Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Break In The Clouds

Today I wrote a thousand words, I received a contract in the post from one publisher and a royalty payment from another for a book that has been out of print in this country for over twenty years but is still selling remarkably well in other parts of the world. So I’m feeling pretty damn pleased with myself.

Now don’t run away with the wrong impression. I’m not in this for the money. If I wanted to get rich I would certainly not have chosen to be a children’s writer. Indeed, for most of the last twenty five years I’ve been hopelessly broke. You know how they say that someone was so anxious they were tearing their hair out? Well at the beginning of my career I can remember literally pulling a lump of my hair out because I was so worried about money. But it didn’t stop me. Because writing is a kind of affliction. You do it because you have to do it and that’s the long and the short of it. It’s simply the kind of person you are. Some people are naturally talkative; some are naturally quiet; some have to write. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

Nevertheless, it does cheer you up tremendously when a cheque for something you wrote so long ago you can’t even remember the plot, and a contract for works yet to be forged in your imagination, both land on the doormat on the same day. It’s like getting a Valentine’s Day card from a secret admirer

Writing is an invisible business. The path of your career only takes on substance with each step you take, and sometimes not even then. That’s why writers are always googling themselves, And they are, believe me. It’s practically an occupational disease, like tennis elbow or housemaids knee. Author’s googlemania, they should call it.

Another writer – it might have been Adele Geras – once said to me, ‘We authors are all the same: huge egos and tiny self-esteem.’ It’s perfectly true and it’s the reason for the publisher’s stereotype of the ‘difficult’ author. We’re all suffering from deep-rooted status anxiety. Even the really successful authors. One writer of my acquaintance has become both hugely popular and tremendously respected over the last few years and you should see the toll it’s taken on him! His brow is furrowed; he can’t get a sentence out without a sigh; he worries that his next book won’t be as well received as the last one. The truth is that being successful can be as agonising as being unsuccessful.

But there are moments along the road when the sun seems to come out from behind a cloud just to light up your path. That’s what it felt like this morning when I opened the post. It won’t last. In fact, it’s fading even as I type. Nevertheless, just for a little while, the god of writers loves me and I love him or her back.

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