So the decorators have finished. They’ve cleared away their ladders and buckets and left me with my lovely new Home Page. My website hit count will be up this week because I keep going to it myself, to admire the look of it.
During my down-time I’ve been thinking a lot about what people sometimes refer to as my ‘career choice’. ‘When did you decide to become a writer?’ they ask. Or, ‘Did you always want to be a writer?’
No. I wanted to be a ballet dancer, or a brain surgeon, or perhaps a ballet-dancing brain surgeon, but it never occurred to me to be a writer because I thought books fell, fully-formed from the heavens. I thought Enid Blyton pressed a button on her book-machine and, lo, another Malory Towers volume appeared.
Actually, I think writing chose me. A bit like a stray dog, the more you vow not to look at it the more persistently it nuzzles your hand and says, ‘Go on. Take me home. You know you want to.’ There can be no other explanation for it taking me until my late thirties to get started. I resisted. I didn’t know how to go about writing a book. And then one day it dawned on me that you probably just sat down with a note pad and a pencil and told a story. Duh!
Writing is a lovely profession because you can do it in your pyjamas. Also people admire it. There’s far more to admire in a brain surgeon or a ballet dancer but writing is like catnip to a lot of people. They long to do it themselves. They wonder if they dare. They go to classes. A parent asked me recently what I thought of his daughter’s intention to study Creative Writing in college. I could not tell a lie. I said, ‘Put on your sternest face and withold funding. Encourage her to study something else, anything else, then make her go out into the world and earn a living. If she’s going to be a writer she’ll be one anyway. She’ll start doing it on Sundays and on her lunch break and then, who knows?’
Earning a living as a writer is tough these days. I know of several published and proven writers who have either been let go or offered so little money that they’re need to retrench and rethink. No small matter when you’re approaching 70. But compared to some professions we have it easy. Musicians and artists have it much harder. A book, once it’s published, may have a long life. It may, years after being published, get optioned for a movie. Its earning power may outlive its author. But a musician is only ever as good as his latest performance. An artist can only make one painting or sculpture at a time. Little wonder many of them reach old age without a roof over their head. Yes, there are Benevolent Associations. Who the heck wants to be reduced to that? I may be hanging on by my finger nails but at least I’m clinging on.
A reader asked me which author I turn to for pleasure and escape. Elmore Leonard. There are other writers I re-read – Evelyn Waugh, for instance, but my admiration for him is tinged with envy of his skill as a writer and distaste for his famously obnoxious personality. But an Elmore Leonard novel is always a joy.