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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Crowley

Call It Superstition

We're taking the decorations down tomorrow. Not because we're superstitious, we're not: just because tomorrow is when you're supposed to take them down. I don't for a minute imagine that leaving a scrap of tinsel on the mantlepiece will result in bad luck from now to Candlemas, but it wouldn't feel right to just leave them there another day.

It would feel rude, sort of. Like not saying hello when I see a lone magpie. It's not that I think bad luck will follow if I leave the magpie ungreeted: I'm just being polite. It's a social convention. Like standing to one side on the escalator, so people can walk past, or saying "Bless you," when somebody sneezes, or standing with your back to the sink so the salt you're throwing over your shoulder doesn't hit someone in the face, or... Ok I think I might be disproving my point with that one.

A white mug stands on a kitchen counter. Behind the mug are several tubs of hot chocolate, including one labelled "Christmas pudding flavour". There is a carton of almond milk off to one side, which is slightly ironic given that the mug appears to be bone china. The mug is filled with hot chocolate and shows scenes from Raymond Briggs' The Snowman: in the first the boy has finished building the snowman and is standing on a case and reaching up to put a hat on his head, while in the second the hat is in place and the boy is adding a scarf.
This is my Holiday mug. Tomorrow it must be banished.

The thing is that I know superstitions are just pattern recognition: somebody noticed that the same thing seemed to happen every time they did something, and they decided it must be happening because they did it. And because they decided that, they started to notice it every time it happened, but didn't notice so much when it didn't, and all of a sudden it was terrible bad luck to say "Rabbit." Sometimes people even make them up on purpose, as a joke, or a prank, or just because they can: they'll make some idle comment about a particular play, say, being unlucky, and suddenly everyone's turning themselves in circles to avoid saying Mac... Mac... The one with the trees, and the witches, and the horribly underperforming hand-soap, you know. The Scottish Play.

Because even if we know someone just made it up, once they've pointed it out we just can't stop seeing it. Post hoc ergo proctor hoc. Correlation equals causation. QED, OED, ABC, and the next thing we know everyone's scared to get their children vaccinated in case immunity to measles means they somehow become autistic instead of becoming dead. Sorry, that one got away from me a little, didn't it?

Anyway, my point is that superstitions are just superstitions, and while it's fine to go along with social convention I really shouldn't let them run my life. Especially when they're superstitions I made up myself. The thing is, back when I was first writing The Vicar Man, I made myself a single, simple rule: it did not matter how much I wrote during any given week, so long as I got some writing done on Sunday. Sunday nights developed their own writer's ritual: I'd take a bath, listen to some helpfully historical podcasts, clear my mind for the evening, then settle down to work. The fact that I tended to get less written on a Sunday than on any other day didn't matter: what mattered was that Sunday was writing day.

And slowly it began to matter. I noticed that if I didn't get any writing done on Sunday: if I had to take the night off and declare Monday to be Sunday in its stead, then the next week went less well. My whole written world felt off kilter. Things just didn't work.

If I had a good night on Sunday, and got a lot done, the following week would tend to go well too: the words would flow, the story was bright and clear, and everything in the fictional garden was a less predictable synonym for lovely.

I knew it wasn't really writing on a Sunday that did it. It was a symptom, not the cause. If I was so stressed or busy that I couldn't do much - or anything - on Sunday night, then I would probably still be stressed or busy on Monday. That would, in all probability roll over to Tuesday, and from Tuesday to Wednesday, and so on until eventually it was Sunday again and I might, if i was lucky, be able to catch a break.

It wasn't writing on a Sunday that did it, but it felt as though it was.

But now all that's about to change. Because I booked a lot of dance classes, last year, without really looking at the day or time that they would be running. And the first one starts this week. On Sunday night. So of course I'm nervous. I know, on an intellectual level, that there is nothing to be afraid of. I know that I can write just as well on the other six days as I could on a Sunday. But the bit of me that throws salt over her shoulder, and says hello to magpies, and touches wood...that part's a little worried. I'm not going to cancel the classes. That would just be silly. as silly as thinking a non-living vaccine designed to save your or other peoples' lives could fundamentally alter someone's brain chemistry, or turn them into a cell tower or whatever the latest unfounded theory says.

I'm going to go, and I'm going to dance, and I'm going to have a lovely time, and I'm going to keep on writing safe in the knowledge that the words will still be there, whether I set them down on a Sunday or not.

And I'm going to hope that the people who are just a little bit afraid of vaccines - who know it doesn't make sense, but who can't stop themselves from feeling it, can find the support, and the strength, to face that down as well.

If we can't stop being superstitious, we can make ourselves be brave.

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