My writing life – some changes

Four years ago, I handed my notice in to embark on a full-time writing career. I didn’t know how long it would last. I didn’t know how I would make a living. And I didn’t know how I’d adapt to working from home rather than being part of the office life I’d known for so long.

A fortnight ago, I returned to the world of software and I think it would be beneficial to reflect on the last four years and also look forward to where my writing career goes next.

It’s fair to say I hung a lot of my hopes on Sunderland winning the 2021 UK City of Culture bid. That wasn’t to be however, as will be the theme throughout this blog, none of that effort was wasted.

The passion for culture in the city, in its many forms, was clear during the campaign and I am grateful that I was involved. (Even if me swearing on Look North when we lost may have seemed a little ungracious.)

I appeared in promotional videos, in the newspaper many times, in a book, on the radio and got to meet the judges. Some may even suggest that I became a bit of a media whore.

The demand for culture was on show during the Sunderland Creative Writing Festival where I was proud to play a small part in it being a huge success. Helping Iain Rowan run it has been one of the many highlights.

Two further novels were published , Life In The Balance and Troll Life and my fifth is in the late editing stages. Whilst Leg It is by far my best-selling novel, Troll Life has introduced me to an experience I don’t think I’ll ever get used to; strangers emailing me to say my book made them both laugh and cry.

That’s what I set out to achieve but multiple people taking the time out to contact me makes me realise that I must be doing something right.

I’ve always considered myself a novelist but I was encouraged to try my hand at playwriting. Something that had never crossed my mind but I found that I loved the process and seeing my words come to life on stage. I’ve had a couple plays performed ‘script in hand’ and was given the opportunity to submit a play for a performance at the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. I don’t expect to be chosen (I’ve seen the competition) but the experience has been fantastic.

Helen Green, Head of Performance at Sunderland Culture, has been incredibly supportive of me and others as part of the Sunderland Stages project. 
Anybody who could persuade me to attend, never mind love, a feminist musical about post natal depression and a mental breakdown deserves an award.
Our recent trip to the Edinburgh Fringe was an eye opener and whilst I won’t come close to some acts I saw, it made me realise what was possible.

A writer’s life isn’t perfect. In 2018 ago I wrote a guest blog about how working from home full-time led to the risk of losing my biggest source of material. My new workmates need not worry about appearing in my books but the lack day-to-day interaction is something I’ve missed.

There is also a perception that being an author is not a ‘proper job’.
This manifests in many ways from people assuming you are constantly available, to friends asking if you are ‘still unemployed’, to the assumption that you will work for free.

The latter is common amongst creatives and I realise that I’m my own worst enemy in not asking for money or selling myself as well as I could.
However, it’s a strange world where people expect my gratitude for giving my services without financial reward.

Add that to freelance work that can disappear overnight and the pirates who go to the trouble of creating promotional films for snide copies of my books.
And the ridiculous form filling when submitting invoices to public bodies for work you’ve already completed.
The constant chasing of payment can be draining.

I don’t want this blog to go on forever so I’ll mention some highlights.

Putting Southwick On The Map.

Highly commended in the Crossing The Tees short story competition. (For a story I drafted as a joke.)

Co-writing a song with someone who has played Glastonbury and having it produced by a Mercury Prize nominee.*

Written blogs on subjects from the Olympics, to pub etiquette and the perfect Full English. Some of which provoked furious responses.

Appeared in Literature Festivals and ran workshops in the Writing Festival.

Created my website

Five star reviews on Amazon.

Running workshops with children and young adults who thought they couldn’t write but became so enthused, they couldn’t stop.

The realisation that I’ve been learning all this time and my writing has improved beyond measure.

The Sunderland Creative Writing Festival. After watching the last event of the festival, shaking Iain’s hand thinking ‘We did this’ gave an immense sense of satisfaction.

That feeling I get when I see a little spike in sales.

Signing autographs. I pretend to be embarrassed but I love it really.

Loads more that I haven’t got space to list.

As mentioned earlier, novel number five is close to completion.
It’s slightly delayed but only because of more good news from last week. Sunderland Culture awarded me a Creative Development Fellowship.

I’m proud to have been chosen, and it was only when completing my application that I realised how much I’d achieved so far. The award will pay for a residential course to work on my manuscript and also some professional editing software, two things I hope will take me to the next level.

I’m very grateful to Sunderland Culture for the opportunity.

You may consider writing a lonely profession, and it can be, but I’ve been lucky enough to have a group of supportive writing friends who encourage me. None more so than Iain Rowan who has been influential every step of the way. I won’t give him too much praise but would like to thank him for not being a dick.

I also have some very special friends who simultaneously build me up and keep me grounded. Not an easy task. I’ll not name names as they know who they are and without them, I would have gone mad.

This blog has gone on a bit and I still have loads I haven’t covered.

I may have begun another chapter, but I’ll still be writing novels, I’ll create more plays, I may even write a TV or film script. Doubt I’ll pen any more songs though.

I’m still a writer and I guess I always will be.

*This might not be as impressive as it sounds. I only wrote four lines but they all count.

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