Thank goodness! I was wondering where that was.
Sorry - I'm in a silly mood today.
Right. So. here's the thing...
Thank goodness! I was wondering where that was.
Sorry - I'm in a silly mood today.
I was intending to apply for a new job today. I am qualified to do it, and I have confidence in my ability to do it rather well. I was even a little excited about applying for this role, because if I can get to the interview stage of an application process, I tend to get the job.
That was before I went for my usual walk with the 110lb dog. Before I left home this morning I looked out of the window, and the pre-dawn sky looked distinctly unpromising. I grunted and grumbled a little - which is very unlike me (that's sarcasm, by the way) - and decided against taking my old but beloved camera out with me. It just wasn't worth taking it along, I thought - there would be nothing to photograph on a day like today, I thought.
Of course, I should have taken into account that I have only lived through fifty autumns, and so I cannot possibly be expected to have any appreciation of how weather and light conditions can change in a very short time. Neither does the fact that I have lived in almost the same location for the last thirteen and a half years give me any reason to suppose that I could make an educated guess about how the day might develop. That's more sarcasm, in case you were teetering on a knife edge about it.
The photograph above is one of a short series that I took with my phone camera as a breathtaking view unfolded in truly wondrous light conditions - none of which I was able to adequately capture, of course - what with the bloody camera being at home! I was, however, able to stop and, while the 110lb dog watched me with his customary confused/surprised expression, just stare at my surroundings. The world looked simply stunning, and as a matter of fact it sounded pretty good too - a calm silence was all around me until it was gently broken by the distant sound of calling geese. Then, more of them, and as I looked up I could see literally thousands of birds far above me, all streaming East towards the sunrise in their familiar phalanxes. The world was going about its business.
If I was successful and took the new job, I wouldn't be able to see or hear these things - that's what struck me in those moments. My current position was chosen deliberately for its simplicity and for the fact that, unlike previous roles, I would be able to come home every day and forget about my job. No Blackberry: no phone calls from different time zones and no stupid questions from people who have messed up, should have known better, and want to be helped to dig themselves out of the mess that they have created. I gave all that up three years ago, and I am a much happier person for having done so.
Now, I have the time to look around me, and I find myself surrounded not by fellow grim-faced aeroplane passengers, not by cars stopping and starting in traffic congestion, and not by uber-competitive peers trying to one-up one another with smart remarks and kissing the boss on the derriere. Now I can pause when I wish, leave my work AT work, be with my loved ones so much more than before, and enjoy my life as it continues along it's increasingly don't-give-a-shit path towards semi-retirement in the location that we have already identified.
I even have time to watch myself changing in this regard, and noticing how I feel less pressure to be running all the time. Part of that release comes from the children becoming adults and needing me to be that kind of 'dad' less and less, and part of it comes from the realization - with the help and support of my lovely lady - that these years only belong to one person: myself. I'm watching myself, and I'm beginning to like what I see just a little bit more than I have before. I'm starting to make myself smile. Not even trying to get that job has made me smile even more.
I'm not feeling very Hemingway today - mostly because I don't have an insatiable urge to consume vast amounts of alcohol, and neither do I habitually inhale smoke from tightly bound smouldering vegetation - but then, I'm not fishing. I'm also not in Florida (I've been there once, and that was quite enough, thank you very much), which, along with my other not-very-Ernest qualities, sets me significantly apart from the old boy (being alive being the most important distinction, of course).
What am I rambling on about? I'm not sure, but I will pursue the next paragraph to its end, and then, hopefully we shall see!
Being 'A Writer' seems to be something that is - to my surprise - a source of some admiration among people whom I know. Now, this may be a double-edged perspective: either they see what I have done so far as something to be applauded, or - and I have the uncomfortable feeling that this may actually be the case - they are astonished that I have managed to string so many sentences together (and use some words with more than three syllables in the process). The label of 'writer' does, however, seem to imply some mythical status, and perhaps with it comes an imagined romantic lifestyle of tip-tapping at a vintage typewriter in a leather, wood and book-surrounded study with a huge window overlooking the country estate. Ah, if only...
SO! THAT'S where I was going with this post!
