Help, I need a llama.
Most writers would rather not be seen or heard, but just read. Unfortunately readers are unlikely to read your books if they don’t know you exist. We Indie writers are unlikely to be seen talking to James Naughtie on Meet The Author, BBC News or heard talking to Mariella Frostrup on Open Book, BBC Radio 4. But we do occasionally get interviewed on other writers’ blogs and are advised to tell the world about ourselves on our websites. This is where the Llamas and Labradoodles come into it; we cannot let the readers imagine we just sit at a desk in a dreary little room, they want to picture what sort of household surrounds the holy spot where our lap top or desk top sits.
It is amazing how many writers have six chickens, three Labradoodles, four llamas in the field outside their writing shed and five cats which drape themselves over the keyboard or keep the author’s feet warm. I can see great advantage in owning creatures; writers need exercise and while walking your four great Danes you can think up your next chapter. Free range eggs would be excellent for breakfast after your 6a.m. start at the keyboard and rare breed sheep, whose wool you have spun, dyed and knitted into a warm and very individual jacket, would make you look the part of an other worldly author.
Alas it does not have the same kudos to say you live with twenty pot plants and have some grey squirrels in your little garden. I’m not sure how we come to have no pets; perhaps it’s their disadvantages. Everyone knows dogs are a greater commitment than children as they don’t go to school or become gradually independent and you have to walk around with plastic bags… well you know the rest. I have wanted a horse since I could talk, but they are too expensive. Little pets? I could only bear to have them if they would be happy, which means sufficient numbers to keep each other company and vast enclosures with adventure playgrounds.
I have had pets, as a child and for our own children, with varying degrees of survival and happiness; mice, gerbils, finches, fish, terrapins, cat, dogs… but for now the only rescue animal in our house is ‘Chocolate Moose’ who we acquired from a charity shop at Christmas. He is a very cuddly character, with a zany personality; but is no trouble and doesn’t run up vet’s bills.
A deliciously topical story…
This week’s post is Part 1 of a story in which the principal character is one you will recognise from media coverage. Foisted into the public eye, perhaps more than she has been comfortable with I began to imagine how she feels and if, maybe, she has regrets about the life she has chosen for herself…
It is like the sea, she thinks, a tidal surge with flashes of light. In reality the flashes are cameras and the surge is people. She puts her hand to the high collar of her coat and swallows, composing her expression, breathing in long, steady breaths like she has been told. There is a roar, startling her and she realises she’s lost concentration for a moment then she remembers and raises her…
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Here is my favourite story from Scott Andrew Bailey’s collection ‘Thirteen Tales’.
When I was a teenager, among my fantasies of what a future husband might be like was a desire to be a vicar’s wife. This was partly religious sentiment, partly a crush on an older chap at youth group who wanted to become a vicar, but most of all the attraction of achieving an identity, a career and a home all in one package with little effort on my part. This imaginary young vicar would worship me almost as devoutly as God, preach in a wonderful baritone voice, look divine in a cassock …and in the bedroom, though details about the bedroom part were very hazy.
Other candidates for the perfect husbands were vets, explorers and policemen. I didn’t marry a vicar, but I was right about the desirability of securing a secure position in life; as it turned out I was not very good at doing careers. Armed with some brains and motherly encouragement; ‘you don’t want to end up working in a shop’ or ‘you don’t want to be one of those girls who just takes any job till she gets married’ I ventured to seek the interesting and the worthwhile.
I have never thought of myself as someone who suffers from depression, anxiety or has mental health issues. I always assumed any career failures were entirely my fault and even if I had heard of such a thing I would never have dreamed of suing my employers for letting me down when it was me that let them down. Armed with other words of wisdom from my mother ‘I don’t need a doctor to tell me when I’m depressed’ I developed a simple strategy, escape. Not literally, as in disappearing without a trace, though I could see the attraction and I did cross to the other side of the world. The nearest I got to a medical issue was my periods stopping for three months, a sure sign your body is telling you something and they returned after my escape. But how close do we all come to mental health problems?
In my newly enthusiastic reading of The Big Issue, an article about a homeless man who lived in his car touched a chord. He had been a teacher, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t work, lost his home. If he had escaped sooner, taken a safe hum drum job perhaps he would not have dropped out.
My avoidance tactics have applied in other areas. I don’t drive. I did get a licence when I was seventeen, but even driving in a small city presented challenges such as going round roundabouts, turning right and parking in awkward spots. I don’t regret letting the driving lapse. My friend at work suffered immense stress adding to traffic problems by driving her children to the nearest grammar school miles away. I was not stressed as our children had no choice but to walk to the nearest school. The potential terrors of multi storey car parks, edging out onto busy roads, being obliged to offer lifts to unknown places negate the convenience and independence of driving.
So what did happen? I married a policeman, we got a police flat to start with and my grandfather was delighted I was marrying someone with a secure job. Then we had children, further delaying career pressures and resulting in me doing all sorts of ordinary jobs which turned out to be very enjoyable. Perhaps I should have been a writer from the start – writers can write about life without the stress of actually participating in it.