The thing is, writing is lonely.
Not that that makes it a bad option. How many of us long to wander through a world of our own, a world where we decide what happens; whether people live or die, are happy or sad, fulfil dreams, end up broken and defeated, where villains get their comeuppance and heroes are just who we want them to be. Wow, wouldn’t you just love that?
My dream was to write. That was it. Nothing any more complicated than that. Yes, of course I had the occasional thought of living on a South Sea island, of sports cars and beautiful women…Stupid, I know…but my main drive was to write. Later, when I finally did become published, the dream changed into wanting to write a best-seller – but more about that another time.
For now, I was sixteen. School had ended – youpi! I’d scraped together two ‘O’ levels. I wasn’t going to get very far with them, but what did I care. I was free. And I didn’t have a job.
So began my first foray into the world of unemployment. This was to happen to me three more times in my life. One stretch without a job was to meander on for thirteen months! This first stint was for only three. And I hardly thought of writing at all, because my mind was on other things. Especially when I finally did find a job. Girls became very important all of a sudden.
I always thought about writing. A friend and I would meet up every Monday evening and we’d write and record comedy sketches. We wrote songs too. Looking back now, I realise how good that time was, how creative and alive it all seemed. I lost touch with Norman, that good friend of mine, and I wish I hadn’t. We could have achieved something, I’m sure.
The sad fact is, when you’re young, you don’t really care. Ideas come, they go. There is always tomorrow. If only I was wise back then (not that I’m much wiser now, but at least experience has taught me quite a few things, most notably the absolute necessity to floss).
I hated that job. Truly. I wished the weeks away and when I had finally had enough – after spending too many bitterly cold mornings stood on the platform of Exchange Street Station, Liverpool selling newspapers to the groggy-eyed passengers – I decided to put in my resignations…and write.
Sounds bold, doesn’t it. Here he was, the courageous young writer, cast out into the world, to sink or swim by his own efforts. Or short-sighted and idiotic. I’ll leave you to pass the final judgement on that.
So, I took to writing. I’d hole myself up in my room, armed with an Olivetti typewriter, sheets of carbon-paper and about a ten-gallon pot of correction fluid. Paper I found anywhere, even buying it sometimes.
In those days, of course, the writing process was very different. Before the advent of the word processor, it was a case of bashing away on the typewriter keys, stopping every so often to un-jam them as my imagination sped me along. Then, correcting and editing with pencil, followed by more furious typing well into the night. Every so often Dad would appear with a cup of tea, asking me how my ‘memoirs’ were coming on. My memoirs? I was nineteen, with not much of a life to write about at all, but I had stories. Stories in abundance.
I got a job, with the local council. It actually paid good money and it gave me the opportunity to meet lots of people. And the experiences mounted. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the front seat of security van, handing over five hundred pounds of collected rent, whilst watching a car with a house-brick marching with grim determination straight towards you – it focuses the mind, turns the bowels to liquid.
Yes, experiences multiplied. So did the stories. In Nineteen Seventy-Nine, after working every free minute, I finally had a novel ready for submission.
It was fifty-thousand words long and I was very proud of it.
At my local library, I hunted down the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and found a well-known, reputable publisher (yes, in those days publishers actually accepted unsolicited submissions, unbelievable as that may sound now!). I packed my book in a stout manila envelope , included the return postage, a hand-written introductory letter, and posted it off. My new baby, thrown out into the cruel world. Alone. I told you this writing business was a lonely one.
Then I had to wait.
For three months I waited, chewing my fingernails, waiting for the postman every day, the stress building. Dreams of that South Sea island became ever-more dominant in my poor, addled brain. Three months.
Things have certainly changed all right.