As the photograph above hints, my daily life falls somewhat short of a writer's idyll. I shall elucidate (ohhh, another long word!):
This morning, I woke at 0500hrs as my lovely lady stirred to begin her own day. I would have loved to fall back to sleep again for perhaps another two hours of delicious slumber, however since I work shifts, my body clock has the personality of a Tasmanian devil, and once I wake up, it is damned if it will allow me the luxury of slipping back into restful unconsciousness (oh no: it will wait until exactly fourteen minutes after I've eaten my dinner, at which point my head falls to one side and I begin to snore and/or drool). So: awake I was (and turning into Yoda).
I lay there for half an hour or so, willing myself to sleep, but to no avail. With much grumbling to nobody in particular (there was noone around to hear me anyway), lots of strange grunting noises and at least one gaseous expulsion, I arose to face the day and whatever it had planned for me. First, a little catch-up on the world: Facebook, BBC News and CBC news websites (in that order) while the world screamed around on its axis and brought the sun closer to the Eastern horizon. A mug of Yorkshire Tea and a slice (using deliciously unhealthy soft, white bread) of toast helped the waking/emerging process along.
With the sky turning something a tiny bit lighter than navy blue, it was time to take the 110lb dog for his daily walk. He's not very demanding - in fact he's a wonderful pet - but the consequences of not taking him for his countryside meander doesn't bear thinking about (lots and LOTS of dog shit all over the garden). Into the truck we went, and out to the country trail we drove. It was cold - the coldest it's been so far this fall - but dry, at least. Ninety minutes later there I was back at home, chopping up the foul-smelling meat that the dog rather perversely enjoys ingesting, and mixing it with a little rice. So far, the romance and the glamour of the writer's lifestyle were not in evidence.
After feeding the pooch, I found myself in the garage, trying to dismantle (or more accurately: cut into pieces after it refused to be dismantled) as quietly as possible so as to not disturb my son and curtail his usual Friday/Saturday fifteen hours of sleep. I needed to put the bed, the old mattress and some other crap into the back of the truck, and so first I removed the dog's blankets (they stop him sliding about in the truck bed). Fighting dust, dirt and billions of dog hairs (quite how he grows and sheds this many hairs is a scientific mystery), I stuffed the blankets into the washing machine and turned it on before returning to the pile of wood which had once been a bed. Into the truck went the old mattress....into the truck went the multiple pieces of thing/bed, and into the truck, covered by now in dog hairs and sawdust, went the writer, unglamourously .
Now it's only fair at this point to acknowledge that out municipal landfill has to be situated more beautifully than any other dump that I have ever visited. However, it is still a dump, with all the associated sights, sounds and smells. Romantically, I dropped off the debris from the back of the truck, collected a splinter or three and then glamorously dumped the rest of my payload, trying not to allow anyone to notice the mysterious stains (which always seem to materialize on children's mattresses) for fear that they might assume that I was the bed-wetter. For the record, I haven't reached that level of decrepitude just yet...romantically or otherwise.
On the way home I stopped at the local thrift store and deposited a couple of boxes of stuff that my daughter has suddenly - if correctly - decided are surplus to requirements. With a writer's flair, I deposited a box of old shoes/boots and a box of old teen literature before a distinctly unimpressed volunteer, who just about managed to squeeze out a "Thank you." between gritted teeth. I bowed graciously and presented him with the gift of a short soliloquy. No, not really...
Once back at home, I moved a couple of bags of smelly shit (literally shit - I moved some actual goat and cow shit) over to a raised vegetable bed that my wife and I will work on together tomorrow. After this, I allowed myself to shower (no bathing in asses' milk for me), and thus to remove the dog hairs, sawdust and shit from my milky-white skin. It was as I cleaned the shower afterwards that it dawned upon me that I am not perhaps living the life of 'the writer' that I once imagined I would like to become. Not yet, anyway.
Of course, I've probably sold fewer books than there are matches in a small box of...well, matches. I'm not a successful author - I'm just a guy who's written a book (quite a good one, if the feedback is to be believed). I'm not therefore entertaining delusions of grandeur, but I do aspire to the lifestyle that allows me to concentrate on my writing to a degree which is simply a dream at the moment. I'd love that office with a view. I'd love to be at home more than I'm away.
My huge dog is lying on my feet as I type now. He's keeping them warm, and I'm happy about that. In a few moments I will make myself lunch, and it will be distinctly mundane fare: beans on toast. However, I happen to LOVE beans on toast - especially with HP fruity sauce on the beans. And a fried egg. Oh yes. Livin' the dream...
