A very English difficulty

For the last year I have put up few posts. There are reasons – mostly, though not all, good ones. I thought I might just about manage once a month, but I was going to cheat this February/March. The distinguished journalist, television director and author, Cynthia Reyes, had kindly asked me to be interviewed for her At Home series, and I thought I would re-blog her post… but I can’t. Because I’m English (and overcome with embarrassment). Cynthia has cleverly and kindly picked out my, often small, achievements, spread thinly over a long life, and polished and condensed them until they give an impression of a High Achiever.

Like everyone else, I enjoy a warm feeling at seeing work I have done being given attention and receiving praise for it. I am vain enough not to undo her good work by pointing out the why these are not as good as they look. Yet I would give much to have done what Cynthia has done. She has overcome daunting physical challenges and lives with PTSD after an accident when at the peak of her career. In addition she has written two amazing, entertaining, heart-warming and, above all, honest books about her life and its challenges. Then last year she published a book that will thrill, comfort and entertain children all over the world, Myrtle the Purple Turtle. This book will contribute positively to humanity.



70 thoughts on “A very English difficulty

  1. You made me laugh with this post, Hilary. When I think of the many, many posts that I’ve read from writers crowing (marketing, I suppose?) about their publications, yours in comparison is so modest. And yet, look at all you’ve done. There’s much to be proud of.

  2. I agree with Susanne, you are breath of fresh air in the blogging world full of writers who brag about their mediocre books.

    The interview as very interesting, I learned something new about you. You have accomplished so much, you should be very proud indeed.

    • I have this idiotic conviction that if you are curious and excited enough, and prepared to put the hours in, there isn’t much that you can’t do – though I have to admit that playing the piano is still out of reach.

  3. Well, I tried to respond to you twice, my dear girl, but I burst out laughing each time and had to stop. Sorry about that, but I am not English and my reactions are less restrained than yours!
    Now, young lady: First you downplay your achievements and talents – almost apologizing for them. Then you accuse me of gilding the lily, which is sort of the same thing. Then you write this sweet article about me and my books. You didn’t have to do any of that, but I suspect it’s just another expression of your gracious spirit.
    Mind you: keep this up, and I’ll totally embarrass you by producing another post, this time, saying even nicer things about you!

    • It’s not just me, honestly. My husband who has published many books, and is much more modest, would not dream of putting out such a post. I’ve become quite blasé about giving launch parties and selling books at them, but I couldn’t persuade him to have a party last year for his book. He just took half a dozen people who had helped him out to a very good lunch and gave them copies.

  4. Oh, you Poms ! – so self-effacing … Hilary Custance Green, you are an author of fiction (gasp ! – I do not have a single original idea in my head) AND of researched non-fiction: you are a totally successful writer, You are also A Very Nice Person; and we your followers wish you had more time for your blog. (How’s the garden ? – and the hedgehogs ? – and that beautiul house ?)
    I’m writing this comment BEFORE going to the link, btw … [grin]

    • I have never (and I truly mean this) written anything that comes close to And Then Like My Dreams. Hedgehogs still around, though I have moved their feed to the end of the garden, because of building works. The garden is in a distressing state half way through a revamp, but no builders as we had to wait for some edging setts, and now they are on another job… It will be all right in the end. I will post when I get there. It makes me very happy when you turn up

  5. I understand your point, Hilary, but I think you would make a fantastic subject for an interview. Just think how much you could teach people about the CBI (as only one example)!!

  6. Okay, I need to add a PS. here. I just read your interview and love it!! I have a question and it is NOT about WWII – can you believe it?
    I have made 2 attempts at following the instructions for starting Amur Maples from seed and Blue Spruce. The spruce will come up, but then die days later. The Amur maple – nothing. Help?

    • I believe the seeds are very fussy and have to go through a particular cycle of warmth and cold. I don’t plant seeds, GP, I have some maples in a bed that is covered in fine pine bark i.e. an ericaceous environment. The maples set seed and, in this bed only, young maples simply pop up. Many die in their first year. Some die after I have dug them up during their first winter. The young plants are very susceptible to frost for several years. They are all different and some are not very exciting in summer, but colour up in spring and autumn. They show their real habit and colouring only after a few years and I am quite soppy about them… So, you see, I don’t contribute much except patience.

  7. I realise now how VERY English you are 🙂 I haven’t seen Cynthia’s post while hooning about the countryside on holiday, so will check that out later to get the other side of the story. Meanwhile, congratulations and I hope you allow yourself to ever so slightly smile at your accomplishments and appreciate the esteem you are held in by some one you respect 🙂

    • Do you know, the PhD was the best fun ever. I found writing a real hassle at school and in my first degree, but later I grew to enjoy academic work and the computer released me – the writing always looks beautiful, and you can delete without mess – it is easier as you get older.

  8. That is wonderful, I love your self-effacement and understand your unwillingness to blow your own trumpet and market yourself. I was just thinking the other day how many people seem to find it quite easy to publicise their accomplishments these days, perhaps because it’s become common currency in the social media age, but it’s nice to think it’s also okay not to do that. I think you’re preserving an important part of British culture and I salute you. I like Myrtle the purple turtle, too.

    • Hi Lorna, I’m glad you understand. I feel I’ve become really brash and pushy over the last few years and do sell my books at book launches and lectures, but I can put up a post about myself as blush-making as Cynthia’s. I do feel a fraud, too, as so much was due to luck and the kind of support I have at home.

  9. Sorry, but I would fail a test for being ‘English.’ Lacking modesty is my downfall and the price one pays for being a Dutchman. I am so glad you are getting and accepting such well-earned praise.
    Hoorah for Hilary a thousand times.

