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Open Features: The Black Dog On My Shoulder

...I have been hanging on to a story for more than twenty years, waiting for just the right platform to launch it upon the world. It has been difficult to resist the urge to reveal all, especially when tempted by words like ‘it would make a good film’ but resist I have. Then I discovered close to the deadline that there was an award for the best unpublished biography and I pulled out all the stops. The midnight oil was well and truly burnt...

But Mary Pilfold-Allan was downcast when her biography did not make the shortlist.

However wise words from a former colleague revived her optimism, and she is now tackling the tale she has to tell from a different angle.

To read more of Mary's invariably entertaining words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=mary+pilfold-allan

Disappointment and regret, two negatives that can pervade life with the same dreadful gloom as thunderous clouds gathering in a summer sky. I have always been a ‘glass is half full’ person and to me regrets are pointless – whether it’s something said, done or not done – it’s over, in the past.

Disappointment on the other hand, implies being temporarily cast down, although it may not seem quite like that at the time. Under the black clouds lurks the merest hint, a thin line of optimism, the possibility that all is not lost but requires a different approach or re-adjustment?

Our current home is a case in point. I was disappointed beyond belief when we were beaten to the house of my dreams and I wept buckets. We had to settle for our third choice, but guess what, more than a decade later I love where we live and that house of my dreams has been flooded out twice!

Nevertheless, while a disappointment is still fresh it lurks around you like a November fog and your shoulder becomes a resting place for the black dog! It happened again to me recently in a way that I should have long outgrown or at least learnt to handle.

I have been hanging on to a story for more than twenty years, waiting for just the right platform to launch it upon the world. It has been difficult to resist the urge to reveal all, especially when tempted by words like ‘it would make a good film’ but resist I have. Then I discovered close to the deadline that there was an award for the best unpublished biography and I pulled out all the stops. The midnight oil was well and truly burnt.

The story centres on the subject of a captivity narrative. I came across it in while I was on a Churchill Fellowship to the USA and Canada studying the links between East Anglia and the New World and the story fascinated me. Determined to one day give the subject her just recognition, in the intervening years I have research various facets and I thought my efforts of a biography was in with a chance.

I was wrong. Whether it was my style or that the subject of other biographies was better, I don’t know. What I do know is that disappointment settled upon me in an unusually heavy way. I brooded, ranted and I confess, sulked. Not a pretty picture.

Unsure how to cope with the disappointment I stuffed my subject back in the drawer and got on with other things. But try as I might, the disappointment still lingers in the back of my mind, as does the subject, like a niggling headache that just will not go away.

So finally, while having afternoon tea with a former journalist colleague, I poured out my disappointment along with the Assam. As colleagues do who have worked together for long enough, I didn’t have to go into the small print, she got the headlines straight away, to put it metaphorically.

“You and I are sprinters with words, we work best to deadlines and to fill a space. We’re use to throwing the main facts into the first paragraph. Writing a biography was never going to be a doddle for you. Give yourself a few weeks off then come at it from a different angle.”

By the time I left the teashop the black dog was a mere puppy. I have almost forgotten I was ever disappointed, quite the reverse, I am beginning to get excited by the thought of looking at the story afresh. Who knows, perhaps my subject may yet become a title on the bookshop shelf, if not a bestseller.

So back to the original thought. How can I have any regret about entering for the award, I did and there is no going back? As for the disappointment of not even getting to the shortlist, well, yes I was well and truly put out but do you know what, it may have been just what was needed to spur me on to better things.

Delighted to hear from any other would-be biographers with a solution to the black dog!


Mary Pilfold-Allan
September 2009

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