My Life of Freelance Crime

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For several years now I have been completely besotted with the idea of working from home. It evokes images of tapping away imperiously on the 15″ Macbook Pro that I don’t own, swigging the chai lattes that I don’t like and barking things like “What’s the endgame?” and “yes, I know what SEO means” into an iPhone 6. I don’t actually have a clue what either of those vague statements mean, besides something to do with Samuel Beckett or a fake skill on my CV. They just sound sort of work-from-homey.

I’ve given it a whirl on the odd day here and there with previous jobs; and ended up either A) forwarding calls to my mobile and going for boozy lunches with my Mum, B) watching Game of Thrones all day in between sporadic 100m sprints to the laptop to hit refresh on webmail, or C) not even pretending and just spending 24 hours glued to the rug in a hungover sludge of fear, misery and regret.

As of recently however, I am officially a Freelance Writer, albeit one without a 15″ Macbook Pro, any tolerance whatsoever for chai lattes or an iPhone 6. This Freelance Writer business looked so much easier from the other side of the fence. It turns out that I’m awesome at procrastination and really shit at working for myself. Instead of trying to get some work done, I wrote a list of obstacles I have slammed into over the past four weeks:

1. I live in Byron Bay and there is both sunshine and a beach. I had crazy ideas of working AT THE BEACH but then someone’s errant child kicked a grain of sand onto my notepad and I thought I’d better quit while I was ahead; or before I started holding toddlers under the water for extended periods of time

2. There is no-one watching me, so I can dredge through Facebook like a rusty fishing trawler all day. I have literally never taken so much interest in my friends lives. Its not just limited to Facebook. I now know everything about everything. I have pretty much read every word on The Internet. And because there’s no-one watching me, I can do it all naked with a flower pot on my head

3. I’m writing academic materials. Yawn. About management. Yawn yawn yawn yawn. I’m sure if I was writing about beer or venomous snakes or awesome books or Ancient Egyptians or haunted houses then I’d be a lot more productive

4. Despite the fact that I’m penning management diplomas as opposed to literary classics, I am suddenly a Hemingway/Williams/Fitzgerald hybrid and generally hit the booze at approximately 10.51am. There’s no-one to tut at me for cracking into my third beer of the day at 11.31, and the management diplomas really flow. “Mix things up! Have a meeting outside!!” I should lay off the grog really, before my ideas get too revolutionary

5. The Dothraki have no word for Willpower. I’m sadly not actually a Dothraki warrior, but I’m more inclined to learn a fictional horse-lord language than to do any actual work. I find it impossible to turn down any invite, whether its to a party, BBQ, waterfall, movie or prison sentence; when the alternative is to get some work done

6. Now that I’m at home all the time, all of the areas of my life that need organising are in my direct eyeline. When organising them means that I can put off working for another three hours at least, they tend to take on a burning sense of urgency. My iTunes could do with a bit of a groom – I’d better cull, reassign and illegally download for the next day and a half. My laundry pile has at least five items languishing in the basket – I’d better hand wash them reverently, wring them out for 20 minutes and then sit and watch them dry. My book collection should really be arranged in height order – time for a two hour reshuffle. I’ve never, ever managed a cartwheel – I should probably check that nothing has changed in that department for the next eight hours

 

There are downsides. As I’m at home for most of the day, I don’t really see many people. This means that when an unfortunate passerby enters my catchment area, they get a dose of my Cabin Fever induced madness and have to put up with me sweating and gurning and invading their personal space for longer than is strictly necessary.

Also, I am totally broke. The thing with doing no work is that you then don’t get paid; so my bank balance has now entered the point where I can’t physically withdraw cash from an ATM, and its just embarrassing to walk into Westpac to ask for my 71 cents. My phone has been cut off, so I can only get in touch with people when I’m hugging a wifi router; I can no longer afford beer and will have to take to licking frogs in the back garden – and I ran out of food. This could be pretty dire.

Yesterday I took my last $10 note to Aldi, mecca for backpackers, the unemployed, and those in desperate need of a wipe clean mattress protector or an olive tree for $20. I couldn’t afford an olive tree, so went in search of sustenance for under a tenner.

