Perhaps they’re not heroes in the epic sense, but they have traits that find an echo in my own sense of self. A fragment of me writ large. If you look at your own heroes, you will find the same. You might assume they’re your opposite, what you can never be, when in fact their public personas are embodying some part of you that needs more air time. I notice a theme with mine. They are all storytellers, they are excellent at what they do, they are unashamed of their obsessions. Sometimes we need our own heroes to help us speak our minds and live with a little more integrity, especially if we want to achieve excellence in our field.
David Attenborough: what child wouldn’t respect him? While other adults on TV were talking about work, wars and money, he was down on his hands and knees peering into the undergrowth – where all the interesting stuff happens.
Billy Corgan: because you don’t have to be polite all the time, as long as you’re telling the truth as you see it. I like to tell the truth when I write but it takes courage. You’re always going to offend someone, why not embrace it?
Tolkien: his reading on Middle Earth was once interrupted by Hugo Dyson’s exasperated ‘not another fucking elf!’. Yep, an Oxford Don who was into elves and proud. Proving that you can be a grown up and still respect your own fantasy life, no matter what others think.
PJ Harvey: At home with her own awesomeness. I like to see her onstage – nothing to hide behind – just a woman, a guitar and a good story.
Xenophon: he wrote about training horses with tact and humanity back in the 5th century BCE, claiming that nothing forced can be beautiful and showing that caring for animals is not a recent phenomenon and not an expression of the soft-hearted and weak-willed but an act of reason and maturity.
If you’re stuck in a rut at the moment, maybe you should ask your heroes for help? For example, if faced with a bottle of champagne, a large roll of paper and some body paint, I might ask ‘what would Billy Corgan do?’ Faced with a stubborn animal and a deadline I might query Xenophon.
Just be sure to ask the right hero at the right moment. You might end up in trouble with the law.
ask your heroes: