Footballers (and fans) are notoriously superstitious. From wearing lucky pants to drinking frog juice, the game is riddled with irrational beliefs and habits, many of them linked with the post hoc fallacy.
A Buddhist monk and his entourage have been regulars at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium to bless the pitch and distribute lucky charms to the players. Now the monk’s amulets and talismans are credited with Leicester City’s phenomenal success in the Premier League.
Authors may like to think they’re an intellectual cut above mere footballers, but many persist in the same kind of magical thinking. Here are some common rituals and beliefs:
1 Keeping pencils sharpened to a perfect point. On one level this makes sense. The sharper the pencil when you first put it to paper, the longer you can write without stopping. Pencil-sharpening is also the archetypal displacement activity. But a lot of writers go much further than that, believing good karma to be inextricably linked with stationery choices.
John Steinbeck would keep exactly a dozen perfectly sharpened pencils on his writing desk. He favoured the hexagonal type which produced calluses on his fingers, so his editor sent him round pencils instead. I’m told he never used them.
Mustn’t scoff. Alongside my needle-sharp pencils, I keep a stash of special paper clips. When starting out in journalism, I became convinced that my work had a far higher chance of being accepted if I attached it to the covering letter with a brightly-coloured paper clip. These days every article I write is commissioned, and I don’t even use the post, but it’ll take more than that for me to go back to plain clips.
2 Keeping quiet about your current project. There’s some logic in this too. Talking about your writing can sap creative energy. Unfortunately social media seem to demand it of authors, which can lead to much angst. And the posting of cat pictures instead.
3 Not tempting fate. Creative visualization is all very well, but since when did imagining yourself receiving the Booker Prize actually lead to success? Exactly. Arrogance is a hideous trait that can only lead to bad karma.
Bad karma is closely linked with the Evil Eye. I was raised in the Middle East where the Evil Eye is responsible for almost every calamity you can imagine, and then some. As my mother explained in her first book Cocktails and Camels, if someone admired your new dress and you then spilt coffee all over it, it’s not that you were clumsy fool. It was the Evil Eye. If your felucca got stuck in bulrushes which had been there, as everyone knew, since the time of Moses, it had nothing to do with poor seamanship. And, it goes without saying, if you had three daughters and no sons, that was obviously the Evil Eye too.
Blue beads with an eye on them can offer some protection against the Evil Eye. Also called Nazar amulets, these are common throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Imagine my surprise when my own mother, instead of arming me with beads for success with my fiction, actually tempted fate. This was years ago, when all I’d done was send off in the post for some guidelines on writing romantic novels. Even before I had even written a single word, my mother promptly crowed about “My daughter, the successor to Barbara Cartland.” I cringed in the certain knowledge that my writing career had been jinxed for all time.
As a scientist, I really should know better, but old beliefs die hard. Fast-forward the tape of life and my thirteenth and fourteenth books are about to come out. There’ll be no fanciful boasts from me on publication day. June 30 will find me sitting with my sharpened pencils and a rainbow of paper clips.
A lucky amulet would be handy too.