My column for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
After a hectic start to 2019, I was hoping my May diary would be blank.
Not that I’ve turned anti-social all of a sudden. But 1st May marks a major life-change for me, as on 30th April I leave my part-time day job in order to devote all my working hours to writing. The only diary dates I’d envisaged for May were self-imposed milestones for my next book.
The impartial observer might notice no difference in my behaviour. In my day job, I worked almost entirely from home, with the shortest commute possible (bedroom to study, five paces) and an office dress code of pyjamas.
Same applies from 1st May. I’ll still be sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, at the same computer, although I regularly change the pyjamas. But in my head, the difference will be enormous. I hope soon to have a new book out as evidence of my personal revolution.
Yet despite my best intentions, before April is out, there is already a flurry of events in my May diary: Dog Show, Plant Sale, Big Breakfast, HU5K. And that’s before the May issue of the Parish News falls on my doormat. (I scan every issue, diary in hand, as soon as it arrives, for fear of missing out – don’t you?)
Of course, living in a community as lively as Hawkesbury Upton, a blank diary could only be a figment of my imagination.
But imagination’s my long suit. After all, I do write fiction.
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In just two weeks’ time, it’ll be all change for me as I leave the closest thing I have to a day-job to devote all my time to writing and marketing my books.
In some respects there’ll be no change, in that my commute will be exactly the same: from bedroom to study, just six paces. But instead of working for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, as in “ally”), I’ll be working entirely for myself.
All about ALLi
In case you’re not familiar with ALLi, let me explain a little about what it is, what it does, and what I did there. ALLi is a global, non-profit organisation for independent authors to share best practice and support, founded by Irish author and poet Orna Ross in 2012.
In 2013, Orna invited me to be Commissioning Editor of its daily blog (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and that role soon expanded. I moderated its members’-only advice forum, co-wrote self-help books for authors in ALLi’s series of guidebooks, wrote ALLi-related guest posts on other blogs, helped man its stand at the London Book Fair, and spoke on ALLi’s behalf at various festivals and writing events around the country. As an offshoot, I also started two writers’ groups, one in Cheltenham and one in Bristol, whose membership I had to restrict to ALLi members only to keep the numbers manageable.
With a new blog post required every day, and to a specific deadline, my ALLi work had to take priority – and for a long time I hugely enjoyed it, not least because I was networking online daily with all manner of authors all over the world, and learning an enormous amount along the way, particularly from Orna herself, who had become a real mentor to me in my writing as well as in my role at ALLi.
And Plenty More Besides
I also managed to fit in a reasonable amount of writing (I’ve published five novels in the last two years), public speaking on my own account, and running the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, of which the fifth is about to take place (Saturday 27th April). However, around Christmas time, with my work-in-progress novel beset by a series of delays, I realised that if I was to achieve my long-term writng goals, something would have to give. I was operating on as little sleep and as little housework as I could get away with, and there were still never enough hours in the day. A series of minor illnesses (all now thankfully resolved) underscored the message that I was simply trying to do too much.
For years people had been saying to me “I don’t know how you do it all” – it just took me a while to agree with them.
Onward and Upward
Orna and the team at ALLi have been gracious and generous as we’ve worked on a handover, and I’ve been vastly amused to discover I’m being replaced by not one but three people! (Ok, so they’re all working part-time on what I used to do, but the thought still made Orna and me laugh.) I will continue to be ALLi’s UK Ambassador, and to write and speak on the organisations behalf now and again, but apart from that I will be my own person. If I don’t get as many books written as I plan, I will have no excuse, and no-one to blame but myself! So watch this space – and if you’d like me to alert you as I release new books, please click here to join my Readers’ Club, and I’ll keep you posted of progress.
I’ll close now with Orna’s version of this news, over on the ALLi blog. She is very kind!
A few years ago, when I was working at a girls’ boarding school, I was asked at least once a year to give a careers talk to the pupils, because I was one of the few members of staff whose career had included extensive time away from a school environment.
Amongst other things, I’d been a journalist and a PR consultant. This experience meant I could speak with authority about the value of “transferable skills”, as the jargon put it.These are skills that would be of as much use in one job as another – number management, working with people, planning, and so on, as opposed to the ability to manufacture a Ford Escort car, say, which would only be of any use to an employee of the Ford Motor Company.
Before my talk, to be given under the watchful eye of the careers teacher, I made sure to do my homework. I put together an impressive collection of evidence of my previous careers to use as visual aids. Slamming down on the desk a big exhibition catalogue that I’d once edited would be very useful for waking up any girls who had nodded off.
