The idea is based on rosemary, known to aid concentration; ginger, also, which stimulates the brain, and frankincense, lending the writer in question an almost holy aura of artistic suffering as he toils at his cursed desk in the search of something timeless (cedarwood, sandalwood, and ‘drift wood’ conjur up this idea effectively), Bertrand Duchaufour seamlessly blending these ingredients together in an atmospheric, if somewhat humourless, perfume made for new London outfit St Giles – other characters in the series including The Actress, The Stylist, The Tycoon, and The Mechanic.
Naturally, with the dizzying news that I am to be ‘a writer’, ‘an author’, I gravitated immediately to this one first when I opened the package sent here from England yesterday, wondering what the perfume could tell me about what, exactly, a writer is.
Like walking around saying that you are ‘an artist’, there is something quite irking when you meet people and they come out with the line ‘I’m a writrr‘; all wannabe LA waiter with screenwriting dreams and cut-throat ambition and possibly quite questionable talent; a person who writes for a supermarket magazine and they say they are a writer; any words that you put down on paper that gets sold in some capacity making you a writer, and yet the phrase still holds such undeniable weight and gravitas that you can’t help but think of people like Susan Sontag or Philip Roth or any other literary heavyweights who have put their writerly stamp on the universe and been immortalised by their published words; it seems to me that this is an expression that almost, if you take these things too seriously, shouldn’t just be bandied about with unquestioning glibness.
A week or so ago I had lunch in the country somewhere in the Midlands near where my parents live with an old friend of mine from my teenage years who is a singer songwriter, someone who has struggled for years to get to the place that she is at; in a cult for eighteen years, she managed to extricate herself from it eventually with a great deal of effort and difficulty; she is a single mother, has little support from her immediate family, and yet has never given up on the idea that she is going to make a living from her music, as that is the first and only thing that she has any remote interest in doing. A regular on the folk circuit in Birmingham, she has persevered with her craft, even if as yet it has been quite difficult to make an actual living from it (having a flesh and blood young child in the house to support makes that an absolute necessity for her), and before we met up she had written to me that she was supremely busy and rushed off her feet with her university studies but could spare a couple of hours on that Friday afternoon if I wanted to, and we met up.
I had assumed that J would be telling me that reality had bitten, that she had jacked in her dreams of writing and singing songs for a living because she had had no other choice; but in fact what was true was directly the opposite; not only is she now doing a university degree in songwriting, a qualification I hadn’t even known actually existed, she is also making her living teaching choir to the inmates in a local prison and a Jewish old people’s home, living and breathing music, getting deeply into the mechanics and the psychology of classic and contemporary songwriting, the bait and the hooks, the musical theory, with a view to writing songs, eventually, for other people professionally; selling apps that create instant harmonies and the like, as well as performing her own songs (she has a beautiful voice), and, the objections of her family notwithstanding, who come from much more conservative, materialistic stuff, just writing these songs for herself because they just come out of her and because she can do nothing else. She has to create. She feels she would just die, in her soul, otherwise, if she didn’t, and I she meant it quite literally. And I could totally relate to everything that she was saying. I felt a real kindred of spirit with her, we felt like renegades. Before I started writing about perfume, I was also in a black abyss, myself – lost without purpose, frustrated, and unrealised.
My mornings alone in the house would gape up at me; a void that I didn’t know how to fill: at a loss. And quite depressed. I felt like everything around me was like a chasm of solidity and pointlessness, just going through the material motions. People are different: some are more psychically bound to the physical daily realities of this life; the chores, the walls of the house, the bills, the shopping, the necessities of existence, but I was never really interested in any of that (of course you have to deal with the physical realia of the week, but it never really adheres to me in any meaningful sense; it is all just something I want to slough off of myself like a snake and focus on what keeps me alive and in the moment). We discussed whether J had felt that she could call viably herself a singer songwriter when she was making hardly any money from what she was doing for all those years and her reply was absolutely ; that is one thing that I have never veered from; I have always said I am a singer songwriter because I am a singer songwriter, that is what I do, and whether other people actually recognise that or not or whether I make any money from it has nothing to do with it whatsoever, because the important thing to me is that I do it, I live it, and that ultimately is all that really matters. I write music.
And I felt very inspired by this lunch that we had together. It was certainly not a surface or small talk conversation, not that there is anything wrong with those conversations when they are necessary in the right social context. But our time was limited, and in truth, I hate that way of communicating in any case – it just bores to me death. We talked about many things: childhood, relationships, the suffocation of suburbia and how we had had to get out of it, the difficulties she had gone through being counteracted and criticised by people close to her who thought she was a weirdo and a nutcase and an insufferable unrealist; but something in her sheer vehemence really struck hard with me, her conviction in the absolute need to do what comes instinctively, to go with your gut and just put it out there, no matter what other, more ‘reality’ bound, people might say.
