Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Do I Hold Back?

I was asked this question recently, and I actually had to think about the answer.

I doubt that the people who listened to me on Saturday  night, telling the story of the husband’s nickname at school and how he got it, believed for a moment that I ever hold back, and on that occasion, I didn’t, because, frankly it’s a funny story worth telling... And, no, I’m not going to tell it here, and neither are any of the people around that table, because I know they’re all sufficiently afraid of me and the repercussions they’d suffer at my hands if they did, and because I know that they all utterly respect the sanctity of the author’s post-event supper table.

I also, recently, wrote a blog titled Control and Restraint, which explains something about holding back, and the fact that I don’t, and why I don’t, and why it’s OK not to under certain circumstances.

The answer to the question depends on circumstances, though, doesn’t it?

When it comes to dinner parties, of course I don’t hold back. These occasions are private, and, even if conversations are reported, on Twitter or FaceBook, it’s all hearsay, isn’t it? It’s all ‘he said’, ‘she said’. We can all deny our parts in proceedings, or laugh them off, or put it down to a drink or two too many. The chances are that nothing very terrible is going to happen in the end. We might feel a twinge of embarrassment, and we might feel a little cross or betrayed by the person reporting our words, but such is life.

When I’m writing fiction, I see no point in holding back. 

I often speak of opening a vein when it comes to fiction. I do it regularly, and, I hope, with a purpose, and I wouldn’t and won’t change that. Sometimes it’s recognised and sometimes it’s even appreciated... Not always, of course, but that’s just a matter of the World catching up, and, who knows? Maybe, one day, it will.

Then there’s the other... Then there’s saying or writing things first person to the World... Things that weren’t meant to be private and aren’t leaked or reported by other people.

Telling a story to a dozen people around a supper table when I can see the whites of their eyes, the shock on their faces, and the glee at being let in on a secret is one thing. Tweeting into the void when I might be saying something scurrilous or even offensive, when tone is not necessarily translatable is something entirely different. If I can’t quite set the scene, if I can’t rely on my audience to know exactly what has come before, if what I want to say can easily be misinterpreted, if there is a chance I will misrepresent myself then, surely, I should think very carefully before updating my FaceBook status or tweeting my random thoughts.

I try to do it, I really do, but, of course, I don’t always get it right, and I have found myself caught up in minor controversies of my own making.

I also have a long list, on file of the things I haven’t said, out of context, off the cuff. I have a long list of things that didn’t make it past my filters, such as they are.

Do I hold back?

Yes I do.

Is there ever a good reason to say, for example, “...”

You see... I looked down my long list of things I haven’t said, and I couldn’t find a single quote that I could use, even as an example, without encasing it in a metre thick defensive wall of explanation and excuse, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

I do hold back. I do it for myself and I do it for you, and I do it because there has still got to be room in the World for manners, for politeness, for consideration. 

There are a great many people out there, particularly among the young and impressionable, who insist on saying that they simply want to be loved for themselves, for who they are. My answer to that is that I’m happy to love them just so long as they work on being their very best selves, and that includes having some bloody manners, and knowing when it’s a good idea to hold back a little.


  1. For me it is not just the potentially insulting things that I have difficulty repeating without disclaimers and background.

    The most common feedback I received from interviews was that I answer simple questions with too much context. The disjunction was that, for me, they were not simple questions.

    The part of my brain that loves law, science, and mystery keeps carrying me back to the liminal zones where things are interesting instead of the safe middle where the answers have no magic. Nearly all the short stories I tell are the ones where something is only interesting without context.

    1. Fascinating stuff, David. I rather think you'll be hearing more from me on this subject as a consequence of that reply.

    2. I am a fascinating person :)

      I look forward to your perspective on discrete vs holistic tales.