Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I deter acquaintances who want to stop and chat?

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

Q. There is a Tube stop next door to my place of work but I now walk in each day. As I get close to the building, I often run into acquaintances who want to chat. Mary, is there an elegant way to cut short such conversations without causing offence? I can’t say that I will be late for work, as they know I own the business.
— Name and address withheld

A. Why not order a click-and-collect coffee from the nearest outlet? Everyone knows that late-comers disrupt the queuing system and receive a less enjoyable product. Rather than taking offence, would-be momentum-halters will instead empathise with your expressed frustration at not being able to stop for a chat.

Q. I enjoy modest success as an author, but I am perplexed at the behaviour of my much-loved brother, who has the idea that he should be the recipient of a complimentary copy of every new book.


He is far from poor. I have tried to explain that I get sent a small number of copies by my publisher and that these are usually used as competition prizes, school fête donations and so on. Thereafter I have to buy copies, at a small discount. He thinks I should be giving away copies as ‘good PR’. No one else has ever asked this, Mary. (Several friends buy multiple copies for children they know, thereby supporting my work and bookshops.) How can I show him that I find his request both baffling and rather rude, without damaging our relationship?
— Name and address withheld

A. You have missed the point. This is nothing to do with meanness. Your brother is proud of you and wants to boast about your new book — and thereby drive sales. However, friends of writers know that the first thing those who know nothing about publishing always ask is: ‘Did you get a free copy?’ They lose interest when you start to explain why you didn’t and get sidetracked into thinking about unfairness rather than the excellence of the newly published book. Give him a copy at your own expense.

Q. My wife and I rent a new-build home. It’s a wonderful spot, but we’ve been plagued with issues such as torrential condensation, blown induction hobs and a ditch that has twice nearly flooded the house. After an electrical issue, the landlord texted to say they’d give us £500 for our trouble. We haven’t received this after four weeks. The landlord is incredibly responsive to the issues and addresses them as fast as is practical. Mary, is there an honourable way to get the £500? Or is it best we forget it too?
— Name and address withheld

A. Text the landlord that excessive anti-fraud measures introduced by your bank have resulted in at least one deposit being returned. Could he check whether his own kindly promised payment of £500 has bounced back to him?

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