Monday, 28 June 2010

Fantasy part-time jobs for writers

It is a truth universally acknowledged throughout the writing world that no writer ever makes a killing. It's just not a profitable industry, this. Most writers spend their lives hunched bitterly over cramped desks in the corner of their bedroom / living room, cursing the day they ever lifted up that fountain pen, wishing they had taken up economics instead. And then they die, penniless, forgotten by all but a handful of faithful readers, leaving behind debts that run to five or more figures.

So much for making a living from writing, dear readers. But how are we to make our living, if not from the words we produce? All of us, to a man, most have a soul-crushing day job, if not to stop the landlord from throwing us out from under their roofs, carpets and all, but also to provide us with the actual time and material one needs to keep writing.

Readers do not despair, and behold: for I bring you a comprehensive list of the best possible day-jobs a writer can have.

Job one: librarian Most writers write for one solitary reason: words. Words, and maybe books. We love books. They smell funny. They've got notes written in the margins, curved, battered spines, and pages with the corners bent over. Their covers may sometimes look hilariously out-dated, but the words within will stand the test of time. They say what they mean obliquely, with a language unique to each writer, and they transport us away from our miserable little lives, one sentence at a time. Writers love books, they can't get enough of them. What better way to enjoy the company of books than by surrounding yourself with them? (The odd bit of book-stamping and interaction with members of the public notwithstanding).

Job two: Filing clerk The problem with most day-jobs is that they actively take time away from what you want to do, viz. writing. What better way to combine the dual pursuits of earning money to live, and finding time to write, than by finding a job that practically pays you to write your novel? Filing rooms are strange places. Filled with dust and bizarre categorisation systems, the filing room provides the young filing clerk with everything he needs to complete his first magnum opus. The smartest file-clerk arranges his filing-den into a colour-coded, labyrinthine system which nobody else in the building can fathom. This stops anyone else coming up to look for things themselves. The writer & filing clerk has done well: he has found a job that pays him to write, and he won't get interrupted while he's doing it.

Job three: Sales assistant in B&Q All human life finds its way to the hardware store. The young couple in the act of putting up shelves in their new home; the embittered, ageing old couple who no longer have anything to say to each other, buying a shed to enable one of them to escape into the garden. Hardware stores, even more than supermarkets, are a breeder for disagreement between husband and wife. Trawl the aisles of any branch of Sainsbury's Homebase and you'll find at least two divorces brewing somewhere in between the latticed trellis-work and the self tapping screws. No assistant in B&Q could ever find himself wanting for material for the newest novel; and when there's a quiet moment, he can escape to the display sheds in the garden centre section to go and write it.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Bridport Prize

It's summer. My car is hot. The dress code at work means no visible tattoos, and therefore long sleeves. While my colleagues drift about wearing cute cap-sleeve blouses, I'm tugging at the neckline of a little cardigan. (But do they have a large tiger crawling up their shoulder? No, readers, they do not. Therefore, on balance, I win.)

Yes, it would be smart to buy shirts. They're comfortable, they're cool. They let the air circulate. But like any other right-thinking individual, I resent spending money on clothes that are only to be worn in the workplace. That, dear readers, is why I rock up at my desk, with oft-worn threads hanging loosely from my elbows, and the seams of my trousers running threadbare at the thighs. I consider it my role in the workplace to play the part of the eccentric, crumpled hobo. This is also the reason my colleagues daily send me hilarious emails saying things like, "Don't worry, SJ, I've got an iron you can borrow".

Instead of buying appropriate workwear, I insist on wearing knitwear, which is also the reason why I come home most days smelling like a teenager after a Motley Crue concert. Summer is less good for writing than winter. The light reflects off your laptop screen and there's less romanticism to be had in writing in shorts and flip-flops than an aran jumper and a pair of fingerless gloves. It's a bit like cheating: if you can't see your breath solidifying in the air in front of you, how can you possibly expect anything you write to be any good? If you write in the afternoons and evenings after work, like I do, it's more or less a given that you can smell somebody's barbeque through the open window. The smell of charcoal and charred meat reaches your nose, and hark! - there's the sound of chinking beer bottles. Who on earth are these people, these so-called "neighbours", and who do they think they are, going around having so-called "fun"? DON'T THEY KNOW I'M TRYING TO WRITE A NOVEL??

All this can mean only one thing: it's Bridport Prize season. This year, there are categories for short fiction, flash fiction (1000 words or less!) and poetry. For those of us who are a bit wordy around the edges, it's also one of the more generous of the short-story competitions word-wise: 5000 words or less! Any subject!! Get your pens at the ready, it closes in two weeks (the 30th June). Judge this year is Zoe Heller.

Currently reading

The Long Firm Jake Arnott
Pratt A Manger David Nobbs
The Corner (yes, still)
When The Door Closed, It Was Dark Alison Moore, Nightjar Press

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Bury your nose in your notebook and pretend you're not earwigging

Bugged blog wants you to listen in on other people's conversations. I want you to listen in on other people's conversations. Why not? I do it myself all the time (don't tell anyone).

Based on the idea that we can find inspiration in everyday incidents, the competition they're running closes on August 15th. Submissions of flash fiction, short fiction, short screenplays, and poetry, are accepted. The only condition is that they must be based on something the writer overheard. (Wait, isn't that all fiction?)

What an ace idea to run a competition with such a widely-themed remit. The competition's open to established and new writers alike, and the winners will be published on their blog.

Get your ear-trumpets out, scribblers: it's overheard conversation season.