Sometimes you need society’s authoritization that you are something though for it to seem real: it’s like passing through some kind of membrane, from being a passive consumer of things to a producer of them; or else somewhere in between, in the vast ocean of people typing out words on their computers now, now that it is all so much more democratic, personal expression, in the era of instantaneous publications (such as this one). Smelling The Writer on the back of my hand now, a quite interesting creation with an ephemeral top edge, the aldehydic ether that hangs over the upper notes alluding to the almost haunted atmosphere that we imagine a ‘real writer’ to have contrasting with a more animal fleshed, human aspect of the castoreum base, I can see that the perfumer has certainly, captured something of the image that ‘a writer’ should supposedly have. It is a good perfume, undeniably, even if not one I am sure I can personally wear, comfortably, on my own skin.
25 responses to “THE WRITER by ST GILES (2017)”
I think you have a slightly odd idea that the rest of the world loves chores because they’re square, rather than doing what they have to to support children/ family members/ survive. Still I suppose we (mostly) choose a life we find tolerable.
Very excited about the book and will definitely have my pre-order in. Glad this is turning out a better year.
On the subject of writer perfumes, you liked Jardins d’Ecrivains George, didn’t you? I did too and flirted with buying; eventually decided it breached my personal tobacco threshold.
You are right: it could come across as me acting ‘superior’ in some way here : most people do do chores simply because they need to be done, but others definitely in my opinion live in the material world where absolute concrete reality is their main priority ( which in zen can lead to enlightenment, the sweeping of the same floor everyday ).As I said, we are all different.
words can be and do magic. They need a composer, like music, like perfume to soar above meaning.
love your image of the old typewriter with the single lamp shining above
“I want to be read”, wrote the 19th century Dutch writer Multatuli at the end of his book .
Gods speed dear M Ginza.
A good line.
A book! When?
Next year, all being well!
That’s terrific! You’re such an excellent writer.
Thank you very much. I will do my best!
Neil, I think its perfectly okay to feel that the mundane daily rituals/chores are not for you—and why not?—it’s not being superior. Quite frankly, I think that if people have extraordinary sensibilities, and they are able to channel/ voice/ write about these in an way that touches and affects others, then they are “artists”. You once wrote about that process of osmosis: your ideas will permeate (via words in book or a blog) towards another person. Good luck!
This is very helpful. Arigato
I hear you on the “writrr” reluctance. I just watched a film where an insecure housewife and mother (played by the amazing Catherine Keener) was attempting to mingle at a party full of slick Hollywood big shot producers, directors, cinematographers, et al.
“So. What do you do?” asked one of the big shots, looking her up and down.
“Um, I’m an artist.” (She had been – unsuccessfully – trying to sell her micro-miniature handmade twig chairs to high-end local tchotchcke stores. She’d been working on them ever since she graduated as homecoming queen and had done nothing else with her talents.)
“Actually, I just got a job at a one-hour photo.”
The subject of work and talent and success and vocation and identity is complex and fraught. I know I’ve never called myself a “writrr.” I will only say, “I’ve done some writing for . . .” even though I’ve written professionally for years.
As for fragrance, I think vintage Mitsouko extrait smells Writer to me.
But you ARE a wine, writer, are you not?
I wonder why we share this reluctance?
Yes, I’m actually a bona fide professional writer. It’s not the perfect parallel, and I’m not putting myself in the same league by any stretch (it should go without saying!) but the first one that occurs to me is that it’s something like Robert Plant circa 1972 calling himself a “Rock God.” He just wouldn’t. He’d say he was a singer in a band. My stepdad Eric Nicol was a brilliant and extraordinarily successful, award-winning humour columnist, author of 40-plus books and playwright who was appointed Member of the Order of Canada and always said he “moved around a pencil sometimes for fun” and that probably rubbed off on me.
I do applaud your friend’s choice to call herself a singer songwriter. If she feels that’s right for her, if she feels it to be true by her own definition and it gives her a sense of self-worth and identity, success and self-validation, then by all means.
This is all very interesting. Very. I don’t quite feel we have yet got to the bottom of it though.
Perhaps it also has something to do with being embarrassed to be thought of as someone who would ever call herself a “writrr.”
We haven’t quite, have we?
Unless it’s just modesty
I think it is. And at least for me, the feeling that I’m not really a writer — a Writer. George Eliot, now. SHE was a Writer. I’ll never deserve to be. Or maybe it’s that it’s something someone else could call me, but I can’t call myself? (See Robert Plant, Rock God.) Or it’s because we haven’t actually earned it? My dad earned his PhD. He was entitled to call himself Doctor. I didn’t earn any kind of Writer qualification. Is paid publication and readership enough? It doesn’t feel like it, in some ways. Is it because I read mediocrity all the time that would never qualify, in my mind, as coming from a true Writer? For some reason, I don’t seem to be able to sort this out . . .
It speaks clearly enough to me though!
That is very kind.
A thousand thank you’s.
We are who we are – and the acceptance of whatever that is, devoid of permission granted by others, is true liberation. Though it helps if they like your stuff.
A beautifully written piece, Neil. Does writing come very easily to you?
It kind of does. In one continuous go. I have to then try and shear it back. Glad it read on!
Ok I mean