I'm happy about my forthcoming - if simple - lunch. In ninety minutes or so I will meet my wife at a coffee shop for ten minutes as we pass one another: she on her way home from work, and I heading out to work. That's a little, tiny bit romantic. These small joys are there, if I look for them - and I don't have to look very hard, either.
This writer's life may not be spectacularly romantic or 'lifestyle'-y, but I have a long term plan, and it doesn't involve a great deal of money coming in (thankfully!). There are already small things (as you already know: the small things are the important things) which make me smile wistfully, things which excite me because they are signs of changes that are moving me towards my simple dreams.
It's working, you see. To anyone outside of my tiny family circle, my life might appear dull and mundane and not at all that of 'a writer'. However: I'm a writer, and I'm increasingly living the life that I wish to. I can even deal with Saturday morning trips to the smelly dump without feeling unhappy about it.
I'm not there yet, but the life I wish for is pulling me towards it.
I'm rather happy about that...and that makes me a happy writer.
Stay calm, now. I promise that I am not about to declare that I am the offspring of a tall, masked, be-cloaked and calf-length-booted (is there anyone else who finds that a little bit camp?) evil warrior with telekinetic powers - and neither am I going to pause here to pretend that I'm being mysteriously choked.
Nay, good reader verily I say unto thee, I shall not.
The space between the last line and this was just for dramatic effect, in case you were wondering. If it didn't work, say nothing and it may just go away. If it doesn't go away, say nothing anyway. Instead of all that Star Wars-y stuff (I don't think they need any extra publicity right now, do you?) I am prepared to open up another battered little cardboard box and let loose the thought that it contains.
My dark side is something - hopefully, self-evidently - that I'm not very proud of, but it's real, it's truthful, and I don't think it's at all unique, so let's take a quick look at it, kick it around the playground like an empty Coke can, after which we can run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it (which would, I admit, be a little strange).
Part of me would like it a lot if I was the perfect, fully rounded human being (I'm working on the fully-rounded bit by eating as much bread as is humanly possible). The more sensible parts of my psyche then tap that part of me on its metaphorical - or is that 'metaphysical' - you choose - shoulder and point out that the perfect person would be utterly insufferable to most flawed humans. This would probably manifest itself in a short life span, caused by a rampaging mob who had collectively agreed that Peter Perfect was just too much of a pain in the rear end to be allowed to survive. So, perhaps it's not a bad thing that I'm such a long, long way away from being that kind of a person.
When it comes to writing, I have a few features which comprise the 'dark' side of my character. I'm a bit lazy, for one thing. For another, I have a very low level of confidence - although were I to become suddenly successful/well known, I have a nagging suspicion that I would turn into an arrogant, self-important shithead. *Therapists: my contact number will be at the end of this blog post.*
I believe, however, that the darkest of my literary dark...um...bits...no, wait...um...parts - no, that's worse...aha - aspects - that's the word...is envy. Yes: it's nasty, wasteful and unkind - but it's human. I enyy the success of others. Worse: I actually resent the success of some - and specifically I resent the almost instant 'bestseller' status bestowed upon celebrities simply because their name sells books, no matter what the subject. I doubt very much that many of them have any more skill than I, yet success is assured, because they are already rich (in most cases) and famous. Sigh...
Now please don't misunderstand me: I do appreciate that successful writers (the Kings, Rowlings, Connellys etc. of this world) are skilled, are very good at what they do, and that they have in almost every circumstance, worked extremely hard to achieve their respective success. I don't begrudge them their success, but I do envy them.
Oddly enough (or perhaps: not at all), it's not as simple as envying their financial positions - after all, I long ago abandoned the childish dreams of being fabulously rich. These days, my dreams are of living the rest of my life simply, with the people that I love, and with the time and the space to fully appreciate the best things about being a conscious, cognitively active person with a fairly healthy - if slightly misshapen - lump of meat carrying my brain around on top of it. No: I envy the huge names of the literary world less, in actual fact, than I do those people who make a reasonable living from their writing.
