When I told everyone at work I was quitting the day job to write full time, I got three reactions (apart from the usual ‘I’ve got an idea for a story’ which it seems all writers get all the time). The first was ‘you’re going to be rich!’
As Terry Pratchett noted in Snuff, there is a perception that all writers spend their time lounging around in their dressing gowns all day, drinking champagne. (This is, of course, true).
I won’t be rich. I’m probably going to earn a little less than I do now. But no matter how many times I said this, it did not sink in. The world looks at J. K. Rowling and James Patterson and thinks we all earn that much. Nothing I could say could make them believe I’ll be turning the heating off and living on what’s left on the special offers shelf for a while.
Another was ‘you’re going to move to a Welsh farmhouse and write books!’ What, why? I don’t like farms! The countryside is great to visit but I’m not living there. I live in London. I love London. My books are set in London. I need to walk the streets my books are set in. Why would I move to a Welsh farmhouse?
There’s a scene in Robert Harris’ Ghost, about a ghostwriter, where the writer turns up at a very desolated spot, just the sort of place writers are supposed to love, he says. There seems to be this perception that we need utter isolation from all distractions to write. Well, I need peace and quiet, but I need stimulus too. I need to go out and hear conversations. I need to see different things and go to different places. Most of all, I need to live in a place where I can get a pint of milk at midnight within a ten minute walk. That may not help my writing, but it’d help me.
It’s all kindly meant, but it’s all such a mis-perception of writers. Apparently we’re all rich, and live in isolated farmhouses. The idea of a writer just managing to get by in a little London flat doesn’t really seem to connect with the public idea of being a writer, and nothing we can say can sink in. That’s why it’s always fun to read about a writer written by a writer. They like to strip away all the illusions and present us as we really are – although sometimes, the picture isn’t that flattering. And I case you’re wondering, my favourite literary writer is Ariadne Oliver, created by Agatha Christie. She tends to say about writing pretty much what I’m thinking. (Zoe Wanamaker plays her perfectly in the Poirot series)
And the other thing what was said to me when I said when I said I was becoming a full time writer? ‘I think I’ll write a book and quit my job. How hard can it be?’ I didn’t say anything to that. I just nodded and smiled. What else could I say?