It turns out that Aldi is not as dirt cheap as previously thought – items were around the $3 mark. This would keep me in food for the next 30 minutes, after which time I would suffer a slow and lonely death; although with a non-existent laundry pile and fluency in the Dothraki tongue.

With no other option available to me, I stole 3/4 of my shopping list – strolling casually around the bargain bucket supermarket carrying a kilo of penne pasta and a bunch of bananas; whilst stuffing pesto, coffee and cheese into my beach bag. I did this quite brazenly, so that if questioned, I could claim that my lack of trolley meant that I had to carry cup mushrooms down the front of my knickers.

I paid for my pasta and bananas whilst my beach bag groaned with the weight of contraband tinned pineapple chunks and my clothes bulged in odd places, making me look like a Quasimodo type creature with bolognese-jar shaped deformations. No-one mentioned the fact that a sweet potato was peeking out of my cleavage.

Almost tasting the sweet, sweet air of freedom (although it could have been the grapes I’d hidden in the sides of my cheeks) I hobbled towards the doors praying that an avocado wouldn’t drop out of my pants. As I burst out into the sunlight sans convictions for stealing green beans, I heard my Dad’s words in my head, “if you’re going to steal, steal millions.” It has occurred to me that if I wasn’t going to pay anyway, I should have raided a fancy deli. Aldi – it’s a gateway supermarket.

The Death of the Hard Back Book?

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Trying to succeed as a writer is difficult. It is even more difficult if you can never be bothered to write. I am my own worst enemy. I will clear an entire weekend to sit in front my laptop and pitter patter on the keys until some kind of literary genius comes pouring out.

Then I will make a coffee. Then I will make bizarre cooing sounds to my aging springer spaniel and rub her belly. Then I will remember that she smells like a stagnant fish pond and spend five minutes scrubbing my hands with Moroccan Rose hand wash, moaning about my ill-advised decision to rub the dog’s belly. Then my coffee will have gone cold. I will make another one. Then I will watch two episodes of Game of Thrones to relax. Clashing swords, ferocious deaths and token full frontal nudity is incredibly relaxing.

After this I will spend perhaps two hours perusing things other people have written on the Internet to ‘get in the right frame of mind’. Then I will sulk either because they are better writers than I am, or because they’re not but they still manage to have been published.

I will eat something, distract myself by chatting to whoever is in my direct line of vision, wander around loudly expounding about how bored I am, sit down in front of my laptop again, stare at a blank page for five minutes, then stoically give up, close the laptop and go to the pub.

Occasionally I will have a stroke of inspiration, tap manically on my keyboard for four hours straight and sit back, mentally exhausted and elated all at the same time. This usually happens when I am at work. Thus, I am slipping further and further behind and have a poker tournament, a white label launch, a summer party and a company holiday for 100 people to organise – none of which I have made any in roads into. I look incredibly busy as I studiously type away, but I am writing blog posts about incessant wanderlust instead of booking beach volleyball venues; and plodding away at a novel about subterranean London, as opposed to finding a Scottish castle to house 99 Scandinavians and me for 4 nights.

The truth is, it seems easier than ever to publish something. Literary magazines are everywhere, agents are popping up all over the place, Amazon are rolling out Kindles like hot cakes…and if no-one else wants to publish you, you can go ahead and publish yourself.

Literary agents are more accessible than ever – the London Book Fair housed The Pitch this year – where you can go and pitch your book proposal to a real life agent. The North London Literary Festival put on a ‘speed pitch’ event, and Faber and Faber held a talk on how to get published.

The website Authonomy, the Harper Collins created and backed literature-sharing forum, offers writers the chance to upload their work and have it either picked apart or lauded with praise from their peers – the material with the most votes winging its way to the Editor’s Desk at Harper Collins itself.

Open Pen publish scribblers of any ilk – pulling together a quarterly magazine that shows off a cross section of phenomenal talent. Their association with Berg’s Little Printer means that you can jot down a mere 50 words and still potentially have it published as their weekly short story for the Little Printer publication.

