Truman Capote once said, “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”
When I first read those words, I thought I might cry. Such a simple, beautiful sentence, yet once which touched me deep down in my soul. This was not the first time that Truman Capote – one of my literary heroes who, I’m sure, would not mind playing second fiddle to Oscar Wilde – has touched me and helped me, and for which I can never repay him.
Many years ago, I was struggling to get my first book, Killing For Capone, off the ground. I had lovingly sent this, the result of three years of research and two years of writing, to over fifty publishers and agents. Time and again they told me – if they bothered to reply at all – that while my writing was good and the subject matter enthralling, it did not fit into a particular category. “It may be biography or a true story,” one publisher said, “but it reads like a novel. If you can make it read like a biography, we might be interested.” Read like a biography, I thought. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Why should I try to sound like every other true crime writer or biographer out there? And yet, as time and again I was told similar things – make your work fit into a box we can put a label on; this will fit in neither one pigeon-hole nor another – I thought that maybe they were right. Perhaps I should try to sound like everybody else.
It was then that Truman Capote saved me.
One morning my husband gave me a present. It was wrapped in plain brown paper and bore no label. “What’s this?” I asked, inquisitively.
“Something I think you might find useful.” he smiled.
I tore open the paper to find a copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, together with a quote from the author himself. It was an excerpt from an interview, in which he said “I wanted to create a different kind of crime story, one that would be precisely like a novel, with a single difference. Every word of it would be true from beginning to end.” When I read those words, it was as though a hand had reached through the mists of time and history, to touch my shoulder and tell me that I was not alone, encouraging me to keep going on the path I was on and to pay no heed to the naysayers. I realised then that if my book should ever be placed in one particular box, pigeon-hole, category, call it what you will, it would be one labelled “Non-fiction novel”; and if people didn’t like it, I would simply smile and say, “If it’s good enough for Capote, it’s sure as damnit good enough for me.”
I did get Killing For Capone published, and have carried on writing. I still write in my own style, my own voice, never listening to the naysayers or those who presume to know better. Moreover, I still strive every day to make my work please me. After all, it is I who must listen to the inner music that my words make.