‘The thing is, these people think they know you…’

There have been two conversational incidents of late that have given me personal pause for thought. The first came during Fantasycon in Brighton where I was Master of Ceremonies. It was the lovely (and tall – just check out Kim Newman’s picture of the two of us on his Facebook) Maura McHugh who stopped me the day after the (endless) raffle and said, ‘Why do you do that? You’re smart and funny and talented. Why do you make yourself the butt of the joke?’

Let me put this into context. The previous evening, author Guy Adams, who is one of my best friends, and I, had hosted the raffle. We have become a kind of double act on these things, and much of our humour depends on me being blonde/dumb and him pointing it out. It kind of works. People laugh anyway. But what I forget, amidst the laughter, is that a lot of those people DON’T KNOW ME like Guy does. The parody has become my failsafe. It makes people feel comfortable, and I like people to feel comfortable. What I didn’t realise until that conversation with Maura, was how much I liked the feeling when people  ‘saw through it.’ Because it isn’t me. Not really.

Anyone who was at World Fantasy last week  has probably heard about the weird guy who ended up getting his membership taken away from him and evicted. (Oh yes, we are totally rock n roll in the genre.) The other day I went for lunch with a producer friend, Ray, who is also in LA currently, and a partner of his. We were chatting and I started telling the story about how this guy had stalked me, harrassed me, and then my good friends Paul and Marie had walked me back to my room because they were worried about me. My version of this events had lots of jokes and laughs in it (as you do), but when I’d finished, Ray looked at me thoughtfully and said, ‘The thing is, these people think they know you.’

This reinforced something that struck me after the fiasco of this years BFS awards, when some has-been soap actor who was a dinner guest of the then-chairman came on stage to present an award and said I’d look better with my dress off (he’d never even spoken to me before) and then afterwards tried to join in a conversation I was in by referring to me as ‘This tart…..’ (Trust me -he won’t ever do it again.) I remember being shocked that he thought it was okay to speak to me like that, but then afterwards I thought, what exactly is it I allow? I don’t draw a boundary, so how is anyone supposed to see it?

That’s the weird thing about the internet/public persona, I guess. Am I flippant? Yes, of course. Otherwise, I couldn’t be the ridiculous person I am in front of a microphone or in a tweet or a FB update. I play for the laughs. Look at my Twitter or Facebook and that’s what you get. Blonde in a nutshell. It’s all part of who I am. But is it who I am?

Hell no.

I’m serious. I believe in true love. I work really, really hard. I think too much about everything. For all my talk of wine and men, I’m normally in bed by midnight and on my own. I don’t do one night stands. My standards are high. I like kind people more than I like successful ones. I want a man who is talented, stands his ground, makes me laugh, makes me feel safe, and doesn’t make me want an audience. My friends are the most important people to me. I cried for days when my cat died. I’m scared of everything. I like to sit outside on warm evenings and think about everything I will never do in my life and feel okay about that. Autumn makes me think of death. Only if I trust someone will I let them touch my neck.

The people that know me know that. Probably about three of the people reading this. See?

I used to joke that my flippancy was my judge of character to see who could see who I really was or not. However, I can’t help but wonder  if, as I get older and wiser, the joke has fallen back on me. Maybe I should ease back on the flippancy and be happy to just be me.  Or maybe we should all remember that a public persona is never who the person really is…

Or maybe my persona is me, and I just don’t like to see myself that way because I’m afraid of becoming Patsy…;-) Who knows…it’s only me..and I’m a blonde..and I’m rambling…

SPx (under the influence)

PS. But the pope is still a cunt. Just in case you were wonderin’….



About sarah

Writer of supernatural and crime fiction for Gollancz in the UK. I've written six horror novels and my first thriller, A Matter of Blood, wa View all posts by sarah

24 responses to “‘The thing is, these people think they know you…’

  • Neil Ford

    {{hugs}} xx

    (because I can’t actually think of anything to say)

    – Neil.

  • Stephen Deas

    We armour and protect ourselves in masks and then wonder why no one ever sees who we really are. The first world’s curse.

  • LPG

    When you get comments like that though, it’s because the minor soap twerp is assuming that you know him. My past encounters with those eijets and those comments gave me that impression. Difference is I don’t have to worry about impressions, and usually apply my heels to feet or elbows to crotch. Or on one occasion I called them on it, loudly, which was fun 🙂

  • Ken Armstrong

    I would never think that I know you (obv) cos I don’t.

