“Happy to chitty chat”

Well, I have to post (have to) on this subject, because, frankly, I can’t resist the phrase ‘happy to chitty chat’. This came from an article in the New York Times (here) on how no one ever talks on the phone any more: phones are for emails, texts, twitter, but not talking, except, of course, said one interviewee, “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.”

My God. I’d always thought I was destined to be an author because no one wants to talk to me — it’s why we become authors, you know, nothing to do with writing ability. If you’re an author, you get to sit alone in a room, and the fact that no one wants to chitty chat (I’m sorry, but it’s so wonderful I’m going to have to repeat it endlessly) — the fact that no one wants to chitty chat is considered to be a bonus.

Indeed, someone said to me recently, ‘Oh, I’ve always thought I’d like to be a writer, but I don’t like to be alone.’ Leaving aside the first part of the sentence, which I hear only 8 times out of 10 when I tell someone what I do (and people wonder why I lie about that?), leaving that aside, the second part reduced me (almost) to stunned silence. You don’t like to be alone, but you’d like to write? And you’re afraid of heights but thought you’d like to clean the windows on the Chrysler Building?

She then went on to say she liked ‘People, colour, movement, diversions’ — I bit back the suggestion that she join the circus, but it did leave me thinking. When I worked in a publishing office, I was, for most of that time, a copy-editor. We sat at long desks, with manuscripts (pre-computer days. Eeek!), pads, pencils and erasers, and we edited. When we finished a manuscript, we’d either sit down face-to-face with the author, or we typed out a list of queries which went in the post. Some time later an answer arrived: scribbles in the margins of our queries, usually, or typed additional sheets. These got put into the MS and off it went. No, or carefully circumscribed, talking necessary.

And it was notable. The rest of the editorial department was very different, it was The Place of Chitty Chat. Indeed, it could be said that Chitty Chat was the function of the editorial, and the marketing, and the publicity departments. So different was copy-editorial that it was rumoured that once a cleaner had gone to the CEO: She didn’t like to interfere, she said, but she thought he should know that the people in that one department never worked: they just sat and read all day.

When I became an editor (briefly: chitty chat never really suited me) I realized that talking all day was what being a commisisoning editor was about: schmoozing agents and authors, having lunch, negotiating contract clauses on the phone, talking talking talking.

Now, it’s clear, no one talks. Contract clauses are negotiated by an exchange of emails. Marketing and publicity plans are laid out the same way. Editorial ‘conversations’ are emailed back and forth.

I’m not much of a chitty-chatter myself, but the idea that no one out there is chatting is, somehow, sad.

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  1. chris hughes

    March 21, 2011 - 9:53 am

    Never fear! – we chitty chatters are alive and kicking:) – and using the phone to do it too! Half an hour on the phone to my youngest on Saturday – only cut short because we’re decorating and I got called back by my other half to get stuck in again. Half an hour is, give or take, normal for me on the phone – let me catch you in the street, supermarket, over the garden fence and I can keep going for much longer. I haven’t actually noticed people crossing the street to avoid me – yet…..
    It does bother me, though, that so many people clip on headphones and isolate themselves from their fellow men. I do always take a book so that I have something to do on a train or in a coffee shop or while waiting for someone – but I’m always up for striking up acquaintance with a complete stranger. I once got on a train going to Victoria and sat next to another lady – like me, of a certain age – and by the time we arrived we’d shared our family histories, experiences, likes and dislikes – extensively:) – and said goodbye like old friends. Although, of course, there are people you really don’t want to get into conversation with….
    I love the phrase ‘chitty chat’ – and happy to be a member of that club:)

  2. inspectorbucket

    March 21, 2011 - 10:00 am

    It’s a great phrase, isn’t it? And glad to hear chitty-chatters survive apart from mothers. But in offices, I fear not.

  3. Elle Flanders

    March 21, 2011 - 3:16 pm

    maybe it’s rude to have your sister reveal your deepest secrets to the word (hey, you’re the one who decided to start a blog…), but you are a chitty chatter par excellence—whether it be in blog form or on the phone, ahem!

    But then again, you do spend enormous amounts of time silent. Just thought the good folk following this blog should know, Judith is a great chitty chatter when she wants to be. Here’s to chitty chat (that is fun to say, isn’t it?!)
    your sister
    rufus t. firefly

  4. inspectorbucket

    March 21, 2011 - 3:38 pm

    Sorry, are you the one who said you had too many distractions, and had to narrow her focus and get her work done? Or am I confusing you with someone else?

  5. SusanF

    March 21, 2011 - 5:58 pm

    I can’t comment; don’t like to chitty-chat.
    Your other sister – the quiet one…

  6. Georgina Morley

    March 21, 2011 - 9:53 pm

    I’d like to make it abundantly clear that I am not a sister, but an old friend. And yes Judith is quite capable of delightful chitty-chat (heavenly phrase) when she so chooses but she also has a point about the way we do things these days. Like her I was corralled in the silent big desk room (of the same publishing house, in fact) and then released into the chitty-chat bit of publishing where I have been these past two and a half decades. And these days we chat far too little. Partly that’s a result of the trend to the open-plan office. Those glorious moments when someone said ‘I’m just going to shut my door’ before imparting an especially thrilling bit of gossip have long gone. But the other contributing factor is that we all have way to do much to do in the ordinary working day for the chitty-chat that used – and sometimes still does, thank the lord – make publishing fun. But talking is still the best way to enthuse others with your love of a particular book and to get a sense of whether an author is happy with how their book is shaping up. And there’s not enough time or privacy to do that as often as we should.