Artists at Work

On my recent truly whistlestop holiday in America   –  I seemed to spend a lot of time navigating New York’s Penn Station and wondering about destinations with names like Babylon and Ho-Ho-Kus  – I visited two friends who are painters by profession. Seeing them in their studios made me consider their working lives and how they differ from mine. A chewed and broken pencil seems to be the only tool we have in common. Image result for chewed pencil image

In the space of a year my friends produce many paintings – witness the canvases piled high. They may rework a piece over several sessions but generally they finish it or put it aside, some lesson learned, and start afresh. Mine is a longer haul with constant reworking of the same piece. Whatever fails to satisfy me gets tossed away or at least consigned to wherever the Delete button leads.

I can work on a train or a plane, and I do. All I need is a notebook and that well-chewed pencil. Even when I’m required to work on a computer a flashdrive suffices. It can accommodate a whole book, and more. But when painters travel they must haul all their gear and make sure their materials conform to safety regulations. And then there is the delicate matter of money. An artist’s pay days are unpredictable. You might sell two paintings in a week or none for months. When I have a publishing contract I can expect to get paid when I deliver a book and when it’s published, but there is also the potential for future bonuses. I might manage to sell foreign rights, or earn royalties. My book might get optioned for a movie. Pigs might fly. But the possibility is there. A book has earning legs, a painting is a one-time deal.

Neither of my artist friends is starving in an attic and yet from where I stand their art requires far more faith, hope and commitment than does my writing. Lots of people buy books, even if it’s only Volume 7 of Katie Price’s autobiography, but very few buy paintings. Nevertheless, day after day those painters turn up at the easel. I take my hat off to them.

Their websites, in case you’re interested:  Lesley Powell  and Geoffrey Leckie 

And breaking news……  Anyone for Seconds? has cleared its first two hurdles. My editor loves it and my agent thinks it’s the funniest thing I’ve written in a long time.  Be still my fluttering heart.


  1. Carole J. Cronin on October 28, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Just read Early Birds and thoroughly enjoyed it as ever. I always love to see a new title from yourself and have yet to be disappointed in the content. Sadly our library seldom has any of your books nowadays so I was thrilled to find this one newly published, the other day. I well remember you writing for the Daily Telegraph and always enjoyed your column. Then you disappeared only to pop up again in book form. Now I see you are living in Ireland and I must say I can’t wait for you to write something about the Irish. Maybe about the uprising and Michael Collins. That was an interesting time. Molly Keane wrote a lot about the AngloIrish and I have always enjoyed her books too but they are very hard to find nowadays. I was pleased to see how attractive and young you look on the dustjacket and I hope to read many more of your entertaining and so well written stories. I don’t know how you think of it all and fit it all in. My especial favourites are the Windsors and the Kennedys – right up my street. I am now passing Earlybirds over to my daughter to read before the library want I back on 10 November. Many many thanks. PS – I sympathise with the vanishing work on the computer – it often happens here and causes much consternation.

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