    But, for what it’s worth, I see the social media personal – “the pope, the smack and the naughty words” – and I would never – ever – think you anything other than serious and very smart.

  • David Grimstone

    Well, the guy at the BFS sounds like a real charmer – I’m SO glad I left. 🙂

  • Elizabeth Bourne

    Clearly, I don’t know you. We are miles and countries apart. 🙂 What I do know is that it’s tough being a woman, and even harder being an attractive public woman. (Not that it isn’t hard being a public man, but it is different indeed.)

    People want, and expect, that they know you. And they want to have a piece of whatever glow they perceive you to have, worse, they feel entitled to it. Which seems ridiculous, but there it is.

    My woman writer friends and I have wrestled with this issue, because people do make assumptions and to some extent, we all have public persona we put out there, either because it’s easy or it’s fun or it’s practical, and every so often something bad happens.

    The good news is that I honestly believe the assholes are in the minority. And, if you have to smack down a few jerks who will say bad things about you, no big deal. Most people, I think, do have some understanding and are willing to give some space.

    But it’s a risk and a constant balancing act, and it’s worse for women, and it’s going to be worse for an attractive blond (thanks, Marilyn) than it is for a short brunette like me.

    Best of luck.

  • MadNad (@MadNad)

    I think most of us have a public persona that we allow the great unwashed to see, and then reserve our truer self (that is sometimes stronger and more vulnerable in equal measure) for only a select few.

    Because we all do this in varying degrees, it is quite staggering that there are still people who are only passing acquaintances, cannot see this – as the persona they are portraying themselves is probably not accurate.

    Quite frankly, someone that has worked on a soap opera, a section of the industry that is plagued by fanatical fans unable to distinguish fact from fiction, should know better – but then, he was a bit of a twat I thought.

  • Tim Pratt

    I can’t claim to know you at all, of course, since we’ve had no more than an hour’s conversation, but I can say, having read your books, it was quite clear to me the funny public personae was far from the whole story about you.

  • James Oswald (@SirBenfro)

    It is a problem with the ever-increasing use of social media that we all think we know everyone else and can just walk up to them and say hi.

    I’m old enough to remember a time when you waited to be introduced, or at the very least had a good reason to approach someone and introduce yourself (indeed, I still feel awkward following people on facebook and twitter who I don’t know from elsewhere or through a mutual friend.)

    Regardless of how we present ourselves to the world, it’s crass to adopt a chummy familiarity with someone you’ve only just met. Alas, as the growth of social media muddies the definition of what a friend actually is, I suspect this crassness will only grow.

  • Dc Evans

    0. Never, ever, let someone make you reconsider who you are. 1. Never back down from who you are and what makes you happy. 2. Don’t under estimate the power of stupidity, IN ANYONE. 3. I like listing things. 4. Regardless of what your “persona” is…it’s still you. 5. What truly matters is who you feel you are, not what other people see you as. 6. Most soap opera people are dramatic for the sake of (other than being a douche) covering up their lack of self-awareness. 7. Unicorns are pretty and Leprechauns can’t be trusted. 8. Laughter is a great thing to give people, but only if they are laughing with you and not at you in a degrading way. 9. I dislike that lists are not started with 0.

  • Anonymous

    I think there’s a difference between projecting a public persona and cultivating a dumb-blonde alternate personality because you aren’t comfortable with people seeing past the joke. I wouldn’t for a minute suggest this excuses the ‘stalker’ or the ex-soap actor moron; they are reacting to this fantasy you, not the real one, and even then their actions are shameful.

    I’d suggest ditching the comfortable act (or at least pare it down) and presenting yourself as you – from what I’ve read on this post, she is far more interesting and approachable (by normal people anyway!).

  • Matt (@yvesraven)

    Like MadNad says, we all have different personas, masks or guises that allow us to present ourselves in different ways to different people. I think this is inevitable (even with friends and family) and most can recognise it and accept it. For those engaging with the public, I expect that a persona is almost essential. Whether to protect the fragile inner self and/or to help promote work. I think people also expect this, to a degree. For example, at past signings with Neil Gaiman, he’s been a very nice man, drawn me a picture in my book and chatted – I’m sure this is representative of who he is, but there will be more he reveals at home (may be he swears like a trooper with AFP)!

