hell of it. Because of this, I am currently obsessed with the below. I… I can only apologise.
Ladies of a certain age smiling at dogs
Oh, this warms my heart like nothing else. A few months ago, Noodle and I were walking behind a woman who must have been in her late sixties, and when she caught sight of him, she made a huge fuss of him, and thought he was altogether wonderful. How little she knew. She reminded me so much of my own beloved Granny that as soon as she turned and went on her way, I burst into tears, right there on the pavement. Just the other day, a lady stopped me in Preston Park to tell me she’d grown up with Springer spaniels and that she wished she could have one now but her life didn’t allow it. I offered her Noodle but she declined.
Talking about writing with writers
Yes, this is probably my worst opinion (other than ‘champagne is the best alcoholic drink’), because writers discussing Their Precious Craft is never not awful. But the sheer relief when you find someone you can share your hatred of exclamations marks with, your love of semi-colons, your procrastination techniques, your rage at vague briefs or shape-shifting briefs that change after the submission of every draft, your firm belief that all the ideas are out there, somewhere – they don’t come from your head, they choose your head.
The thing about writing (yes, yes, I’m sorry) is that it’s both far easier and far harder than writers would have you believe. It’s mostly chiselling, whittling, making something crisp and clear from something intangible. Fiddling with the lens until life comes, sharp and bright, into focus. Starting to type is most of the battle won. You don’t have to waft around creatively, being deep and mysterious – because there is no mystery. But there’s also no agony like knowing what you need to say but not having said it yet. There’s a formula to most if not all writing; it’s essentially code-breaking. Once you’ve worked out a few concrete things – opening paragraph, final line, three or four lily-pads in between, the rest is just filling in the blanks.
If you write, you’ll have read the above and agreed with at least some of it. If you don’t, and have no interest in writing, you’ll have glazed over long ago. And that’s why writers should only ever discuss what they do with others who do it too. We’ll sound like tossers but at least we’ll all be aware of it.