Day Jobs

There is a different mindset in Britain compared with more entrepreneurial nations like America.
In Britain we have always been pigeonholed at an early age. Men would learn a trade, serve an apprenticeship with a leatherworker, cordwainer, butcher or smith, or perhaps, if he was lucky, he might get a post with a bank and earn a little more. Meanwhile women would get jobs as servants, waitresses, or something a little less savoury, until they met a man with money and prospects.
The main point is, in Britain people tended to take a career, and then they were lumbered with that for life.
In America, from the earliest days, people tended to have to have multiple careers. If you turned up in the mid-west and all you had was one skill-set, you were not a huge help to a growing community. So shopkeepers would also keep pigs or chickens, would perhaps double as part-time chippies, and would invest in the local theatre or bar. That attitude is still there. I know several Americans who are working on three or four different jobs. Yes, the professionals tend to stick to the one main career, but others have no need to be buttonholed by one job specification.

With the AsparaWriting Festival organising committee and the lovely Simon Brett

With the AsparaWriting Festival organising committee and the lovely Simon Brett

I’ve never had a problem with working on different schemes. In the past year I’ve worked with the Royal Literary Fund and the AsparaWriting Festival. I’ve been involved in planning and marketing, selling, and one-to-one tuition. And at the end of it, I can happily say that I’ve probably lost two books.
The thing is, certainly for me, that to write efficiently, it’s essential that you concentrate on the job. You cannot just throw words down and hope that you’ll make sense. A novelist is someone who is living through other people’s eyes. Sometimes the writer will work effectively in the present day, which makes the job a damn sight easier: you can write about the world as it is, and merely translate it to another’s point of view.
However, for me it’s a bit more difficult. I need to research constantly, because I’m trying to accurately express how people used to look at a world that did exist but which is now long gone. To do that, I have to immerse myself in the world I’m describing. So, for months every year, I disappear into my own head, thinking, dreaming, living in a long-dead world.
It is weird. If I were a carpenter or builder, working for seven hours, I would understand the sudden exhaustion at the end of the working day. There is nothing, nothing, tiring about sitting at a desk and thinking. Is there. Or is there? I find that after writing 5,000 words for five days, I am utterly exhausted. I cannot think clearly, and social interaction is impossible. I am, in effect, a zombie. So while I am in a book, the weekends are pretty much a wash out.

OK, I did have a little editing work to do last year as well!

OK, I did have a little editing work to do last year as well!

However, while, for example, I was working with the Royal Literary Fund, I found that I couldn’t write my own books. I was getting so taken up with the essays, theses and dissertations I was reading, that I couldn’t write my own books. I had estimated that I would be able to write my normal 5,000 words a day for at least two days a week if not three, but in all honesty, I was damn lucky to get 5,000 in total. And that cost me dearly – basically, it meant I lost two books.
So, perhaps there is something in my genes that makes me very un-American. I’m one of those people who cannot fit in multiple careers. If I want to write, I need to have time and peace in order to be able to concentrate and get the words down on paper. Perhaps that is the case.
All I do know is that as writers earn less and less, with now only eleven percent able to live on their meagre incomes, and the vast majority having to keep up a separate career to support themselves. After all, in real terms, i.e. allowing for inflation, writers’ incomes have fallen by twenty nine percent in the last eight years.
So, if you know of a film director with money burning a hole in his pocket, and the need to donate funds to a successful author by buying into his book series, do please get him or her to contact me.
It would be nice to have some money again!

2 Responses to “Day Jobs”
  1. Tonya Mathis says:

    I wish. I would love to see your books on the big, or even small screen. Your writing is very visual for me.


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