As I sit here pondering my navel during the madness of this lockdown and doing pretty much anything I can to avoid actually writing, I often stumble across things which not only make me laugh, but strike a chord. One of the most recent items to achieve this double whammy was an old blog I read entitled ‘Everything you wanted to know about being an author (but were afraid to ask).
The reason this caused such mirth in Brimson Towers was because this last week I’ve received not one, but two emails asking me about that very thing. Now in both cases, given that Matt Haig, the author of said original blog, is a far better and more accomplished writer than I will ever be and had pretty much said everything I would have said and more anyway, I simply passed on the link and wished the individual well.
However, as I mulled it over whilst standing in line at my local Co-Op yesterday (I needed Mozzarella, seriously) I decided that if I was going to accurately apply this excellent list to my own writing life and process, it would need a tweak or two.
So what follows is a bastardised version of the list in question. I have included the original in italics for reasons which will become obvious and hope that Mr Haig will accept my apology for brutalising his excellent efforts which, if you would like to read them, can be found here:
1. We live on toast. And cereal. And caffeine. And wine. But mainly toast. Since I am banned from eating bread due to my lard arse frames dislike of wheat and rarely drink alcohol of any description, I only survive at all thanks to a daily plate of eggs and bacon, this being supplemented by a ready supply of Bourbons. On reflection, this could explain my aforementioned lard arsed frame.
2. By the time our book comes out, it feels like a childhood memory. But more distant. As a writer who is intent on spewing out books and screenplays on a scarily regular basis until such time as readers finally suss out that I am a talentless hack (a fact I am already well aware of), I am no longer hindered by the agonising time it takes publishers take to get books from emailed file to the shelves of Waterstones. Hence, when a book is released into the marketplace, or as I prefer to call it, Amazon, it is still scarily fresh in the memory.
3. Our daily word-count was approximately three thousand words higher before the arrival of Facebook and Twitter. Absolutely true. Indeed, there is a whole heap of irony to be found in the fact that whilst the world wide web provides the engine for what passes as my writing career, it also does all it can to slam it into reverse on an almost minute by minute basis. Proof of which can be found by looking at my Twitter and Facebook timelines.
4. At parties someone will always say, ‘So have you written anything I’d have heard of?’ Or, ‘How are the books going?’ Both questions end in awkward silence. Again, absolutely true although the reality is that I rarely get invited to parties. In fact for rarely, substitute never. I suspect people assume I will turn up, get pissed and wreck the place. This being as far from the truth as you could possibly get.
5. If we were number two in the bestseller charts, the only book we would ever be thinking about is the one selling more. Partially true. Well OK, mostly true. Although in some instances, I do look at who is languishing below me and mutter a smug ‘take that you fucker’ to myself.
6. We never know if the book we are writing is the right one until we have written it. And even then we are not sure. In my case, I know it’s the right one because I ask my readers in advance and they tell me what they want. That’s the joy of being an author who actually talks to the people who buys his books.
7. It is harder to make friends after you become a writer than it was before. But way easier to make enemies. True and very true.
8. People think you are automatically a bit weird. (Or is that just me?) No, it’s not just you. Although in my defence, I am actually a bit weird.
9. We need editors ‘like a fat kid needs cake’ – to quote that sensitive literary soul, 50 Cent. This is golden rule number 5 in Doug’s golden rule book of writing. It is so, so true.
10. The best day is when we get to see our book cover. Unless we don’ t like the book cover in which case it is the worst day. Being an independent author, my publishers involve me in developing covers from day one and often I have the final say so this isn’t the case for me. My best day is usually when I write ‘the end’ and the worst is when I realise that it usually isn’t.
11. ‘Royalty statement’ is Latin for disappointment. Thanks to the web, I see my sales figures on an almost daily basis. Sometimes they are orgasmic, other times I want to kill myself.
12. We get stomach pains every time another writer wins something. (We have continual stomach pains). Not only have I never won anything, I’ve never even been nominated. Come to that, I’ve never even been invited to anything where any author won anything. My stomach pains are entirely due to my Bourbon intake.
