Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Career, Job, Occupation or Hobby?

A few weeks ago, we had an interesting debate on the Romantic Novelists' Association forum, about whether we consider our writing to be a hobby or a job. I've often discussed this topic with fellow writers and it seems to be something that some of us can get quite hot under the collar about, so I thought I'd throw it open to bloggers too!

For those who are really successful and earn their living from writing, I can quite see how they would be offended to have it called a hobby! In their case, there isn't any doubt in the matter – it’s their career, obviously.

But what about the rest (the majority) of us? Personally, before I was published, I thought of my writing as a hobby – simply because I had a full-time, stressful job, three children and everything else that had to be fitted in – how could I possibly think of my writing as another job? I’d have felt even more stressed. It was a hobby that I enjoyed whenever I could, it relaxed me and then brought me in a bit of extra money occasionally when I started getting short stories published. To be honest, at that stage I'd have also thought I was being a bit 'up myself' if I'd referred to it as anything other than a hobby - (but perhaps that just showed my lack of confidence as a writer!)

That certainly changed when I had my first novel published – but I still needed the day job, and with eight books behind me now, I still would need, at the very least, a part-time day-job, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve since acquired both my State and my NHS pensions. Anything I earn now from writing is the icing on my financial cake but it certainly isn’t a proper income – and never was. I know I’m not a best-seller, but nor are the majority of authors. The Society of Authors' figures bear this out: a pitiful few of us earn a living wage from our writing. We obviously all have some other means of support – whether that’s a day-job, a pension or a rich partner! So can this underpaid majority of us really call writing our job?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the kudos I get from telling people I’m an author, a writer, whatever - yes, I'm proud of it, because it's what I've wanted to 'be' ever since I was a small child, and I'm thrilled that I finally achieved it after years and years of trying. I love putting it down as my occupation on forms. But before I retired, I tended to put down 'medical secretary' even though I was a published author - because it was my day-job that actually kept me financially afloat, paid my Tesco's bills and helped to put my kids through university, not my writing. (Ironically, the only form where I needed to write down both of my occupations was my tax return!).

Yes, part of me does bristle if my husband sometimes refers to my writing as my hobby, as if it’s a bit of knitting. So, personally, ‘occupation’ best sums up the way I think of it now. To be honest, thinking of it as a ‘job’, for me anyway, would make it a lot less attractive! A job is something you have to do whether you like it or not. Something you only do because you need the money. I realise that for some successful authors who don't have (or need) any other form of income, and are contracted to write book after book, it must start to feel like a chore. In a way -although I would obviously dearly love to be that successful! - I think it must be quite sad to feel like that. Half the pleasure must be gone.

Of course I agree with those who say they want everything they write to be published. So do I, desperately! I'm sure it's the aim of nearly all writers. Sadly, it’s often unrealistic, but surely the whole point is that we keep on trying, and live in hope. But I DO advise would-be writers, whenever I give talks, to think of their writing FIRST as a hobby – in other words, do it first because you enjoy it, rather than having some wholly unrealistic plan of giving up the day-job and earning pots of money.

In a perfect world we’d all be paid pots of money for what we do, but I don’t want to be miserable about the thing I love doing the most! If I had to think of it as a job, I'd say the pay is abysmal, the prospects very limited, but the working conditions (hours completely flexible, come and go as you please, work with glass of wine on desk and cat on lap, or in garden on laptop, stop to read e-mails and look at Facebook whenever you like, etc etc etc!) - absolutely amazing!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ten bits of scrap!

