If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.—Dorothy Parker
When I came back to England last week, a very nice man at passport control asked me what I do. On past trips, I said I’m retired, but most people are (flatteringly) surprised that I’m already retired. I once tried telling the truth – that I’m an unemployed dog-walker. Oddly enough, the passport troll at Gatwick found that answer alarming. (The phrase, “Yes, I can make you leave the country…” actually entered that conversation.)
But could I claim to be an actual writer? I was pretty sure I’d passed all the tests:
- I have arguments with my characters about what should come next. (I lose.)
- I eavesdrop on other people’s personal conversations because I might use them in my novel. Really.
- I have conversations with the paragraphs I’m cutting out of my manuscript, assuring them that I’m going to put them in a wonderful, safe little file so I can use them in the next book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them very, very much.
- When I hear about a friend’s romantic relationship, I think about how I would keep them apart for at least more five chapters to build tension.
- I worry about the NSA noticing that my recent online searches include “best place to get shot”, “how to pick any lock”, “lightweight hunting bow”, “how to tell if you’re being followed”, and “getting a fake passport”.
- I write at night. Sometimes until the next night. Wearing sweats so I don’t have to change to take the dog out.
The day I got an email from Georgia Woods at Taliesin Publishing, I asked my husband to come in and read it, and then tell me what he thought it said. Since he’s a good husband who’s known me for a long (long, long) time, he barely even rolled his eyes before telling me it said she wanted to publish my book.
And just like that, I had a profession. I had an answer to “What do you write?” I had bookmarks printed up with my latest book. (Want one? Want twenty?) And best of all, I had something to tell the nice man at passport control. “I’m a writer,” I said, all casual. Passport Man replied that he writes fairy tales for his grandchildren and they love them. Taxi Lady said she used to write stories back in the day, on an actual typewriter. Genius Man at the computer store said he wrote fanfiction. Grocery Man from Tesco guessed that he would make a good character for my next book.
It makes me feel sorry for doctors and lawyers. I’ll bet nobody sitting next to them on the plane ever tells them, “I do a little surgery in my spare time.” Or “I file the odd brief now and then. I’m really thinking of doing some full trials after I retire…” Or “I’ve been fooling around with teeth fillings over the years. Lately I’ve been playing with the idea of a full root canal. I’ve heard everyone has at least one in them…”How did I know it was time to go public with being a writer? Thank you very much Amazon! They’ve listed Don’t Touch on the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists. It’s been between number five and fifteen as a YA/Steampunk bestseller since it was released on December 5th. (I may have taken a screenshot. Okay several of them. Per hour…)
The dog still knows I’m a dog walker though…