21 years

On October 4th, 1993, which is 21 years ago today, I became a professional writer.

Technically, I’d been paid for writing before – in June 1990, when I was 19 years old, a small-press magazine agreed to pay me £13.75 (0.5p a word) for my short story The View from the Window. But one cheque doesn’t make you a professional.

So I consider today to be the 21st anniversary of me becoming a writer. For the past two-and-a-bit decades, every penny I’ve earned has been through putting one word after another. Words have fed, clothed, housed, and entertained me. I hate to think how many thousands of words I’ve produced over the years. How many pages.

Unfortunately, the words that I’m paid to produce are technical words in technical manuals. I’d much rather I made a living through writing fiction, but that’s not the way things have turned out. Despite being made redundant three times, I’ve always found it relatively easy to make a living through technical writing. By contrast, that £13.75 I made for my first short story is the only money I’ve ever made writing fiction.

We were digging through some boxes recently and found an album of photos that we took in Rome in 1991. My girlfriend was studying art history, and I was studying classics, so we spent the best part of a month living in a tent just off the Via Aurelia, filling our days with visits to archaeological sites and tracking down Berninis and Caravaggios. The young man I was then had no idea he was going to spend 21 years as a technical author. What would he have thought? He wanted to be a proper writer. Have I disappointed him? Or did he realise, even back then, that making it as a writer was an unlikely outcome? I can’t remember. Would he be angry at all the years I’ve wasted by not taking fiction writing seriously? I mean, I’m 44 years old, and I only managed to complete my first novel two years ago. If I’d started ten or fifteen years earlier, I might have been published by now.

Ha! He was the one who started all those novels in university and didn’t finish them! If he’s disappointed in me, then I can be a bit miffed with him, too. The slacker.


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