    • Yes. Normally you would reblog such a lovely post by a fellow blogger, and I wanted to acknowledge this, but I just couldn’t bring myself to post it here. I guess it goes back to childhood and one of the earliest lessons was on the sin of boastfulness.

  10. It was a wonderful review and you deserve the accolades. But I do understand what drives the self-effacement. One time my boss praised me in front of my colleagues and I felt so uncomfortable I burst into tears. Which only re-inforced their prejudice that women are too emotional to be in high-profile jobs.

  11. I’ve been reading up on Women in Music and gender-studies in particular over a few months now and this female self-effacement is repeatedly mentioned as something that has held women back, you, however, have been a high achiever in several fields without having to blow your own trumpet which sort of blows those theories out of the window.

    Men, other than your lovely husband, of course, are often much better at self-promotion and making bosses aware of their talents often asking for and getting more money for their work. One study I read in the New York Times said that one of the reasons the researching authors felt men guarded their work environments from female entrants was when the women started getting involved in greater numbers pay rates went down and on the other hand when more men jumped into a career and started becoming a majority pay rates went up. Fascinating stuff, my poor structuring in my lecture let me down but you never know one day I might make a breakthrough in my writing :).

    • My parents were brilliant and absolutely supported equality for men and women (and both went to Cambridge), yet life (and my three years in a convent boarding school) gave me a different story. History, as you have discovered, is littered with women whose talents were ignored or suppressed. Yes, the emancipation of women is a slow business and I have done quite a lot of reading on it. I think your generation are brave, strong women, but of course men are unwilling to give up too much in the name of equality. The sad thing is that so many women, without even realising it, support the idea that men are inherently superior. You might enjoy Rebecca Solnit’s book of essays, The Mother of All Questions. Both writing and lecturing have come to me very late in life – you have plenty of time. Keep singing!

      • I’m pleased that we are seeing small changes, but whether the pace of change will alter I’m not so sure, it may take another 100 years for us all to be seen as equally capable and competent. I’ve been told on several occasions I’m too business like, too honest and straight talking, too versatile as though these are bad traits for women to have.

        Artificial gender audits may work in the short term as more men are hired in low paid admin roles to balance out the stats, and women from selective socio-economic backgrounds will be used to look as though we are improving equality as the men are deciding which women ie their daughters, wives, family friends, none boat rockers are chosen as titular heads. Now thank goodness I can put away all the manuals and stop researching and get on with singing 😀.

        But you really are a role model to me Hilary, oozing positivity and constantly striving and succeeding in what you turn your hands to and encouraging your daughter to do the same.

      • Hang on to all those excellent traits – you are going to need every one of them. I fear you are right about the 100 years, but hopefully the world will be so well-stirred by then that many divisions will have broken down.
        If I have contributed in any way, that is a thrill.

  12. Your sculptures are lovely, your garden intriguing, and your production impressive. I truly love them all. Thank you for letting us get a glimpse via Cynthia, and your compliment to her—”This book will contribute positively to humanity”—has to be the highest we can all hope for.

  13. A very modest post. I’m not sure it is a very English problem though (or perhaps I’ve always been a bit English, because I’ve much rather talk about anybody else). Well deserved and I’ll check more about Cynthia. Congratulations, Hilary.

    • Thanks, Olga. I can’t help knowing how much of my life has been very ordinary, but if you put all the best bits together then, voilà, it suddenly looks impressive. It’s lovely to be praised, but it does feel undeserved.

  14. Well, I’ve not read any of your books, have only just discovered your blog but I recognise the… er… self-deprecation in your post. I did much the same in my current post and then thought “oh, have I now sent people away saying how many things have gone wrong?” But it didn’t send anyone away. Non-Brits don’t really understand this sort of thing (I suspect) but that becomes ‘our’ charm, don’t you think? I look forward to reading some of your past posts and catching up and have to hope that you’ll, eventually, write more!

    • It is so comforting to find others who understand. I have dozens of posts in my head, but life is crammed and I always feel that I should respond to the posts of those I follow before I post (or follow) any more. I have been on your site and your work looks amazing, so delicate and intricate. The colouring you did for Luanne reminds me that the head of my father used for the cover of the Death Railway book was originally black and white.

    • Support is very sweet! I could put up posts but don’t, because I have no time to respond to all the lovely people who comment and I’m not sure when or if that will change. There are at least two more I will put up for sure.

  15. Hilary your latest comment where you say you were able to read the French version of my entry. excited my attention . Yesterday night I came back on your site and I read what. is figured and written on the right column. I went further and I discovered you were a talented and known writer.;This has been confirmed when I typed your name on Google. You are really too much modest( like your husband)
    About the last book written from you father who was POW of the Japaneses, this makes me think of my father in law who has been POW in Germany from 1940 to 1945. He died in 2007 but before I have never thought to notice his stories and himself never asked her daughters ( whom my wife Janine ) to write them .
    You made a good job This honors your father
    Love ❤

    • You are very kind. I sell very few books and I think I am only known to a small number of people – though Google, of course, knows us all! The book about my father has the work I am most proud of. Many POWs would rather not talk about their experiences. Your father-in-law was a prisoner for a very long time and maybe telling the stories was how he wanted to remember that time himself.

  16. Hi Hilary,
    I sent you a thank you card because I just didn’t think that your wonderful friendship deserved only a cool thank you on-line – but it was returned to me yesterday, I was horrified. I can’t believe I copied your address incorrectly…. I don’t know what to say.
    GP Cox

      • Still, it was so thoughtful of you!!
        We’re not doing too bad for our age and now fully vaccinated, we’re more than okay. I have to go in for a procedure on the 27th and NOT looking forward to it, but that’s another story (as they say) 😬😣😕

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