First of all, my apologies to Jeanette Winterson (who is, incidentally, one of my favourite authors) for playing with the title of her wonderful book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (If you'd like to read my review of this book, please see my blog, Rosalie Reviews.)
Why be a writer when you could be normal? Why be a writer when you could be happy? Why be happy when you could be a writer? Why be a writer...? OK, that's enough permutations for now. But all these questions are currently very much on my mind, and I'm going to try to make a few clunky stabs at answering them here.
For years and years I wanted to be a writer, but was, on the whole, too busy getting on with life to do very much about it. Six years ago I took early retirement for reasons of ill-health, and since then I've been, as they say, time-rich. I started (and continued) writing because I wanted to, and because it felt as though I had at least two-thirds of a lifetime's accumulation of stuff to write about. I discovered how hard it was, but also how much fun. I was rejected a million times and eventually managed, after a great deal of effort, to find publishers for some of my books. I dipped my feet into the waters of self-publication, where I'm still splashing, happily on the whole (think of me as an electric eel).
At the back of my mind lay a seaside cottage, either one in Cornwall or perhaps on the Yorkshire coast. I have never particularly wanted to be money-rich, but for the last eleven years, living in Coventry, I've been pining for the sea. For family reasons, it has been difficult and would still be difficult to move. And anyway, I like it here, apart from the lack of sea (a few mountains would be good, too). My dream was a getaway cottage where I/we/those I love could escape for short breaks and longer holidays. It was beginning to seem a long way off, given the dire state of advances and royalties for many of us writers. But the hope burned somewhere deep inside and, I'm sure, helped to spark my writing.
I haven't written a bestseller (yet...), nor have I earned enough to pay for more than the first few bricks (OK, maybe half a wall?) But since November of last year, I've had my cottage or, as it turned out to be, a flat high on top of a cliff with wonderful views of the North Yorkshire coast. I still can't believe it's mine and not a dream...
The reason I was able to buy it was my dad, bless him, who saved all his life and very generously left me enough in his will to buy my 'cottage' by the sea. Thanks to mum, too, who was also a great saver. They could have spent much more on themselves, and I was always trying to persuade them to do so, but there you go. I had many happy holidays in Scarborough with them as a child, and it's a lovely place to remember them and my grandmother, who also loved Scarborough.
All this leaves me busy choosing furniture and elephants (don't ask). It also leaves me, at least for the moment, without my inner spark. Or that's the way it feels. Maybe I'm just distracted by all I have to do. Perhaps it's the shock of losing Dad. But I haven't, to be honest, done any 'new' writing for at least six months. I'm writing, of course; I'm editing, I'm working on the third (or is it the fourth?) draft of my adult sci-fi novel. But 'normally', I've always got something new on the go, and at the moment, I haven't.
I'm different, because of this, I know I am. I may even be kind of 'normal' (which is what made me think of Winterson's title). Normal seems to mean that I have lots of energy for other things. I can get up in a morning and start thinking about redecorating the living room if I want to, without having 'do some writing' first. I may even be a slightly nicer person, with more time for other people, though I'm not sure about that. I'm freer, that's for certain. There's a kind of holiday feeling, like the long summer break when I was a child.
Why be a writer when I could be happy? (Who dared whisper that?)
This can't be right, though. I wasn't writing purely to earn myself a cottage by the sea. I wrote (and, I hope, still write) because it's the way I'm made. Happy or unhappy, normal or abnormal, it's what I do; it's what I am. If I wasn't a writer in some sense, I'm not sure I'd be anything at all. OK, a mother, yes, a lover and a friend. A citizen, OK, OK... but I hope you know what I mean. Writing is a huge part of what I am and without it, I'd feel as though I'd lost half my brain.
I know myself well enough to predict that this strange non-writing (or rather non-first-draft-writing) phase will reach a natural end. There'll come a day when a new story bursts out of me. Perhaps there's one already there but I'm not yet listening. Maybe it's still in gestation, not ready to be seen. Or perhaps I'm being downright lazy and it's time to sit down again every morning at nine o'clock and simply write.
We'll see. I'm getting a lot done, with all the energy that comes from not being very creative on the writing front. I'm taking more exercise and getting fitter. I'm dieting, I'm choosing colours for walls and I'm catching up on a lot of reading. I may even get my hair cut, you never know. I'm quite enjoying being normal for a while, and even finding that it makes me happy, in a sort of bland, contented way.
But I miss the highs and lows. I miss the dreadful days when the words won't come or, if they do, they're wrong. I miss the glorious times when I just can't stop. I miss staggering out to the shops, half-drunk with writing bliss, not quite believing the supermarket around me, still immersed in a treacly writing dream. I miss those times when my characters take flight, take over, jabber away so fast I can't keep up with them. I miss it all - in the same way, I suppose, that I miss the sea.
So I come full circle and start to hope that my flat, once decorated, furnished and full of elephants, will be a writing haven as well as simply a place to remember my beloved parents. Watch this space.
Happily abnormal and electrically yours,
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PS: Those lyricists among you waiting for the 'Alexa's Song' competition - it's coming soon! If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll soon find out.