I can write like a dream. And I do it every day. I’ve done it every day since I was a kid. I can write just about anything. I’ve never stopped having fabulous ideas. Twenty-two years as a published author and all those rocky, tricky, difficult years haven’t deterred me. Not completely. Not yet.
Sometimes I feel a bit defeated, but I push myself back on course. Even when I’m told that the next book I’m planning to write will probably be an impossible sell…even before I’ve started writing a word of it. Even then. I keep up my morale and my gumption and my energy and my hunger to do this mad, daft thing I’ve done all my life.
Not many prizes, awards or nominations. Not many massive breakthroughs in sales. Not many special, fancy projects or juicy commissions from funding bodies or artsy organisations. No screen adaptations or TV shows. Not yet.
I try my best not to feel unjustly neglected and bypassed. I try my hardest not to feel like I don’t exist when I’m in bookshops that don’t seem to stock me, or when I’m asked to explain what kind of thing it is I write.
I pick myself up after each setback and reinvent the wheel. I’ve written for every age group and in all kinds of genres not because I had to, but because I wanted to explore. I wrote literary fiction because that’s what they talked about at university and I wanted to write fiction that was clever and brimming with ideas and rich allusion: that cut through to the heart of things.
But I also wrote science fiction and fantasy and horror and crime because I love these things too. They’re all – if they’re done well – asking the same questions as literary fiction. The same big questions we all want to ask: who do we think we are? What do we think we’re doing here? How can we best live? What will other people – perhaps in the future – think of us, and do we even care? Those kinds of questions.
Yeah, genre trappings – chases, kidnaps, monsters, sexy stuff and fights – that’s all a bit juvenile, really, but it’s also fun and essential. There’s nothing wrong with fiction being a bit juvenile. I always felt that books must be fun.
What else? I can script. I can adapt other people’s work. I can write non-fiction, criticism, memoir. I can write gorgeous dialogue in a vast array of voices because I have a lovely, attuned ear as a result of spending my whole life listening to other people and drinking them up. I love other people. I think that’s essential for writing fiction.
I have read all my life. I have read so hard and for such long hours my retinas started to peel away from the backs of my eyeballs.
Oh, and I can teach. I’ve taught fiction workshops and literature classes since my early twenties. I know what you need to be told to do in order to turn your writing inside out and make it tick and spring into life. I won’t tell you what to do. I’ll tell you how you may find the very thing to do. I’ve taught in person, online, in groups, one-to-one. In sheds. In fields. Up trees. I worked for as many years as I could in that exhilarating and deadly, backstabby world of academia. I can read and perform my own work. I love talking to audiences, taking questions. Dragging them into my world. Meeting readers. Signing stuff. Listening to them.
I can draw too.
So I create new stuff all the time. I never flag and I never lose sight of what it is I care about doing. I never laze about if I can help it. I don’t dither if I can help it.
I do daydream…and I daydream in four-dimensional technicolour and I make sure I hit the ‘record’ button. I do all this stuff every day because I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else and I do it like a dream.
And I do it like no one else has ever done it before. The work I do is unlike anyone else’s.
And yet… I keep being told almost daily that there’s no place for what I do. I’m being told that it’s increasingly impossible for someone like me to make a living as a writer, as someone who creates books.
They’ve been telling me that since 1995.
For twenty-two years I’ve been told: ‘It’s so hard out there. It’s so competitive just now… especially for someone like you.’ I’ve listened to that for twenty-two years from editors, publicists, producers, agents, journalists, booksellers, reviewers, critics, librarians. ‘You’re just so hard to categorize.’
I’ve heard it from everyone but readers. ‘Your problem is – you’re just too unique.’ Readers generally don’t have a problem with that.
But it’s tough, sitting down every day. Most of the effort goes into not feeling hopeless. Most of the effort is in making it look easy. Keeping it full of light and life. Making it feel like a dream.