Tuesday, 4 January 2011

How to write a best seller. Or Not - depending...

It is with not a little churlishness (or should that just be "churl"?) that I note the best selling books here in the UK this Christmas (as listed and updated hourly on Amazon). Predictably, recipe books abound - at one end of the specutrum devotees of 30 minute meals have bought more books than those who were given a slow cooker for Christmas - but only by a whisker. As always, crime novels and thrillers are well represented, as are diet books and the ubiquitous "Girl with..", "Girl who.." trilogy. None of which constitutes grounds for sniping, admittedly.

However, I am a little miffed that guides on how to be a Jedi rank higher than good fiction. But most of all I am amazed that books purporting to make people happy rank as highly as they do (though not as high as how to be a Jedi and how to cook a delicious thirty minute meal, which says something about the priorities of modern Brits).

Anyway, I just think that given the market is clearly there for happiness guides it really is time for me to get mine out there. I recognise now that "Spring to Mind" was too subtle for many. While ostensibly a novel it was at heart a guide to happiness and how to get it, dressed up as a coaching self-help book. The error was all mine. You see, I thought, naively, that people would baulk at being told how to get happy, at the preposterous notion that another person has the answers to their unasked, even unthought questions. I did not trust the notion that we all want to be happy. One sees so much evidence to the contrary after all...

I was so wrong.

People's wants and desires are not so complex Springgirl. You do them a disservice assuming they will find their own way and that the answers they seek lie within them. Wake up, Springgirl before another million self help books written by someone else are sold!

Jump on this wagon before it well and truly departs the station, mix your metaphors and stand still at your peril!

So here goes:

I am not going to beat around the bush anymore. I am going to draw on 40 years of experience, learning and cynicism to give you the definitive guide to happiness. I am not going to tell you "I can make you happy" or that "you can be happy". No. There is no "can" about it. You WILL be happy. Not only that, you WILL be fitter and you WILL be a domestic goddess capable of winning "The Apprentice" and cooking without a recipe book.  I am here to kill all the birds with one stone and so I give you the "The Happy Person's Guide to Modern Life - The Essential Handbook".

If you buy one new book this year - make it this one!

I give you here a brief overview of the main themes.

1. Happiness is subjective. Trust your gut not what advertisers, your mother or you partner tell you. No product, holiday, person, car, team, drink, hand bag or shoe will give you sustained happiness. Yes they can dull the pain and distract you for a while but they are only band-aids, not cures. Step 1 is to stop relying on them to solve your problems.

2. Fit people are happier and live longer - unless they are killed in pursuit of their fitness or sport - but at least they die happy. So get off the sofa, put the biscuits in the cupboard and go for a walk. Then sustain it - join a gym or a running club.

3. Music lifts your spirits - sing as you work. As you clean the house, wash the dishes or walk, pretend you are in en episode of "The Partridge Family", on stage with Kylie or singing back up for Katy Perry. Get humming as you get moving. Also listen to the lyrics of these fine pop tunes. many wise words to mull over...

4. Spend time every day doing something you love - apart from eating, smoking or drinking to excess. Keep it simple. Perhaps it is browsing in a book store for great self help books like this, or sipping coffee and watching the world go by. Perhaps it is playing golf or watching documentaries about space travel, seeing friends or reading peacefully like you did before you took on the cares of the world and became the sole provider for 287 little mouths.... Just do it.

5. Spend time every day doing something you are good at - people who play to their strengths are happier than people who keep doing things badly. Focus on what you know you can do well - yoga, sewing, baking, building stuff, brewing your own beer. If it makes you happy it will be worth the fights with the family. Be true to yourself. Do what you are good at - win - enjoy it - do it more- get better - win more.... A virtuous circle.

6. Friends and community lift our spirits - social people are happier. But heed this advisedly. Don't socialise at the expense of sleep, fitness, health or engagement with meaningful and fun things you would enjoy more. But if you are doing what you love and do well, then surely you will find people to share the fun with (provided you are not a crazy aggressive lunatic who has to destroy all opponents at the bridge club or on the squash court).

7. Be grateful for what is good in your life - and keep it simple. Watching your child sleep, the morning coffee, a sunny day, a seat on the train, everyone at Christmas lunch believing that you made the dessert, no new pimples...

8. Get real. Keep your expectations within safe bounds. You will not be happy dreaming of being a supermodel or getting discovered as you hum in the dairy aisles at Waitrose (especially if you are 44, frumpy and look as sad as you do in those saggy track pants). But you might get some great 3 for 2 offers on fruit or stumble onto a new thriller by your favourite author or run into an old mate keen to catch up over a low-fat croissant. Realistic goals and expectations also pertain to your hopes for loved ones. Stop living vicariously and projecting disappointed longings, ego and preoccupations with status onto your partner and children.

9. Forget about what other people think. Define yourself in terms that makes sense to you. If that means you don't return certain calls, so be it. More time for the things you really want to do. You will have met loads of new people following steps 1-8 above anyway - many of whom will have no preconceived notions about you!

10. Take yourself with a grain of salt. Lighten up. Keep things in perspective. 

Finally, above all else, eat only good chocolate and don't expect to be happy all the time. 

Oh and remember that through the tough times comes growth and learning, resilience and humour, maybe new found strengths and friends and the knowledge gained first hand that shoes and football teams don't really matter when the chips are really down...

So that is what I can offer. 

As I re-read this though I feel a little bit doubtful. Does anyone really wants this sort of advice? It is all very well to dole out the answers but what happens when the reader just can't be "bovvered" to join the gym or focus on the simple and good things in her life while her partner spends every night making home brew in the garden shed, texting his mates? What good is the above list if the reader cannot even work out a reasonable expectation from a crazy delusional pipe dream? 

Maybe there is a reason that cook books sell so well. Perhaps I need to pen "Navigating the Terrain between Slow and Quick Cooking: The Ultimate Guide for Wannabe Domestic Deities" or all those who would kill to look as good as Nigella (or Jamie for that matter). 

But what do I know about cooking? Pesto, salad, roasting things?

Perhaps I should pen a thriller? A follow up to the Millennium trilogy in which Lisbeth meets "The Girl with the Bad Advice" and has to single-handedly take on the entire self-help movement, slow cooking establishment, Jedi Revivalist cult speaking Swedish and winning over apprentice domestic goddesses starved almost to death on the Skittles diet favoured by slim girls everywhere...

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