The Down Side by Barbara Nadel

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There are huge advantages to being a writer. Basically you get to make stuff up and get paid for it. If you like you can sit about writing in nothing but your pants although I should say right here that I don’t do that. I get dressed as if I’m going to my old job in mental health, but that’s because I have body dysmorphia and need to know what the word ‘relax’ means. But that’s my problem.

Over the years, working as an author has taken me to all sorts of places I probably would never have gone to if I hadn’t been a writer. I’ve been on book tours to Germany, Switzerland and even South Africa and I don’t think I would ever have got to the USA had it not been for my work. Research in Turkey and the UK has led me to climb onto the roof of the Grand Bazaar, attend an ancient Syrian Orthodox Easter service on the Mesopotamian Plain, explore forgotten London graveyards, docklands and places of worship and nearly crap myself in an underground city in Cappadocia. It’s been and continues to be, bloody great.

So is there a downside to be being a writer? For some, maybe no, but for a lugubrious mid-lister like myself of course there are. I’m an awkward cuss with clothing issues. What do you expect? It’s not that I’m ungrateful. I’m not. But anyway these are my top five downsides to being an author in order of unpleasantness, in my opinion. And so in at number 5…

5) Being at a literary conference where you only know a few people very vaguely and you suspect there is an in crowd a weirdo like you cannot join. Conferences can be such huge fun if you have mates, your agent, in fact anyone you know around. But alone they can be alienating and uncomfortable. That said, I did once go to a conference in California where I knew not one soul and they absolutely took me to their hearts. So it can work.

4) Hanging about like a spare part. Often we have to travel in order to get to places to give talks, be on the radio etc. I’ll either drive or take public transport to these places and I always leave myself a lot of travelling time. This is because I’m paranoid I’ll be late. I never am and so I end up hanging about while nice people prepare places for me to talk and won’t let me help them. I’m not the sort of person who can leave a stack of chairs without picking it up and moving it somewhere, so this is tough.

3) Trying to write in a war zone. Not literally a war zone, but the sort of place where people kick the crap out of each other all the time and play music so loud it distorts. I’ve lived in places like this and trying to work through it is hell on wheels. You can’t complain because you’ll get your head kicked in and you have to somehow keep going because you have a deadline you have to hit. This category also covers trying to write in a coffee shop full of people having ‘cool’ conversations on their phones, in a train full of football fans and on that bench in the park where the drinkers usually sit.

2) The audience from hell. I once had to give a talk to a group of movers and shakes in a very conservative and very wealthy town. On the bill with me was a local man who who wrote books about local beauty spots and a soldier who had served his country for many decades. Lovely both of them and the audience really took them to their hearts. Pity they didn’t do the same for me. I spoke about my Hancock books the East End of London to a load of people with faces of stone and I swear that every time I mentioned ‘unions’ or ‘socialism’ they all winced. I didn’t sell one book at that event and came away thinking that I was probably the most unsuccessful author in the world.

1) Doing your accounts. Yes the curse of the self employed which I should actually be doing now. But given the choice between preparing my accounts for the accountant and having my goitre removed again, I would opt for the latter in a heartbeat. In fact it’s doubtful whether even a plague of zombies could persuade me to get on with that. I’d just let them eat me. Were I more organised it wouldn’t be such an ordeal but I’m not and never will be and I will continue to hate it.

But at least, in spite of the above, I’m still here. So saddened this morning to hear of the death of the wonderful Sue Townsend, author of the Adrian Mole books as well as loads of other excellent novels. She made me laugh and cry and think and the world will miss Sue. She was one of us. RIP.

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