Next year will mark the twenty-fifth year since my first book, The Time-Lapsed Man and other stories, was first published. This is a frightening anniversary because, subjectively, very little time at all seems to have elapsed. I can still recall my first meeting with the editor responsible for buying the book for Sphere, then part of the Penguin group, (a month or so later he moved to Macmillan, and took the book with him). I recall the thrill, as if it were just yesterday, of signing the contract, and recall the heady notion that, after years of slogging away, I was about to see a book of mine in print.
In the intervening twenty-five years I’ve published over fifty books and a hundred and thirty-odd short stories, a fact that I still find amazing. It’s not just the quantity that surprises me, but the fact that, despite all the knocks and set-backs, I’ve kept going. There have been times when, novel contracts thin on the ground, and with mounting financial pressures, I’ve considered stopping writing novels and getting a ‘proper’ job, while continuing to write short stories in my spare time. Then sense – and the fact that I can do nothing else – intervened and I ploughed on, turning out novels and outlines until they started selling again.
A few years ago at a convention, someone who wanted to become a professional writer asked me, “What would you advise me to do to get a career as a writer?”
I must admit that the question floored me. I thought for a time before replying, “First of all, don’t think of writing as a ‘career’. If you want a career, go into banking…” I went on to suggest something that still sounds sensible to me. I said that the young man could do worse than considering getting himself a trade, an apprenticeship as a carpenter, a plumber or an electrician, “And write in your spare time.”
Looking back, it’s perhaps what I should have done – it would have saved me from some hard financial times. In my late teens I had the opportunity to serve an apprenticeship as a joiner. I thought about it, then decided to do dead-end factory work instead and spend all my spare time scribbling.
There were times down the years when I’ve regretted this decision, wished that I had the fall-back of a trade to get me through the hard times. Then again, had I been a joiner, would I have persevered with my writing to the extent that I did – turning out the novels and outlines that, eventually, did make their way into print? I’ll never know.
But I must admit that it’s a suggestion I’d still make to any aspiring writer, especially these days when it’s even harder for a writer to scratch a living from putting pen to paper – ironically, as we live in an age when getting into print, via PoD and online publication, has never been easier. Think about getting a trade, do a ‘real’ job, and write in your spare time because you love writing and have a story to tell…
But would I have listened, as a headstrong aspiring writer back in 1980, with his head full of ideas and a burning desire to get into print?