    This is no revelation, but the written word is a cruel mistress and not seeing/hearing someone speak their written comment can be quite a hinderance. I’ve made schoolboy errors in my learning curve, responding too quickly (i.e. without thinking) or retweeting instead of replying. I now try to slow down and make sure the message is better written to – it doesn’t always work, but hopefully I’m getting better. Sometimes it sounds fine in my head, but it just looks wrong written down.

    Although the internet feels like it has been around for ages, it hasn’t. I think a lot of people are still trying to figure out the difference between online and offline behaviours – what’s acceptable and what isn’t (re: previous blogs on extreme views seeming to be the only views online). This often has to work itself out in practical ways i.e. by getting it wrong and learning from mistakes.

    Twitter chatter encourages a level of friendly banter that belies the actual friendship that exists (or rather, doesn’t exist). Sarah, we’ve tweeted a few times and it’s been good-natured, but I’m sure when you think of who your friends are I’m not even brought to mind. This is expected and right – we’ve not even met in person. Like James says in his comment above, social media muddies the definition of friendship. Some haven’t quite recognised that or choose to ignore it, but hopefully the majority have their sensible heads on.

    All this to say, don’t be put off by the odd person that can’t understand (or should know better) the difference between a public and a private persona or between an online and a real friendship. Have a little grace when people get it a wrong, but recognise when they can’t see they’re wrong and run!

    Self-deprecating humour is a very British thing, but it can be taken too far, sometimes to our personal detriment. Having a quick review of the way we present ourselves is worthwhile every now and then, because a persona should still be a part of who we are (otherwise we’re just misrepresenting and deluding ourselves).

    Cheeky banter seems to be part of who you are (and I’m sure we all have blonde moments), so I’m sure it’s not something you can turn off completely. But if the smack is getting too much, just dial it down a notch 🙂

    Hugs (in an friendly virtual, not real-life wierdo, kinda way),

    (PS sorry for the long comment – it’s an interesting subject)

  • debra hall

    I’m always wearing the face that I ‘keep in the jar by the door’ so to speak x

  • DaveO

    It’s probably way after the fact, but just wanted to say that how you describe yourself above is how you have always come across in your blog and not flippant or shallow in the least. in fact I feel slightly surprised to read that about you.

    I’m fairly certain that few (likely none) of your readers would believe you to be anything other than intelligent and hardworking. To be fair, you are clearly very attractive, and that perhaps gives idiots space to prejudge you, but I don’t read your books or blogs for that reason!

    p.s. It’s lovely to hear someone successful state a preference for kindness.

  • paul veczko

    You can be to serious you can’t be to kind. Clean living, respect and love the rest will fall into place.


  • David Brzeski

    I’d been away from the BFS for so long that, when I rejoined, you were totally new to me. I went to my first Fantasycon for must be 25 years & thought you were great fun. You even roped Jilly & I into your team for the quiz.
    I don’t think your “persona” fooled me in the least. I certainly never took you for a tart, or a bimbo. You have as much right to be pretty as I have to be old & fat. LOL
    I’ve been discovering your writing since Fantasycon & I look forward to seeing you again in Brighton next year.

  • Joan De La Haye

    Well … I may not know you very well, but the little I do know of you is not someone I would ever think of as a bimbo. You’ve always struck me as smart, tough, and ambitious. And under all that bravado is a sensitive soul. Most of us get the joke. Those who don’t are a waste of time and space. You’re absolutely fabulous just the way you are sweetie!

  • Christopher Teague

    Fraser Hines called you a tart? At least you didn’t spend half your career with your arm stuck up a cow’s arse!

    What a twat!

  • Christopher Lawton

    I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard about you or your work before today. I was looking for new authors and information on horror and found an old Guardian article about sexism in the genre, and your name was mentioned. I linked here to find this article. How sad that this kind of crap is still happening.

    I wanted to leave this message because your post is about the impression you give off as part of your public persona. I know that first impressions count for nearly everything. Your first impression on me is of someone with honesty, wit, intelligence and integrity. Because of this, I’m adding some of your books to the top of my reading list.


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  • Sharon

    I’m late to the party, but no one has any right to treat another that way regardless of what persona they display. Those were just boors.

    I do hope you’ve found a comfortable medium because sometimes how people see us can affect how we see ourselves. No one ever really knows anyone else, and I think we’re such a work in progress that we never entirely know who we are either. 🙂 Enjoy who you are in the moment, I’d say, and keep aiming to be your ideal self.

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