In the beginning…
I have this memory of me sitting in my car (it was a 1989 Honda Accord Aerodeck, to be specific, and because I really loved that car) in the office car park, and the rain was beating down on the roof. I was shivering, because it was winter and it was cold. I was scribbling away on an A4 writing pad, the crumbs from my limp egg-and-cress sandwich sitting on my lap like tiny snowflakes in spite of my efforts to keep myself and the seats clean. I’m sure people who saw me through the blinds of the office windows, rushing out every lunchtime to grab something to eat then dash back to the car and not emerge until my allotted hour was up, regarded me as a bit of an oddball. But in wintertime, and with nowhere else private to take out my pad and pen (sounds a bit risqué when you say it like that), where else can you find the time to be a writer? For me, my safe places to write were in the car at lunchtime, or in the bath (not at lunchtime, obviously). Time to write was very limited and a constant issue. Work tended to get in the way, and later, having a family really put the squeeze on it.
Of course, you have to understand it’s a form of addiction or, in its extreme, madness. They just haven’t coined a name for it yet. But I know there’s a great deal of the population who suffer from it, and who keep it secret, and when the doctors finally get round to recognising and naming this condition then the wards are going to be full to straining. I think that’s why they refuse to fully acknowledge it. The strain on the NHS budgets would be too much…
I know a lot of people who write, and most of them have only come out and said it after they’ve found out I’m a writer too. Usually, the guilty admission is whispered so no one else can overhear. It’s a strange thing, but writing is one of those things people will not openly admit to, like having a third nipple, or a collection of mint, never-played Barry Manilow albums sitting in a candlelit shrine beneath his ornately-framed photograph. But when they find a likeminded soul, why, the joy on their faces is something to behold. I am not alone after all! There is someone else out there just like me!
And, I have to admit, until I finally started getting money in return for my scribbling, I too kept it very hush-hush, only my very closest friends getting to know, and usually by accident rather than design. Given my paucity of close friends, that meant only two people outside my wife and kids ever knew I wrote novels, for a period of about fifteen years. It took another two years of actually selling my books before I finally admitted I was a writer without feeling totally embarrassed.
Because that’s what I felt, I guess: embarrassed to say so. I come from a gritty working-class background, where people had proper jobs and came home mucky from the pit and sang mucky songs in the communal showers after they’d all played a good, mucky game of rugby. Yeah, you bet I felt embarrassed. I suppose it’s also like someone wanting to be a successful pop singer – sure, it’s OK to dream, but come on, actually realising it? Do you know the odds against you being a success?
Now here’s a fact: I wanted to be a successful pop star. Well, not quite the truth – I wanted to ditch my mundane sales job, set up in a band with my brothers and play bass guitar for a living. (It’s a known fact I can’t sing – but that’s never stopped other successful pop singers). If we got a record deal and became famous all the better. Needless to say, though we soldiered on for a few years, slogging our way round northern spit-and-sawdust Working Men’s Clubs, we got neither. Being in a band, you can’t hide failure either. Everyone knows you’ve eventually had it up to here with trying to make it work, had a big bust-up over who has the worst dance moves, who should take off their damn sunglasses and stop being sulky (it really isn’t cool!) and each one of you is now pursuing individual solo careers, none of which will go anywhere.
Being a writer is similar – and by writer in this instance I mean an unpublished writer, someone starting out (though I still admit my profession with a small degree of reticence) – there’s an almost inbuilt need to hide the fact. Now, if you’re like me, that’s like trying to hide the colour of your eyes, because ever since I could remember, I’ve wanted to write stories. I never even told my mother my ambitions; At the age of 17, I told her I was thinking of joining the Royal Navy, and she looked horrified, then saddened, looking me up and down before all but saying I was gay, because everyone in the navy is gay, she pointed out. Fact. Actually, she said it in far cruder terms, which sort of gives you an impression of the home culture I was working within. You think I’m going to tell her I want to write for a living after that?
What I’m saying, is that it’s OK to admit you’re a writer and might want to make a living out of it. (As it’s also Ok to admit you’ve got a third nipple and a Barry Manilow shrine, but this isn’t really the forum for it). Put in black and white, I write full-time now and effectively get paid for doing so by people buying my work. That’s a bonus. The real kick, after all this time, is people actually reading my novels and liking them! (Can I forget those who hate them, just for now?). It’s every writer’s dream. But they always say be careful what you wish for or you might get it…
Ah, the pain and the pleasure! What I’d like to do through this blog, if possible, is walk you through both, using my own humble experiences as a rough guide, perhaps enable you to realise your own personal dreams of becoming a successful writer – whatever success means to you – taking you through inspiration to publication and through all the strange, fascinating little places between…
So, if there's anyone out there who suffers from the same scribbling condition I have, I'd love to hear from you
See you soon.
(Okay, who’s had my collectors-edition single of Mandy, and not put it back where it belongs, damn it?)