“If you want to be a writer, nobody is going to tell you that it’s easy. You have to love it enough to get on your knees with annoying regularity.” – Heather Hill
Seven years ago I wrote a post called, Blod, Sweet and Teers. In it I talked about giving up a secure, well-paid job to do ‘something’ with the creative side of me that had leaked into almost every job I’d ever done up to then, causing me to give, give so much more than was required in each role for what felt like little personal reward. At the time of posting that blog I had been writing for two years.
Today, it’s been nine. Nine years of writing for less than minimum wage. Nine years of successes, failures, commissions and rejections. What many don’t appreciate is how lonely a pursuit writing can be as opposed to choosing any number of other professions. It’s surprising how many people will never see the vision you have for yourself when you chose a creative life. I’ve been batted down in my efforts with reminders that very few writers actually make it. I’ve been told to get off my lazy arse and get a real job. I’ve been unrecognised as a self-employed person because my earnings from writing are too low to register as ‘real work’. After asking her to delay an impromptu visit one day because I was busy working, a close relative said, ‘Huh, writing’s not a job.’ More recently, a person that wholeheartedly supported me in my endeavours at the beginning has fallen by the wayside, on his way to meet the elusive, ‘successful woman’. Subsequently, I’ve been homeless, jobless, sleeping on floors and crying in the local job centre and on the phone to strangers asking for help as I struggled back to my feet for the sake of the daughter I have still living at home with me. It was her that drove me on during those darkest of days as we endured two months of living apart so that she could continue going to the same school and sit her exams while I searched for a new home for us – for her. A mother will find iron will for her child, if not for herself, when times are really hard. You’d better believe that is true. I’d have gone on sleeping on the floor forever if I had to but I was NOT going to let my child do that.
However, for every one of the non-believers I am blessed with twenty more people that DO believe in me. Today I’m writing this post on a laptop that belongs to my youngest daughter; she has given it up daily for the last two years to let me use it since my own stopped typing commas and there was never enough surplus cash each month to fix or replace it. She and I are now living in a house filled with furniture and effects for daily living that were gathered together and given to us by family, friends, friends of family and family of friends. My wonderful new landlady, having read all of my books, continues to gift us things we might need telling me, ‘You must keep writing. You must!’ My big brother, Davy, took my author photos for me and bought ten copies of The New Mrs D to sell on to people when it was published. My sister, Tammy, isn’t a reader, but has all of my books proudly displayed at home and tells everyone she knows that her big sister is a writer. And my older sister, Linda, along with her partner Billy, a musician who ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve, have been a constant support in too many ways to even begin to list. As for my very best friends, this post would go on and on if I told you the many ways they’ve cheered me on and supported me. I am so lucky and so grateful to each and every one of them. There’s a saying, ‘In hard times, look for the helpers.’ Helpers are everywhere, believe me when I say that. It’s almost magical at times, the way they appear. Sometimes, through no fault of their own, they have to leave, but such was their influence you’re left with the gifts they gave for the rest of your life.
It was never all bad while I laboured away as, like my dear friend, Paul Johnson, once had to drum home to me, ‘a struggling writer, not a failed one.’ There have been glimmers of light and hope. I submitted sitcom scripts that made it on to desks of some top producers. When I didn’t get the break I hoped to have in writing for television I turned to writing novels and my first one saw me signed to a literary agent within six weeks of its completion. When she couldn’t sell it to publishers I took it and gave it away in a series of free promotions, to see it downloaded over 90,000 times, making it on to several best-sellers lists for months. It was once number one on the smaller, Australian Amazon site, having achieved six hundred downloads in a day. Yet still I was making little money from my writing; always working another job to keep going. On the day I went to meet the small press publisher who approached me to ask for rights to the paperback, I had just five pounds in my pocket. We met and struck a deal in a coffee shop. Knowing nothing about how these things work at the time, I was afraid to order anything but a drink in case I got left with the bill. It was my last five pounds.
Has it all been worth it?
With almost no academical achievements to my name and holes in my shoes, a week ago I sat in front of a panel of six people, four of them television executives. Again I was asking for money – an £8860 education for the TV Fiction Writing course at the Glasgow Caledonian University. The number of applicants for the five TV writing scholarships on offer had broken records this year, so I was amazed and grateful to even be sitting there as one of the people shortlisted for interview. The previous evening I’d lain awake for hours trying to rehearse what I ‘should’ say at the interview, but having what I often call a ‘float away (usually to comedy) mind’ this was not working for me at all. I decided, at 4am, that I would go in and speak earnestly and from the heart, then promptly fell asleep. I couldn’t tell you all the things I said, but I do remember one that had me wondering where on earth it came from and worrying as I sat waiting for the bus to take me home that it was cringe-worthy:
“People will sit here and tell you how passionate they are about writing, but I’m not passionate about writing. What I’m passionate about is telling the world really important things with my fingertips.”
Cringe-worthy it may be, but it was blurted from a bleeding heart. Because lately I’ve been driven to try to do more with my comedy writing than merely make people laugh. This application for the course was prompted by my son, Liam, who told me to watch the marvellous, After Life by Ricky Gervais, telling me it reminded him of the serious themes I write about through my comedy. The full realisation of my wish to tell the world important things that might bring about real change came when someone who lives over nine thousand miles away told me that the stories I share had all but saved their life. I grant you, it may seem a bold statement that my aim is to leave this world forever changed by the messages I hope to put across on the page. Yet I believe; I believe it’s possible. And stubborn belief has got me this far. Hard work will do the rest, and I owe it to BBC Scotland now to do just that… because it was they who agreed to fund my course. It is BBC Scotland who have given me the first step on a staircase it took me nine years of walking through thick, dense forest, knee-deep in mud to reach. You can bet your life I won’t waste this opportunity.
In 2016 I took my youngest son Kyle to the MGA Academy in Edinburgh for a short visit and look around to see what their acting course offers. I could see him trying not to love it too much; we both knew I couldn’t afford to send him. Not long afterwards he won a scholarship and yesterday, after three years of hard work and during which time he suffered three bereavements that included his big brother, Ryan, he graduated.
We ate pizza with his friends and their family on graduation day, my youngest son and I, as I unknowingly provided the theme tune for the day from the handbag I’d hung on my chair. It was The Cure, blasting out ‘Friday I’m In Love‘ from my phone after I’d somehow managed to accidentally click it on. ‘I was wondering at the strange background music choice for an Italian restaurant,’ I mused to my son, who spat pizza at me as he began to roll about laughing. Through tears after what seemed like fifteen minutes of uncontrollable giggling, because, ‘Mum, and you thought your ten-year-old, too-much-cleavage-on-show dress might embarrass me,’ Kyle and I picked up pizza with our hands and toasted him with the slices; his, a Margherita, mine, something gluten-free with goat’s cheese. It was glorious.
‘Cheers,’ we said, hoping there would be lots of those to come for him. There will be. For the things you don’t believe in will certainly not come true, and I believe in my amazing, talented son, who graduated in a way only one of my kids would:
Here’s to the things you go on to do, Kyle.
And to all of my bright, brilliant kids, here’s to things your mum will do because of, and for, all of you too. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, BBC SCOTLAND.
To pay it forward, here are the Spotlight pages of my son and his brilliant, supportive, closest friends who all graduated MGA Academy with a BA (Hons) in Acting: