THE WRITER’S LIFE
I first dared to call myself a writer about a year ago now. Back then, it was more like an admission, and only to close friends. I’d had a few short stories published, I’d won an award for one of them, and I’d self-published my first novel. To those who are late to the party, The Paradoxicon is a semi-autobiographical story of a man searching for answers in life, while he battles his own demons. And still it goes on.
That first book was written in about eight weeks, when it was my sole obsession. Even my harshest critic (me) would say that The Paradoxicon is a pretty good book, and others agree. When I compare it with my writing now though, I realise how far I’ve progressed.
Now I’m earning money from freelance work, as well as writing my own material. Now, I’m busy enough to be able to call myself a writer with and not in confidence. People enjoy reading my stories and my freelance clients like my style.
I was compared with some truly great fiction writers by a sub-editor and praised for my authorial voice. There is a part of the writer in every story: An aspect of a character, or a memory on the fringe of experience. Good writing comes from the heart. As I become ever more prolific, I hope that others will read my work and judge for themselves.
Writing was never going to be a highly-paid vocation and it would be a fool who got into it thinking it would. I’m clearly not a fool and writing is one of the more admired professions for its required intellect. My living costs are covered by the disability benefits I receive on the grounds of my alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety. My modest writing income is for permitted work, which is recognised as being beneficial to me and my mental health.
So my overall income makes for a modest but comfortable life. And this second life I’ve made, after my breakdown three years ago, is rather perfect. Mentally, I had to accept that I wasn’t kidding myself; that I really am as good as people say: If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have clients. Turning it into a sole-trader business mindset was key. Now, I’m a professional writer; an author and a freelance writer. It took a long time to realise and just as long to set everything up so that the business worked, but it does.
What I earn through freelance work is one side of things: Signing contracts, writing for clients and invoicing them. The other side of the business is my own work, sold on Amazon and Lulu through my various online presences: My website, this blog, and Facebook. My general outlet on the latter is in recognition of where I came from: Gilbert House Publishing on Facebook. Gilbert House was the name of the building I squatted in when I was homeless.
As a writer, I read a lot and my newspaper of choice is The Guardian, perhaps unsurprisingly. Their in-depth reporting and analysis provides me with a lot of material for both sides of my business. It is true that there are a few writers who’ve become very wealthy and it’s not just bitter jealousy which drives other writers’ disdain for some of those people. Like all writers, I appreciate the craft of others’ work. And like all writers, I critique the work of others.
There are writers whom I admire and aspire to. There are others for whom I have no time whatsoever. It’s not so much intellectual snobbery as not finding some writers particularly engaging or challenging, and wondering how the fuck they got their publishing deals. John Crace sort of summed it up with a satirical piece in The Guardian recently:
The news so many people have been dreading. Dan Brown is writing a new novel called Origin featuring his world-famous symbologist, Robert Langdon. It won’t be published until next year but Brown has been kind enough to offer me a preview: “Langdon’s mind was a vale of darkness. His eidetic memory had failed him. ‘You’ve been shot,’ a woman said. He looked up to see a lissom figure with gentle brown eyes that held a profundity of experience rarely encountered in someone of her age. ‘I’m Carla Miller. A doctor. We have to get you out of here. Someone is trying to kill you.’ ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ he asked. ‘Because they read The Da Vinci Code.’ Just then, a masked woman with spiky hair burst through the doors, firing a metallic gun made of metal. Carla opened a hidden trapdoor no one had guessed might be there and she and Langdon slid down a curved tunnel that took them to a secret hideout. Langdon looked out the window. ‘From my observations, I deduce we must be in Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany, with 370,000 residents,’ he said. ‘There’s no time for you to quote Wikipedia,’ Sienna reprimanded him scoldingly. ‘The world is under threat.’”
It rang true for me, as I’ve read a lot of bad prose written by others. Perhaps I am an intellectual snob.
Others will be the judge of me as a writer: Something I don’t mind standing in the dock for. For now, I’m good enough that I’m able to get paid for what I do as a freelancer. My first novel is out there for me to be critiqued on. But it will be my greatest pleasure so far to be judged on my forthcoming anthology: Now a collection spread over the last two years’ writing and including some deep and thought-provoking tales.
I remember how things were before I even dared to call myself a writer. I remember all that I loved and lost. I remember every day that I’m now serving a life sentence. Beyond this second life I’m now living, I hope others will read as I remember. And still it goes on.
The Perpetuity of Memory will be available in hard cover at the end of December.