Colette over at The Pink Pen ( has passed this on to me:
And apparently it means I have to tell you ten bits of stuff about myself.
I found Colette's snippets really interesting and feel like I now know her better!
But I'm not too sure I can tell you anything half as interesting about me.
Come along now - it's a well-known fact that all writers love nothing better than talking about ourselves, isn't it? So surely I can dredge something up!
1. I didn't learn to drive until I was in my thirties and was so scared, I used to come back from lessons crying and needing a drink. I passed the test on my fourth attempt and didn't stop being scared of driving for years.
2. The first time I went abroad was at about 15/16 on a school trip to France. Some friends and I went out of the hotel on our own at night and got chatting to some French boys, but we were caught by one of the teachers and spent the rest of the trip in disgrace.
3. I drink pints of real ale - but not as many as I used to! I also like red wine but too much of it can give me an asthma attack.
4. I met my husband when I was 17 and still at school. We'll be celebrating our Ruby Wedding this year.
5. I wasn't allowed to take 'O' level maths because I was so bad, the school didn't want a failure to mar their reputation. Instead I had to sit an 'easy' arithmetic paper - and failed, badly. But I got A-levels in English and French.
6. After a bit of a wait to get started, we produced three daughters within three and a half years. Their time at university overlapped, with all three of them being at uni in one particular year (at different ends of the country) - and they all got married within just over a year of each other.
7. My first 'books' were teenage romances handwritten in sixpenny notebooks and passed round the class. But my first actual publication was a letter to 'Essex Countryside' magazine when I was nine-and-a-half, about a bird I thought I could identify.
8. I'm a vegetarian, with a particular aversion to fish - the sight and smell of it makes me feel sick - but I cook meat with no problem.
9. I love Shakespeare, and I'm going to the Globe to see Macbeth today!!
10. My favourite band is Bon Jovi, and I'm going to see them at the O2 on Wednesday!! I also like Coldplay and Queen and most rock and pop music.
** Sorry to be a spoilsport but I just can't do the thing where I have to nominate three more people to do this ... they would probably be the same people that have been passing it on already!
But if anyone reading this wants to have a go at this on their own blog - let me know, and I'll read yours - hope you can find something more interesting than mine! **

Thursday, 17 June 2010

BBC Radio Essex interview

At quite short notice, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Essex yesterday afternoon. We'd originally applied to be interviewed as a panel, about our 'Essex Writers' Panel' library events - but because of the short notice I was the only one available, and in fact when it came to it, I was asked to just talk about my writing in general. Fortunately I did manage to get in a quick plug about the panel, though!

It's about six or seven years since I was last interviewed on BBC Essex. That was my first experience of live radio and I was terrified! I remember telling someone afterwards that it was worse than going to the dentist. But (whether it's a good thing or not!), yesterday I found it a really enjoyable, and even relaxing, experience. Maybe it's because of all the talks I've been giving ... but maybe it's something to do with age, too ... I sometimes think that the older we get, the less we worry about making mistakes, making a fool of ourselves or what other people might think of us. Life's too short!

Anyway, here's the BBC I-Player link if you've got time to listen:
It seems quite long because, of course, the time I was 'on' (less than an hour) was broken up with music, and also with chats with the other guest - an energy-saving expert!
I particularly like the fact that they played 'Paperback Writer' by the Beatles as a kind of introduction to my interview!

Local radio, like the local papers, is another great way for authors to reach out to their local community and get our names into people's consciousness. OK, I don't for a minute think the listeners are going to rush out and buy all my books - but they might remember the name if they see my books in libraries, for instance. It all helps. So I'm really grateful for the opportunity and would certainly do it again!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Feature on short story writers becoming novelists

Just wanted to let you all know that the feature I wrote for Writers' Forum about short story writers who go on to become novelists (and novelists who never write short stories!) has been accepted for publication. So thanks again to all those who helped by contributing - I know lots of people who follow other blogs came over here to 'vote', and I had a great response - couldn't have done it without you.

I haven't got a date for publication yet but I'll let you know when I do. It might be worth mentioning, for anyone considering writing for WF, that the editor, Carl, has told me he's using less stand-alone features now and filling the mag more with series. He's also absolutely snowed under, and isn't likely to need any more features this year.

This is the third feature I've had accepted by WF but it looks like there won't be any more for a while! But this one did involve a lot of work and research so it's particularly gratifying to know it's not going to be wasted.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A talk? or just a friendly chat?

