Saturday, 27 November 2010

QUALIFIED AS A WRITER

Another lovely guest today. Please welcome author Jenn Ashworth, who talks about that moment you regard yourself a real writer, posh biscuits and getting drunk at literary festivals (something I never do. Ever). And while she's guesting here, I'm over at her excellent blog today (see below), so pop over and have a look. Over to you, Jenn...

When we were talking about guest posting for each other, Tom mentioned, off hand, how fascinated he was by the idea that there was a moment when a person changed – as if by magic – from a hobbyist or a hopeful into a writer. It made me look back over my ‘career’ so far and consider if there had been such a moment, when would it have been?

On publication day? The day A Kind of Intimacy was published passed like any other. I got a phone call from my agent and a box of chocolates from Arcadia. I shambled about the house in my slippers expecting to feel different, but didn’t, not really.

So how about further back? The day I found out A Kind of Intimacy was going to be published? That certainly helped. The writers amongst you will know how daft you feel and how oddly people look at you when you say you’re going home early to work on your book. Only nutters write books. It suddenly helped when I could say yes, it’s a real book, and someone wants to publish it.

Except I didn’t say that. I treated it like a pregnancy and kept it secret for four months, too shocked and disbelieving to tell anyone apart from my nearest and dearest, who, not being writers, were unimpressed. I celebrated by buying posh biscuits and rose scented tea.

Maybe then, it was the first major festival I appeared at. Getting (shamefully) drunk in the Writers’ Yurt at Edinburgh, seeing lots of Famous People and reading my book in front of a small but sympathetic and interested audience. Yes, I felt like a writer then, but not a real one. The other writers had such better shoes, such longer queues at their book signings, such well prepared readings and more erudite answers to the questions asked afterwards.

Festivals are lessons in inadequacy.

Moving forwards a bit. I can think of some formative moments. Being asked to contribute to magazines and anthologies made a difference from being rejected from them.

Refusing to work for free was really important. Being able to call it work, at all, without feeling guilty was even more important. Realising I am in charge of paying the rent for my family and I can do it by doing what I wanted to do when I was little. That was massive. Huge.

Although having said that, I celebrated a respectable advance for my second novel, Cold Light, by buying a pedal bin. So perhaps there’s no hope for me at all.

Winning a Betty Trask earlier this year should have been a watershed moment. I’m not too proud to admit that collecting a prize was something I’d fantasised about for years. There’d be shoes, haircut, fancy cocktails with umbrellas. All sorts.

The fantasy did not involve having to stay at home, pregnant as a gravid whale, prescribed bed-rest and crunching through a packet of sherbet lemons in frustrated, tearful rage. I bought a special maternity going-out dress that remains, unworn, in my wardrobe.

Still, this blog post is not intended to be a thinly-veiled litany of the accomplishments of my books so far. Perhaps it is enough to realise that writers (in the slightly paraphrased words of Stephen King) put their trousers on one leg at a time, forget to pay the gas bill and have to do the Hoovering just like everyone else. Having-written does not make life any different. I promise.

When you are working, you are being a writer and the feeling of typing, alone, late at night or early in the morning, in your car during your lunch break, on the nursery floor while the baby sleeps, whenever you do the making of the story - that is where the magic is. At your desk, on your keyboard, at the end of your pencil. Nowhere else.

Being immersed in the story and pleased with what you’ve done is the same no matter how far along the path of publication and prizes you are. You dream about fancy cocktails, you get sherbet lemons, and you make lemonade. And you write, and cross it out, and you write. And just like always, just like everyone else, you wake up the next morning, read back what you wrote the night before and wonder: what was I thinking? And you Hoover. The magic is rolling up your sleeves and attacking it again every day. Despite everything.

And I bet most of you reading this already do that. So you are writers.

Yes, I know that is easy for me to say. But it is also a true fact.


Jenn Ashworth wrote A Kind of Intimacy which was published in 2009 when she was 26 and won a Betty Trask award shortly after. Cold Light, her second novel, is out with Sceptre in 2011. People have suddenly stopped referring to her as a 'young' writer, which is worrying. She writes an award-winning blog and lives in Preston, Lancashire, with her daughter, her husband and their son. And two cats.

7 comments:

Rosie said...

This is a really lovely post, thanks Tom and Jenn!

Jen Campbell said...

This is a fantastic post, thanks you two.

This made me giggle very much:

'Although having said that, I celebrated a respectable advance for my second novel, Cold Light, by buying a pedal bin. So perhaps there’s no hope for me at all.'

x

kerryswindow said...

Really very much enjoyed this post having gone through a similar 'oh so nothing actually changes then' moment myself. It does change some things I think but it's very far from the whizz bangy transformation I imagined when I was writing my novel on a wing and a prayer!

Karen said...

Hoovering? Well maybe occasionally :o)

Great interview. I LOVED A Kind of Intimacy and can't wait to read Cold Light.

Tania Hershman said...

great post, jenn, that's really how it feels, thanks so much for this. I hope you get to wear that dress some day! And what's wrong with splashing out on a pedal bin?? Thanks, Tom, for bringing Jenn to us.

Jenn Ashworth said...

thanks for having me, and thank you for kind comments about it.

There's nothing wrong with buying a pedal bin. There's something very significantly wrong with having blazing rows about the best kind of bin-bags needed to line the pedal bin.

There's something even wrong-er with having a voice, with an accent, and a laugh, and catch phrases, for the pedal bin.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments. And thanks Jenn for stopping by. It's always great to have this insight into writing careers and how they evolve.