It’s been a while since we were in touch, but this time I thought it should be me who initiated a conversation. Because while we are old acquaintances, I have never before sought you out or told you bluntly how I feel about our relationship.
Firstly, let’s refresh our memories with the details of our most significant encounters.
Top of the list has to come our very first introduction. I was fourteen years old, and you will probably remember that it was the first time my parents had ever left me alone for a couple of nights in our big, old, sixteenth-century house with its dark backyard and secluded location. I can still recall my nervous prowling from room to room, flicking on light switches to make sure mysterious bogey-men and unnamed monsters weren’t lurking in the shadowed corners and closets.
So who would have thought my worst fears would come true and that would be the night you would first telephone me to say hello? You were watching me, you said, and you had been watching me for a while – and didn’t I know who you were because you were always near? I could hear the dark pleasure in your voice; your slow, steady breathing.
Anonymous, it is hard to convey the fear you stirred in me as I stood holding the phone in that unlit room. Who were you? What did you want with me? And why were you laughing at my silent terror? You knew it would be a very long time before my home, my street, would look familiar or safe again. You knew that you had planted a thought in my head which would stay for months.
Fast forward a lot of years, and now I am a businesswoman – professional, much too busy, a manager of many people, awash with schedules and deadlines. So how could I know that Thursday morning would be the day you would re-enter my life? A different guise, a different agenda, but the same old anonymity. A package, postmark blurred, heaped innocently with the mail. I ripped it open and pages spilled out – a letter, suggesting that you knew a lot about me and only had my best interests at heart. But you didn’t – because I have spent my life working with language, and I heard the vicious twist of the knife in your voice as you set out to undermine and destroy. And then the same the following Thursday – the carefully repeated performance, the blackness of your impeccable timing, knowing that a simple day of the week could become imbued with an anxiety that made it hard to breathe.
But, there is more, isn’t there. Now I’m an agent and I meet you again, for you, Anonymous, are the one who wrote to me, complaining about my blog. I actually thought you had a point, and goodness knows I’m not perfect; I do try to listen and learn. But your message has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from my old friend Anonymous – the self-righteous air, the mean-spirited tone, though this new model comes with the added piquance of implacability. I offer to telephone you if you would reveal yourself – but no, Anonymous is not a forgiver or forgetter. And certainly not a discusser. You are safe out there in your dark virtual cave and there’s no way you’re coming out into the light.
There have been other flirtations between you and I, and now, Anonymous, I see you everywhere in this literary world – on blogs, in chat-rooms, in Secret Agent contests and Amazon reviews – anywhere where people congregate, and especially where you might have a chance of bringing down the successful. I discover that most well-known authors have encountered you somewhere, some time. And while they try to laugh you off and ‘grow a thicker skin’, I think you know better than any of us that there is something strangely malevolent about the faceless intruder, ‘the paw under the door’.
And now, unsurprisingly, I see you start to approach my own clients, popping up on their sites, undermining their equanimity, ripping into their work, and I rise up like a Mother Lion, because, Anonymous, I’ve had enough of you.
I have tried to think whether there could be any good reasons for you being The Great Unnamed. But I can’t come up with any, because I believe that if you have something to say you should stand up and say it face to face, or at least with your name attached. And anyway, if you have good intentions how strange it is that your words are so rarely kind or uplifting or generous.
Let’s face the facts. You enjoy the darkness and the freedom you find there. Because if you came out into the startling light of accountability you would be caught, transfixed, by our eyes, and any face-to-face encounter would force you to acknowledge the humanity of those you address.
Anonymous, we have a history, you and I. Our relationship was born many years ago when I was young and powerless and alone in a dark house. But now there’s something I want to tell you straight. To be anonymous is to be cowardly. Own your opinions, admit to your feelings, and find ways to express them that would allow for genuine dialogue. It’s time to stand up and be a . . . man? A woman?
Now the tables have turned. Because, Anonymous, now I am watching YOU.
The Greenhouse Literary Agency.