If you've read my ramblings on this blog before, you'll know that I always enjoy the opportunity to give talks about writing ... either on my own (which takes a bit of preparation and thought, planning a talk of the required length and targeting it for the type of audience), or with our recently formed panel of 'Essex Writers' - with my friends Fenella Miller, Maureen Lee, Fay Cunningham and Jean Fullerton. The panel events are a lot more informal and because of audience participation, tend to be fairly 'ad lib' - a comparatively relaxed experience for us!

I've given talks on my own to audiences of all sizes ... well, OK, not to anything the size of a stadium! - but from a packed hall where people were standing at the back, to disappointingly low turnouts which turned into enjoyable cosy chats with a few gratifyingly keen and interested people. I've learnt never to mind the latter ... as long as there's at least one person there, and as long as they want to listen, I'll go ahead and hope we both gain something from the experience.

Our panel events have attracted some encouragingly good audiences so far ... so it was initially a bit of a surprise to find only a handful of people at Monday's event at Ingatestone Library. More than anything, I felt sorry for the organisers - I know Sharon there had done her very best with the publicity, and I'd done my bit too - getting a write-up in the Essex Chronicle, mentioning it everywhere I could think of and including it on a leaflet-drop in my own village for anyone who couldn't make the previous event at our own library.

But hey - these things can't be forced, and can't be predicted. It may have been a bad day for people, for any number of reasons. But those who HAD turned up were very enthusiastic ... in particular, it was lovely to see 'Jarmara' again, with her sister - we've met a couple of times before and I know how keen and interested she is in everything about writing. Take a look at her blog where she's kindly given us a write-up about the event:
Thanks again, Jarmara, and I'm glad you found our chat helpful!

Because that, of course, is one of the benefits of a small audience ... the afternoon turned into a cosy chat between friends, where we all had time to ask and answer as many questions as we wanted to.

I ought to say, at this point, that I've never considered myself an expert on anything writing-related! I've never taken a creative writing course, I don't have a literary background and I'm not (yet, anyway!) a best-seller. So I realise people might wonder who the hell I think I am, putting myself forward to stand up and talk about writing to them. Well, I thought the same thing too, when I first tried it ... but after I'd given one of my very first talks (merely about 'how I got published'), a lady from the audience came up to me and told me how encouraged she'd been to hear about my experiences ... because I was just an ordinary working Essex mum who had been lucky enough to have some success with my greatest dream. Since then, so many people have made similar comments that I now feel able to speak with confidence about my own experiences ... and that includes the agonies and disappointments as well as the joys and triumphs!

As Jarmara mentions in her blog ... we discussed these at some length on Monday and I suspect people are often surprised that even after becoming a published author, the rejections, sadly, aren't always a thing of the past! Nor are the re-writes, the long waits for responses to submissions, or the days when everything you write is rubbish. BUT, of course, the excitement of an acceptance - any acceptance, however qualified ('We like this story but please re-write the entire second half, cut it to a third of its size and change the tense and the names of all the characters ...') never fades. The thrill of receiving messages via my websites from people who have not only read one of my books, but taken the trouble to get in touch with me and say they've enjoyed it, is still like manna from heaven. Seeing copies of one of my books in a bookshop and in the libraries is a joy I never really expected to experience ... and every magazine containing a short story I've written is a precious gift. If those things didn't outweigh the serious disappointments, we probably wouldn't soldier on!

My friends on the panel and I, are a mixed bunch of writers: some more experienced; some more successful; some writing novellas as well as novels, others writing short stories too; some writing historical, others writing contemporary. But between us we seem to have a lot to say about our writing lives! So don't ever be put off from attending events like ours, by the potential size of the audience - large or small. It doesn't put us off, and we hope everyone gains something, regardless of how many turn up.

PS: On the subject of successes, I've a short story in this week's 'The People's Friend' (12 June issue), and two more on the way: one in 'Woman's Weekly Fiction Special' issue 6, and one in 'Yours', 13 July issue. So who cares about the four that have just been rejected!