I found out from a Sky news survey only yesterday that apparently three out of four people would like to change careers frustrated and unfulfilled in the jobs they have stumbled into. The same survey also published a list of the top ten careers those questioned would like to pursue.
The obvious ones were in there of course. A professional sportsman, an astronaut and a scientist and lo and behold, in there at position number three was writer/author.
The average person unfamiliar with our industry has a strange perception on what the life of an author entails. They assume a book is written, it is published, finds its way into the top book stores, (and window displays too) receives rave reviews from the critics and generates huge sales. Royalties pour in making the author very rich and the publishers queue up around the block to waive their six figure advance cheques for the sequel.
It’s as easy as that.
The reality however is somewhat different.
I am fortunate enough to have stumbled into ghost writing, that is writing books for other people who pay me to do so. (Rather incredible for a boy who left school with no formal education, thank goodness for my editor!)
Ghost-writing was not the way I envisaged my writing career progressing but it does pay the bills and allows me to continue with my own historical and crime fiction novels and yes it gives me the status of a professional writer. I have also been privileged to meet more than one or two incredible people in pursuit of my career including two real life heroes, ex POWs from World War II, Horace Greasley and Lise Kristensen.
But there are an awful lot of balls to juggle out there and I confess at times it is more than a little frustrating to see the book I have written for someone else sell 50 or 60,000 copies whilst my own books hardly make it into a bookstore and some do not even find a publisher at all. The real heartache is knowing that the books who haven’t made it to the bookstore are better than the ones who have sold in their countless thousands.
But alas that is the frustration of the career I have chosen to follow and I will always remain an optimist and a patient man.
This career has a regular habit of kicking you between the legs just when you think you have it cracked. Three months ago a UK film director flew across to see me in Spain clutching a copy of my very first book ‘The Jack of Hearts’. She announced there and then she wanted to make a film of the book and would I be interested in writing the screenplay? I jumped at the chance. The Jack of Hearts was badly written but the plot was good and I welcomed the chance to revisit the manuscript and correct the many mistakes in there.
I more or less ran home and wrote the first few scenes that evening. Presenting the work to her the following day she remarked how professional it looked as if I’ve been writing screenplays all my life.
I hadn’t. This was my first one I confessed, feeling more than a little pleased with myself. She gave me a month to write the screenplay stating she wanted to commence filming in the spring of 2013. I put everything else on hold and worked 12 and 13 hour days to get the 200 scene/ 30,000 word document completed before sending it off to her at the end of April. Two weeks ago she announced she was putting the project on ice, her reason being she needed to chill out a little as her health wasn’t what it should be. She apologized profusely and said she would look at it again in a year or two. I told her not to worry and tried hard to smile during our short conversation.
I’ve been writing professionally now for over 6 years but it was only last year that I managed to feed my family and put a roof over their heads without relying on income from other sources and help from family and friends. I have just finished another ghostwritten book for an actress who should have no problem getting it published and already I am discussing my next commission at the end of the month. I am surviving but that is all. We at the coal face of the industry know the harsh reality of being a writer. The average man in the street does not experience the rejection from agents and publishers and the frustration of trying to make it as a writer. They don’t see the long hours we put in trying to promote our work, updating websites and blogging. Our waking thoughts and our personal take on life is displayed on Facebook and Twitter on an almost hourly basis. At times it feels intrusive and yet we know we must maintain that presence or we might as well give up.
And yet having said all that I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
My writing desk is ten metres from the Mediterranean sea and I work when I want to answering to no one. I can work in a bar, in a café or on the beach and I can jump out of bed in the mornings and go to work in just my boxer shorts. How many people can say that? I have books published in Italian, Spanish, Norwegian and Turkish, my mother thinks that’s great and it is. I research on the internet at least a couple of hours each day and never tire at the sheer joy of being able to learn and study and broaden my knowledge forming opinions on a whole range of subjects from Genghis Khan to the Spanish Inquisition and the role of the Catholic Church. I am constantly fielding questions from would be authors and I encourage and meet with them whenever possible. I have helped many of them to finish their book and even helped one or two get published.
It is without a doubt the best job in the world but shhhhh…. let’s keep that to ourselves.
My working life is near utopia, success in my own right would be nice but not essential. I have a crime fiction and a historical fiction book on the Spanish Civil War more or less both complete. Who knows, one of them might give me my lucky break.
In the meantime I will continue to write and believe. I cannot imagine a day in life complete without achieving at least few hundred words.
Jack of Hearts
A Million Would Be Nice
The Sun Will Still Shine Tomorrow
Race Against Me - Dwain Chambers
Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell? - Horace Greasley (Film production to commence late 2011)
This Heart Within Me Burns - Crissy Rock
The Blue Door - Lise Kristenson
Diary of a Serial Killer
Mr & Mrs XXX
Juan Cortez. A novel set around the Spanish Civil War
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