I know a lot of people. Haven’t got that many friends but I know an awful lot of people; hardly a day goes by without my meeting or speaking with someone I used to know. This isn’t because I have an engaging and interesting personality, it’s because when you work in contract sales it is your job to get to know people; to build a client list. If you think that say every week for the last thirty years I have introduced myself to ten new people of whom four perhaps have become clients in the short-term and say two have remained clients over the long-term, you are talking about a lot of people. But of course they are business clients and since I am no longer in business we no longer have anything in common and without that buffer so to speak we are revealed as what we really are without our business masks: childless saddo; frustrated writer; needy mother; embarrassing near-alcoholic. Or well-balanced charity-worker now that I can give it the time. So, although I know and have known a lot of people in my life, I and they have no good reason particularly to stay in touch.
Where is this going? Well, recently I was in correspondence with someone I haven’t seen since I was ten. She is now married, three kids and is a senior editor at the Telegraph and writes well-received biographies in her spare time. How did she get from the deprived Easterhouse Estate in Glasgow to a first in English at Oxford [no less] and then on and up to become an editor at the Telegraph?
It seems her dad was a journalist; I never knew that, small-fry in a local paper but it was enough to get her interested in reading and writing. She doesn’t say anything in her e mail about her mum but one must assume she was ambitious for her. Her father got a better job in London when she was 14 and the family moved there. My friend went to a north London academic girls school and then on to Oxford.
So . . . Nurture Nature? Was the writing gene already there? Did it come down from some linear grandparent or was it simply the product of the literary environment she was brought up in?
In The Life Project by Helen Pearson the author considers the factors necessary to escape early disadvantage. In a section titled Born to Fail she considers why some people break free to go on to get good jobs, buy their own homes, raise families. She summarises these as: parents who were interested and engaged and were ambitious for their children; schools: teachers who are interested and engaged; location: it is easier to break free if there is something to escape to . . . good jobs, for example; and finally motivation, although in itself it isn’t enough.
No mention anywhere of genes.
I am artistic. My mum was artistic. My mum was an orphan but she found out later in life that her birth-father was a theatre director in Dublin. My daughter is creative rather than artistic. The gene skipped my brother but his daughter, my niece Laura is very artistic in fact she makes her living from computer graphics.