Looking back over my life I begin to see where it all went wrong.
When I first became crippled by a desire to write, preventing me from flourishing elsewhere, I thought I’d better learn how famous writers had triumphed, and see what lessons there may be for me in their success.
A recurring theme, I discovered, was that at some stage before stepping into the spotlight of world attention they’d accepted a part-time job, like, way below their station. Dickens, for example, glued labels onto bottles; George Bernard Shaw obtained the way-leave agreements which allowed telephone wires to be strung all over Britain; and before he wrote the Bible Jesus used make tables and chairs.
Having learned their secret I rushed out to apply for a shelf-filling job in the scabbiest Cash and Carry I could find in Devon. Mein Gott!… I found a corker! Customers arrived in sagging Volvo estates with no exhausts or MOT’s; staggered into the building in egg-stained jogging bottoms, fag-on, to emerge some 20 minutes later carrying boxes of synthetic food for a ‘hospitality’ business which was surely one Food Standards Authority visit from bankruptcy.
The C&C operated from a poorly lit warehouse where the manager (blue nylon suit, bacolite glasses, gammy leg) limped about with a clip board looking threateningly at anyone who came inside his radar. He was closely attended (it was safer to go in pairs) by a malnourished irritable-looking women in her thirties whose smug expression suggested she had always known she would one day rise to the position of supervisor if she just maintained her brutal lack of compassion for people who had fallen on hard times, and were consequently desperate for any job they could find. Behind their backs, staff openly mocked their passing.
I breezed in and asked ‘the manager’ if it would be possible to have a word with the manager? The manager – for it was he – was unmanned by the directness of my approach and the unexpectedness of its arrival. His jaw fell and he looked at me, uncertainly, as though I were a police detective. No one spoke. By way of answer his assistant who had been looking me up and down without finding anything to like, tossed her head in the manager’s direction – with the meaning: ‘That’s him …speak.’
I smiled insufferably; told him that I was studying to be a writer, and asked if he could give me a job filling shelves? More silence followed. The only sound the ear could definitely discern was the ‘snap’ of a mousetrap going off at the back of the warehouse, having caught another thief, and taking this earliest opportunity to punish it, capitally.
‘Give ‘er your name and address – we’ll be in touch if we need someone.’ With that he shuffled on to deal the pressing business of running a failing cash and carry.
Twenty years later I haven’t heard back – that’s why you haven’t ‘heard of me’ yet. But if you know a struggling writer just starting out in their career, direct them to this blog so that they may mine its rich seam, and benefit from its warnings.
You could help them still further by buying them a copy of Phoenix from the Ashes -which is a bloody good book, actually. Don’t worry – it’s not about writing, or about boats. If you already own several copies of it, try my latest Canvas Flying… You can get a signed copy of either from my website – signed copies can only rise in value when I’m discovered. Or if you’ve got any sense you can get hold of a copy without paying postage from Amazon.
I’ve just applied to Creative Scotland for a grant to write a third book. It’s about moving to a remote Hebridean island and trying to earn my living from amongst the worlds thriftiest people. I’m conducting a poll right here …could you leave a message on this blog stating whether you think this is an interesting development, or if you’d like to pass an urgent message to Creative Scotland telling them that not to waste their money?