Everybody wants to be a writer nowadays. Absolutely everybody. I sometimes wonder why.
Since I’m a children’s writer I often visit schools to give readings and talks. It’s generally an extremely enjoyable experience but sometimes the questions aren’t what you expect. I’ve been asked what car I drive; what football team I support; whether I’m the new supply teacher; whether I’m ‘that bloke off the telly’; whether I’ve met Charles Dickens; whether, if I could get a robot that would write my books for me, I would get one.
But perhaps the most difficult question to answer was put by a shaven-headed, gum-chewing young man who seemed entirely unimpressed with my presentation. ‘So you mean all you do all day is write?’ he said. ‘That’s not much of a life, is it?’
Today I’m inclined to agree with him because I have a terrible headache and every time I hit the keyboard a little lance of pain darts through my brain. But I refuse to give up. If I were to turn the computer off every time I got a headache I’d never get anything done.
I’ve suffered from headaches all my life. Many of them descend upon me for no obvious reason. Perhaps the god of headaches decides he needs to fill his quota for that month. But now and again I clearly deserve what I get. I throw caution to the wind and more or less get down on my knees and beg for a headache.
One such occasion was the night I proposed to my wife. I’d been wanting to ask her for ages but I was not at all certain that she would accept my offer. Finally I made up my mind that tonight would be the night. First of all we were going to a party and, conscious that what I was about to say would determine my future happiness, I decided to have a drink or two to give me courage.
I’ve never been any good at alcohol. Even a small amount goes straight to my head. Over the course of that evening I drank half a bottle of Spanish brandy that someone had brought to the party and abandoned. Nobody else was touching it. They thought it looked cheap and nasty.
So when I finally got round to popping the question Rosie simply said that she wasn’t prepared to talk about this with me in the state that I was in and that the best thing to do was go home and discuss it in the morning.
I was gutted, I can tell you. My pride was severely dented. But it was to suffer an even bigger dent when the driver of the taxi that we hailed as we left the party, took one look at me and shook his head. ‘I don’t mind taking you, love,’ he told Rosie, ‘but I’m not having him in my cab. He’s liable to be sick all over it.’
I protested bitterly at this slur upon my reputation but to no avail. Fortunately, Rosie’s charm won him over.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the night but I do remember the pain I experienced when I opened my eyes the next morning. I felt like my neck was gripped in an iron vice; there was a great big metal ball inside my skull that rolled about from side to side every time I moved; and somebody had rubbed hot sand in my eyes. It turned out to be one of the worst headaches I have ever suffered and it took me considerably more than twenty four hours to recover.
A couple of years ago my doctor referred me to a special headache clinic. The consultant, an elderly man with a bored expression, asked me all sorts of questions about my lifestyle. But when he found out that I was a writer his attitude changed completely. He suddenly became enormously enthusiastic and began asking the most detailed questions about my working methods.
He interrogated me about the level of planning I did, the number of words I turned out each day, the amount of re-writing that was necessary, the interaction between me and my editor. ‘Do you really think all this is likely to affect my headaches?’ I asked. He looked a bit sheepish. Not really, he admitted. It’s just that he was planning to write a book himself one day. On the history of the headache.