I also took along a very interesting press cutting that I’d spotted in a national daily. This article predictied that by the time the current generation of schoolchildren had grown up, the notion of a “job for life” or even a career for life would be outmoded. Instead, the average worker of the future would be likely to do an estimated 17 jobs during his or her career. It would also become the norm to do more than one job at a time, with at least one of these being pursued from the home rather than in a separate workplace.
I duly photocopied this article and distributed it among the girls, just after I’d startled them by describing my first transferable skill: teaching myself to touch-type. They exchanged disbelieving looks at my description of my electric typewriter, which in those days passed for high-tech.
From the security of that full-time job in the school, I had no inkling that within less than 10 years I’d have a portfolio career myself – a concept that at the time had terrified me as much as it had the girls. Now, viewing the notion from the other side of the fence , I can’t believe that I survived working in just one job for so long without a crushing sense of claustrophobia.
This complete about-face didn’t really strike me until I was interviewed recently by a terrific online magazine called Bea, which was set up as the antidote to the typical women’s newstand publication. I love its strapline: “BEA… whoever you want to be”. And, do you know, I think I am now doing just that.
Click here to read their article all about, er, me…. (and lots of other great articles on a huge range of topics). And be amazed at how much I fit in to each day. I know I am. No wonder I’m always tired…
Strolling down The Ramblas in Barcelona, the leafy pedestrian thoroughfare that slices through this great city, we can’t help but fall into the traps that have been laid for the unwary tourist. Passing by the many living statues, we toss coins liberally into their collection boxes.
The statues are spectacular and imaginative, ranging from all-white classical Romans in togas to space-age superheroes. There is a diminutive Charlie Chaplin, a giant baby in a pram, a man with two heads and another with no head at all, employing the same clever technique as the invisible man that we (didn’t) see in the Park Guell. A particular favourite is what seems at first to be an abandoned fruit stall. As soon as we look at it, a fruit-covered man emerges from the display where he has been effectively camouflaged, holding out a fruit-bedecked hat for Laura to wear for a photo.
Laura is entranced, if a little wary. The more experienced statues know how to overcome children’s shyness and proffer coloured glass beads and marbles to encourage them. I find the marble policy particularly pleasing as Laura is diabetic. In any case, if they were offering sweets, the whole proposition would seem rather seedy.
We also encounter musicians on the Metro, to which Laura obligingly dances. She is hoping for a Spanish flamenco dress as a souvenir and is certainly meriting one on her performance. The quality of the music is very high – a delicate rendition of Bach on a mandolin, cocktail lounge favourites courtesy of duetting guitarists, soothing Sinatra from a trumpeter. Again, I’m easily parted from my money.
Soon I am slipping any coins I receive as change into my trouser pocket, for ease of access whenever we pass another street performer. When we encounter any plain common-or-garden beggars, of which there are plenty, I am hardened to their entreaties.
“Can’t you put a little more effort into your act?” I want to say to them. “Show a little creativity, won’t you? The competition is pretty stiff, you know.”
The sun comes out and we head for the beach, happy to pass a couple of hours making sandcastles for Laura’s Polly Pocket dolls. We gather tiny pebbles, driftwood and sea-smoothed glass to make Gaudi-inspired mosaics as decoration.
Finally, after dipping our toes in the Mediterranean – still quite cold, despite the 20 degree heat of the day – we head back along the promenade, passing magnificent sand sculptures, each the work of a young African man lurking nearby. There is a wonderful castle with high arches.
“How does he get sand to levitate?” I wonder. And a waterfall.
“A concealed pump,” my husband surmises.
The sculptor has clearly come well prepared. A giant dog, very simple but vast, pleases my daughter, though she gives a basking sand crocodile a wide berth. Cue for more redistribution of my wealth. I’m all out of coins by the time we leave the beach.
Laura has fallen into a quiet, pensive state.
“Perhaps I won’t be an artist or an inventor when I grow up,” she confides eventually. “I think I know what I want to be now. I’ll be a person who makes a model and people have to put money in their tin.”
Relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine, as we stroll back to our hotel, I decide that she is definitely on to something.
Well, that’s that. After 13 years, I’ve finally leapt off the treadmill of my salaried job and jumped on to the rollercoaster of life as a freelance.
Time now to reboot my brain, erase the files that are surplus to requirements and make space to record all that my new status will bring. It’s time to break all those habits, from the 6.30am alarm to the 6.30pm restorative glass of wine, and to go where my fancy takes me. I might even throw away my watch.
There will be no updates to this blog for the next week, then I’ll be back and raring to go – so please do come back to visit. In the meantime, happy half term, everyone. Oh, I forgot – I don’t need to think in terms anymore. This rebooting may take a little longer than I had anticipated .