13. We all want to be Hemingway, minus the suicide part. I’m quite happy being me.
14. We would probably all be writing poems, if people actually bought poems. If I could earn a living writing football chants or perhaps greeting cards for lads, I’d be happy with that. Who wouldn’t?
15. We spend a lot of our time going on five hour train journeys to events where eight people turn up (and only three of them buy the book). The only events I get invited to involve either court or family and generally speaking, I tend to avoid both of them like the plague anyway.
16. We chose not to choose life. We chose something else. This is true. It’s called solitude.
17. We are generally quite bad at dancing. Untrue. I have the moves! Or at least I did before my back gave out.
18. In most cases, the person we don’t like more than any other just happens to be another writer. But then, the person we admire most is one too. This is true. Although in my case it is more to do with personality than the nature of their output.
19. We may have our name on the front of a book but we always feel slightly outside the publishing industry, looking in. Like Keats at that metaphorical sweet-shop. True. Despite my success I exist firmly on the outside of the publishing industry and always have. I fear that is unlikely to ever change.
20. If we were a neurotic wreck before we were published – and we were – we remain one afterwards. Our brain chemistry doesn’t fundamentally change. This is absolutely true although my worst insecurities tend to be more about my other writing life. Screenplays are genuinely terror inducing.
21. If we get good reviews, we want good sales. If we get good sales, we want good reviews. I want both. Is that too much to ask?
22. We are happy for five whole minutes after a book is sent off. Then we realise all the mistakes we made. True. Although thanks to the magic that is the eBook, we can if need be, continually edit!
23. We start off wanting to be published. We get published. Then we want a nice review. We get a nice review. Then we want an award. We get an award. Then we want a film deal. We get a film deal. Then we want a film to be made. And so on. For ever. (We are never happy). Well as previously discussed, I know I’ll never earn any kind of award although I have had a movie and plenty of film deals. Another West End premier would be nice though, I wasn’t actually invited to the first one… (long story)
24. If someone reads our work midway through the writing process we need them to faint in awe or it goes in the bin. People are constantly reading my work at every stage from one-line idea to final manuscript. As a consequence, if they are happy, I am happy. If they’re not, I listen to what they say and change things until they are. They are legends!
25. We are a little bit lonely. True. Thankfully, despite coming from a large family, I have always been a bit of a loner and my favourite company is er… me. That has stood me in good stead over the years.
26. Bad reviews are always taken personally. Always. Totally and absolutely true.
27. Writing a novel is like a relationship. During the early stages every other possibility looks incredibly attractive. But commitment pays off. True. And since manuscripts, like screenplays, are always females, there are occasions when you get to the end and are glad to see the back of her.
28. We rarely write in coffee shops. True. Instead we watch and listen and use the fact that we are writers as an excuse for loitering. Or is that just me?
29. Writing is heaven. Re-writing is hell. Oh god yes.
30. We are rubbish at other jobs. And DIY. And most other things too. I was an engineer in a previous life so I can do pretty much anything. The biggest problem I have is getting myself motivated to actually do it whatever it is that needs doing.
31. We say the wrong things at parties. I refer the honourable reader to the answer I gave some moments ago. I don’t get invited…
32. The definition of discomfort is the moment after your mother reads your semi-autobiographical novel. Substitute ‘mother’ with ‘daughter’ and you’re about right.
33. There is no praise more treasured than that of an author you worship. I wouldn’t know about this. It’s never happened.
34. The best book we have ever written is the one we are about to write. It better be!
35. The best ideas we have are the ones that arrive accidentally. True. In fact the idea for my next book actually arrived thanks to an accident. I was in hospital with my wife who had broken her arm when the plot came to me!
36. There is no email in the world nicer to receive than the one from a reader who has been moved by your work. Oh yes. Thankfully, I have had many of those over the years and each and every one is valued.
37. We know, in our heart of hearts, that we have the very best job in the world. The truest of all truths.
So there you have it.
Finally, I’m happy, if not delighted to announce that work is currently well underway on my 18th book which will be my first military based thriller. However, before that, in a little over three weeks in fact, book number 17 hits the shelves. The third book on the Billy Evans trilogy, it’s entitled In The Know and is, if I say so myself, a cracker.