My envy centres around my dreams of living on a parcel of land upon which my gorgeous lady and I grow almost all of our own food (I'm NOT keeping a cow, at any price!), regularly host our (as yet, non-existent) grandchildren and their parents, but basically live a life quiet and peaceful enough for us to do what we wish when we wish it (something that I think is - ironically - denied the world's most successful people in any field). It's not a very impressive dream by many standards, but it's as much as I want.
One day - so I dream - I hope to look up from my keyboard and look out across our small piece of Canada, and drink in its beauty and its peace and its reality. I might go to the sash window (I can picture the room in my mind's eye) and open it to breathe in the air, listen to the birdsong and smell the scent of the trees and wild flowers before returning to my desk and writing some more nonsense. This simplistic yet so deliciously seductive wish feeds my envy.
Perhaps, one day, I'll get there. Maybe - just maybe - I will find myself in that wonderful situation, and I will be able to support our dream lifestyle through the ramblings of my imagination and/or memory. My envy feeds my desire to achieve that target, and so I will no longer rebuke it, or chastise it, and neither will I try to discard it. I will instead accept it as a real part of who I have become in the last fifty years, and since that small, shy boy set off on his life journey feeling so very frightened of what might be waiting for him. And there will be cookies...
Hello Darkness, my old friend...
At present, I follow a page on Facebook which provides me with some very interesting and very old photographs of the town where I spent most of my childhood. The photographs are fascinating, showing as they do how the town developed during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century from a tiny fishing village in a quiet corner of England. I like and enjoy those photographs. However...everything else about the page I could cheerfully leave to one side. The people who seem to want to use the page as a neighbourhood gossip tool drive me into a frenzy of frustration (actual meaning: I 'tut' and 'harrumph' and frown at the screen at regular intervals). Following the page is, therefore, a reliably bittersweet experience.
Which brings me to the world of the independent writer. More specifically, it brings me to the world of the independent writer who is:
It seems that this is a less than ideal combination when it comes to - having finished a book and published the darned thing - getting the book to fly (as if thrown by money-paying poltergeists) from the shelves. I'm on my own with this, and I increasingly feel as if I always shall be. Clearly, promoting a book - like any product, I suppose - is an almost full time job, but frankly I have a life to live in the meantime.
Part of the issue right now is that my wife and I (pause: if I don't stop hitting the back-slash key instead of the 'shift' key, I am going to go friggin' insane in a minute - I suppose it serves me right for trying to type before seven in the morning...and breathe...) have already begun to pursue a lifestyle that is less and less money-oriented. Yes, we have bills to pay and a mortgage to keep up with - we even have offspring (large ones) to feed - but we no longer chase money. Several years ago I gave up flying around the country and earning pretty darned good money in order to be around more for my family. I now work in what can only be described as a menial role, but I'm happier because I am no longer absent.
(I'm still doing the shift key thing every time I try to capitalize something - excuse me while I go on a rampage through the neighbourhood with a chainsaw...)
I'm back (the street is now littered with woodchips, heh, heh, heh...)...
What all this actually means is that the writing experience could easily become soured for me by the apparent need to be a clinical capitalist once the book is written. I need to separate the two elements of the process - and one day, when I have the time to devote to promoting a book properly, I shall do so. In the meantime I'll continue to take baby steps, hide from things like book signings (I do NOT wish to sit in the corner of an empty bookstore, being ignored by the occasional bewildered customer) and wait for Tolkein-like fame to seek me out like a cruise missile (*sound of a cricket chirping*) in just the same way that I have been waiting for the last fifty years...oh well...
Oh - and if you haven't bought the book (it's a tiny sum to buy the e-book, for goodness' sake), please do so. I don't believe you will be sorry that you did...
I know what you're thinking, you little rascal - you're thinking that I'm going to talk about 'Discovery' - one of the Electric Light Orchestra's worst albums - aren't you? I agree - it was a terrible album - but no, that's not what I'm going to ramble on about (I shall permit you a sigh of relief at this point).
Earlier today, thanks to the internet, I was speaking with a friend and former colleague who now lives in France. He and I attended many interesting, exciting and downright traumatic incidents together during our police careers in England. Our conversation - prompted by him making his way through 'Signs of (a) Life' in between his artisan projects - fluttered around and landed upon what proved to be the most emotionally significant incident that I ever dealt with during my service. The conversation, which took the form of comparing notes against a background of us both having been there, seen that and bought the tee-shirt to prove it, was ordinary enough.