But is it really as easy as all of that? London is full of small, independent bookshops, but how long will they last? They only have so much shelf space, so is there room for new writers? I met a guy who had written a book called Beach Dogs, about his experiences as a middle aged waster in Goa. He had been offered a publishing deal, which in today’s barren void of publishing contract offers is a pretty laudable achievement. The contract is e-book only, however.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Obviously times change, things move on, and we’re not reading from papyrus scrolls anymore. But I know that if I had my book published, and saw all of those tens of hundreds of thousands of hours of work condensed into digital form and perched as a thumbnail on an imaginary shelf, whilst bored housewife drivel such as 50 shades and its ilk still took up half of W H Smith, I’d be pretty bloody pissed off.

There’s nothing like holding a real book in your hands. I’m not one to donate a box of old books to the charity shop, instead keeping them, re-reading the ones I like and underlining sentences that made me remember why I love reading so much.

I still dream of having a whole wall made up of bookshelves, with everything I’ve ever read and loved neatly stacked, and a rolling library ladder propped up against the whole shebang so I can fly around the room like a crazed Julie Andrews.

Thumbing your way across an iPhone screen just doesn’t cut it.

Stuffing a sock in Writers Block

For the past three years I have told anyone that will listen that I want to be a writer. They don’t have to listen. They don’t even have to be in possession of full use of their ears. I’ll god damn tell them anyway.

The fact that in that time I have been a Chanel PR hack, craft beer pourer, cancer charity lobbyist, celebrity cricket match coordinator, English teacher, Great White shark cage diver, Sexpo doll, debt recoverer, drunken bartender, baby alligator-sitter and cleaner of the toilets of the rich…is besides the point. I still want to be a writer. The problem is, in the past year, I have done anything but write.

I sit down to commit some genius to paper. I end up turning the paper into an origami velicoraptor. I write more fluently when inebriated, so try that. I end up throwing up on my desk tidy and passing out under the chair. Travelling by public transport inspires me to write shit poetry. What I’ve scribbled whilst pitching and jerking on the tube is illegible, and looks like a suicide note jotted down by a Parkinson’s sufferer.

I started a book about my life, got to 100,000 words and realised that I’m an arsehole. I started it again from my new worldy wise perspective and realised that I want to be Jack Kerouac. I have no money and no car for a transcendental physical and mental journey, so I went up the high street and ended up with nothing more than an ode to the Waitrose deli counter.

I want to write about the things that make me rant, but work myself up to the point that I’m rocking back and forth in my chair, dribbling and gibbering at a coffee cup.

I want to write about the changes that I want to see in the world, but am usually too hungover to look past the changes I see each time I hurl.

I want to stand up at an open mic poetry night and bare my soul in iambic pentameter, but I can’t quite seem to find the time between trying and failing at Bikram yoga, supping on pale ales and staring out of the window.

I started a short story, and at fifty words, it was just that. Fucking short.

I began a post-apocalyptic novel, words spurting forth in fits and starts, until I became so disheartened that I wished my ragged tangle of survivors had died when the rest of my fictional world bloody had.

I wrote the last verse of a poem about a prescription drug addicted 50s Stepford wife, and stared at it for so long with no other verses forthcoming that soon morphine was the only way out for me, too.

I read my heroes – Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron…spot a glimmer of inspiration and chase it headlong, weaving through a maze of inspired prose, until it dives down the rabbit hole and I lose all trace.

Writers Block sounds like a small hulk, one obstacle that sits firm whilst you throw yourself at it until you realise – Bloody Hell! It’s a block! I can walk around it! What I seem to be suffering from is Writers Berlin Wall. It will come down at some point, and who knows, perhaps the Hoff will sing to mark the occasion, but at the moment it stands tall, seperating my ambitions from any dwindling semblance of talent I may have.

The first block seems to have shifted however. I am sitting here. With a blog. Writing! Whether this post will be joined by a happy little post family, or remains here, alone, lost in WordPress while more circulated, followed blogs sneer at it, remains to be seen.

As Jenkin Lloyd Jones said, “You have typewriters, presses. And a huge audience. How about raising hell?”