A Writer's Life by Fran Brady
Margaret Attwood's book about and for writers is tellingly called 'Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing.' For anyone who thinks being or becoming - or even just trying and hoping against hope to one day become - a famous writer is a glamorous pursuit, this book will set them straight. As we all know, the hours are such as would turn any trade unionist worth his/her salt apoplectic; the hourly rate of pay probably below the mini-est minimum; the conditions of service (sick pay, holidays, compassionate leave, expenses, etc) conspicuous by their absence; the uniform unglamorous (of the jogging-pants-and-bedsocks variety); colleagues, support and supervision, training budget, annual appraisals leading to professional development plans - all the stuff I used to implement conscientiously for my staff when I was 'doing a proper job' - nowhere on the horizon.
What is a writer's life like? I took up the challenge to write a short satirical piece on that topic at a recent meeting of my Edinburgh writing group. You can find this at www.franbrady/stories-and-such/thebookfestbore. Of course, this is exaggerated to conjure up some OCD, anal person and I hope none of us ever meet anyone like that. However, I had in mind a famous, feted writer whose best-known book was made into a blockbuster film (name withheld to avoid a libel action). I went to hear him being interviewed at a book festival event about ten years ago. Loving both book and film, I was delighted to obtain a ticket and looking forward to it
He turned out to be very much like the guy in my satire. He made being a writer sound like a life sentence in solitary. He even had the voice to go with it: monotonic, depressive and terminally boring. Most of the audience had begun fidgeting and a few were openly reading (another author) or writing (composing a bad review of this event?). If it had been happening now, smartphones would have been out, busy fingers and thumbs employed.
I especially remember two things he said:
One: 'To be a good writer, you have to a very selfish human being';
Two: 'I don't read other writers - it spoils my register'.
I had only just begun to write - I would not have yet called myself a writer, certainly not 'real writer' - and I absorbed these two dictates with dismay. I have a large, delightful, demanding family (three daughters, one stepson, seven grandchildren, a husband and a dog) and an even larger and equally delightful and demanding circle of friends (actually several circles which only occasionally overlap). It is a very long time since my being selfish was an option. And I have been a voracious reader ever since I was old enough to argue with the local children's librarian that I needed more than one book a day.
I almost gave up my writing ambitions there and then. But common sense exerted itself along with a bracing discussion at my next writing group when the selfish, non-reading author was torn apart and consigned to the bin marked 'Forget it.' Ten years later, I still have all my lovely family and friends and I still read four or five books a month - and I have written four novels, a children's novella, plus umpteen short stories and poems.
I am not, however, as rich and famous as our anal author. Probably I never will be. But I like to think I am a happier and more rounded human being. In fact, I know I am - unless he was just scamming us that day in the book festival tent. Maybe he really has a wonderful, varied life, a cornucopia of loving family, friendships and experiences. Maybe.
If you want to be the tortured, lonely sole go for it. However family and friends know I'm a writer. Many seem to want to feature in my work as they'll often share their amusing stories so they make it into my note pad and perhaps one day into one of my stories. So for me the lonely, tortured soul wouldn't work as I'd have far less to write about.