Afterwards, however, for some reason (which will become more clear shortly), I decided to use the Google Street View service to, for the first time in more than twenty years, cast my eyes over the location of that particular incident.
It was twenty three years ago. I was twenty seven years old, but already an experienced police officer, having grown up very quickly in the preceding eight years. My partner and I, working a night shift, witnessed and dealt with the most complex incident of my career. Since then, I've often jokingly referred to it as an examination question. The incident had so many elements:
A drunk driver who nearly hit our patrol car, A brief pursuit, An accident, Two fatalities, Providing first aid to injured parties, Controlling an angry crowd, Managing a scene for forensic analysis, Conducting a 'death message' at the scene, Beginning the investigative process...the list goes on. I have often shared the stories with the police recruits that I taught at the very beginnings of their careers, for the simple reason that it was the best example I had of what might happen on any given day - of how the universe might conspire to present any of them with a task so complex, they could not yet imagine how they would begin to deal with it.
With hindsight, on that night, I was at my best. I am more proud of what I accomplished that night than of anything else that I did during my service. I was operating - probably because I had no other choice - at a level that I have rarely touched since then. It was, without a doubt, my best night's work, ever.
Today I revisited - albeit only remotely - the scene of that night, for the first time in over twenty years. Even today, some evidence of what took place there is still visible - I wasn't prepared for that. With my wife alongside me, I moved the images through the scene of the carnage that I had dealt with - the carnage that I had once been surrounded by, and had made sense of. I wasn't prepared for, and was surprised by, the powerful wave of emotion that overtook me as I stared at a repaired brick wall behind which I had found a dying man, and then at the house inside which I had broken the news to a wife that she was, in fact, a widow. As I looked at the pavement where another man had died in my partner's arms, time became irrelevant. Tears filled my eyes - tears from yesterday, for those tragic people, in my today.
I wasn't expecting to cry, but cry I did. Sitting there, with my quietly shocked wife holding me, I cried for Michael and Peter, and for the senseless waste of a random act of recklessness which caused their deaths. Even now, the emotion is still within me - something that is still raw in a way I'd thought was impossible. Surely, I thought, I've already dealt with this? Surely, my bout of PTSD is in my past? I'm over this, aren't I? No - it seems that I was mistaken, and today I discovered something about myself which I had felt was a cliche, and could not be true about me.
I'm writing at least in part, because I need to. I'm writing - among other things - to deal with some parts of my past which remain unresolved, despite my beliefs to the contrary. Somewhere inside me, for example, is Peter's story. He died with me lying next to him, listening to him, talking to him, holding him and in the end, praying over him. His story - in some way, our story - is still with me; in me.
I must set it free.
Oh yes, Christmas - I thought I'd try to be very daring, even a little Hipster about this - and talk about Christmas before it's even on the radar of sensible people.
Having a book out in the wide world is a little like having a young child, and then sending them out to earn a farthing a week with a local Chimney Sweep...I was born a century too late... Just as I would about the child, I worry, you see. I wring my hands (metaphorically, you understand - I have an 'app' to do it for me, which saves me from further injuring my aged fingers), I pace the floor (another 'app'), and I lie awake in bed, thinking about it (and just as soon as they come up with an 'app' for that, you can bet that I'll be at the front of the line).
The online persona that I have created is an honest one: this really is who I am, but it doesn't mean that I'm comfortable being that person - in particular in public. This does tend to cramp my style somewhat (actually, it's less of a cramping and more of an amputation) when it comes to publicising my work. With this in mind, I have a short wish list for Christmas:
1. A magic wand with which I will transform myself - not in a Caitlyn Jenner sense, you understand - into a lean (HA!), mean publicity machine.
2. A sudden and comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of social media and internet publicising in general.
3. A wodge (look it up: it's definitely a real word - I used to use it all the time) of cash in order to allow me to a) write more and work less and b) send out more sample copies to influential folks.
4. A set of balls big enough to enable me to approach media outlets and submit myself for interviews.
Having sent my list to Santa (I'm sure he's accepting mail now), I will sit back and await my new abilities/money/gonads. If I haven't been a good enough boy, however, I'm not at all sure how I will ever be able to get this book to a wider audience...so far everyone I know who's read it has been very complimentary, and surely they can't all be wrong?