What is a writer's life like? I took up the challenge to write a short satirical piece on that topic at a recent meeting of my Edinburgh writing group. You can find this at www.franbrady/stories-and-such/thebookfestbore. Of course, this is exaggerated to conjure up some OCD, anal person and I hope none of us ever meet anyone like that. However, I had in mind a famous, feted writer whose best-known book was made into a blockbuster film (name withheld to avoid a libel action). I went to hear him being interviewed at a book festival event about ten years ago. Loving both book and film, I was delighted to obtain a ticket and looking forward to it
He turned out to be very much like the guy in my satire. He made being a writer sound like a life sentence in solitary. He even had the voice to go with it: monotonic, depressive and terminally boring. Most of the audience had begun fidgeting and a few were openly reading (another author) or writing (composing a bad review of this event?). If it had been happening now, smartphones would have been out, busy fingers and thumbs employed.
I especially remember two things he said:
One: 'To be a good writer, you have to a very selfish human being';
Two: 'I don't read other writers - it spoils my register'.
I had only just begun to write - I would not have yet called myself a writer, certainly not 'real writer' - and I absorbed these two dictates with dismay. I have a large, delightful, demanding family (three daughters, one stepson, seven grandchildren, a husband and a dog) and an even larger and equally delightful and demanding circle of friends (actually several circles which only occasionally overlap). It is a very long time since my being selfish was an option. And I have been a voracious reader ever since I was old enough to argue with the local children's librarian that I needed more than one book a day.
I almost gave up my writing ambitions there and then. But common sense exerted itself along with a bracing discussion at my next writing group when the selfish, non-reading author was torn apart and consigned to the bin marked 'Forget it.' Ten years later, I still have all my lovely family and friends and I still read four or five books a month - and I have written four novels, a children's novella, plus umpteen short stories and poems.
I am not, however, as rich and famous as our anal author. Probably I never will be. But I like to think I am a happier and more rounded human being. In fact, I know I am - unless he was just scamming us that day in the book festival tent. Maybe he really has a wonderful, varied life, a cornucopia of loving family, friendships and experiences. Maybe.