Celtic Illumination, part 317, Fifty Shades of Shite.
As dear old Bob Dylan once sang, ‘The times they are a changing,’ and nothing could have been more true in the world of publishing and writing. Like most writers I had established a routine for myself, which I would religiously adhere to. If you ever read about writers and their routines I think you will discover that they are a superstitious lot, silently believing that if they deviate from their routine, their writing will fail or they will lose the ability, very like actors who will not mention The Scottish play. Hemmingway wrote while he stood, nothing too strange about that, until you learn that he always wore oversized loafers and stood on the skin of a lesser kudu. Don’t worry, the animal had been killed and skinned, and very probably by Hemmingway in one of his more sober moments. Jeffrey Archer says that every Monday morning he sits down at his desk, sharpens and lines up seven pencils, one for each day of the week. I know, I often wish he would poke himself in the eye with one. Even I had a routine, which because of what was happening, I was terrified of breaking.
In the early days I struggled to write two hundred and fifty words, sat sitting at our dining table with my fountain pen and pad of lined paper. And as I have said before, counting the number of words you have written would sometimes take longer than the actual writing of them. Thankfully I had persisted and eventually managed to break the seven hundred and fifty words a day, every day, that the text books recommended. The more mathematically gifted among you might have considered my Manchester United deal which would have me produce eleven books at fifty five thousand words each. At seven hundred and fifty words a day that would take eight hundred and six days writing. I did mention, a few blogs ago, that I was producing three thousand words a day which would still see the Manchester United project take me two hundred and one days.
My daily word count had increased again and I was now producing five thousand five hundred words a day, which allowed me to churn out one novel every two weeks. For my daily routine I would sit down at my desk and put on some music. I do know that I started to listen to loud music in order to drown out the barking of the dog next door. The poor thing was kept in the garden all day, ignored, and did nothing else but bark. I know it wasn’t the poor animals fault but the cretin who supposedly looked after it. I don’t think I actually listen to the music, it sort of drowns out everything else and acts as a sort of muffler, I still do it and at the moment Thin Lizzy are blasting out Whiskey in The Jar. Takes me back to the evening when I was stood standing before them as they kicked lumps out of each other on stage. See how the mind can wander. I work in three bursts, each burst takes one hour fifteen minutes approximately, during which I will write seven pages. Each page is about two hundred and fifty words. After the first burst I would complete twenty minutes on an exercise bicycle then return to the typewriter, read what I had written and then produce another seven pages.
So every morning I would write twenty one pages on my typewriter but I would now spend the remainder of the day editing and correcting what I had written. The hard part was re-typing the corrected version and even then sometimes retyping it again. If you are not a trained typist it is a daunting task when you sit down to type two hundred plus pages. So, as I said, the times they were a changing and I became aware of a new-fangled machine called a word processor. The work could be created on the screen and edited on the screen and by pushing a button you could print it off time and time again. Sure wouldn’t the machine even count the words for you. At the time the most popular machines were Apple Mac’s but they were coming in at around the one thousand pound mark, and that was without a printer, which when you began to look into could certainly cost some money along with the inks and paper you would use.
I noticed in the newspaper that the local college was offering a new course in media studies, they were training people to use word processors and they also had a television studio. I know I had a bit of a cheek but I went over to the college and having found the tutor in charge of the course asked if I could come along and learn about word processors and the television studio. I explained that I had no interest in media studies and would not get in his way or in the way of his real students. The guy agreed and I was happy that although I couldn’t really afford a new Apple Mac and printer at least I would be learning how to use them but more importantly I would learn the correct terminology used in television studios and that might help me if I ever had to complete any work for television or the stage.
I was quite surprised at how easy the word processing was and managed to break away from the class and spend one whole day a week in the training area simply typing my work and saving it on to disc. I wasn’t surprised at how petty minded the people who ran each department were after my experience with TPT. At the end of a class typing and learning how to use word processors, the real students would print off their work. Some would stuff it into folders and some would rip it up and throw it into the bin. If I wanted to print anything off, I had to approach the tutor and ask permission and then actually give her the paper. I had to bring my own paper and you were looking at twenty or thirty sheets of A4 paper a week. The important thing for me was to get the material on to disc where I could edit it and eventually print it off on my own machine. They were just letting me know who was in charge, as if I cared.
One day the typing tutor was wandering around and she stopped and began chatting to me. She asked what I was doing and I explained that I was a writer who was transferring all his work on to disc. She asked how many manuscripts I had to convert and I explained that I had five book manuscripts that I had to get on to disc. She then suggested that her girls who were learning typing and word processing could do with a change, so if I would like to bring in my manuscripts she would get her girls to put them on to disc for me. Talk about luck. I had the two Lily Savage novels, which I had completed and three novels for the Manchester United project completed. Having people actually work for me was brilliant and I wondered if I would ever reach the elevated position where I could recline and dictate my work to one of the three full time secretaries I would employ.
I am of course referring to Dame Barbara Cartland who at the end of her life had produced somewhere in the region of nine hundred books during her lifetime. Her daily routine was to dress from head to toe in pink chiffon, recline, on an antique recliner, and dictate to one of the three full time secretaries she employed while sipping pink champagne. I don’t think with legs like mine that I could handle the pink chiffon and I’ve never liked champagne. And although you may think it quite an effort to produce such a huge number of books I would be mortified to get the review in the Guardian which summed her complete canon of work as, ‘Fifty shades of shite.’ (http://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2013/aug/14/barbara-cartland-novelist-beyond-grave )
It was strange that even with my limited successes in the world of writing and the established and recognised people who supported my work I was still nervous about anything that I wrote, which perhaps is a good thing. The mountain of rejection letters a writer accumulates from publishers and literary agents does eventually not worry you too much, but a bad review, or a negative comment, stays on your soul for ever. I can still remember a cutting remark my sister made over twenty five years ago about something I had written and I have still never forgiven her. I was waiting for Murphy and O Grady to get back to me about the first novel I had written for Lily Savage so was terrified in case they thought it rubbish. Some of the novel had been written phonetically to give an authentic Liverpool flavour to the work. I didn’t go overboard with the phonetics but used what I considered to be enough to make the dialogue sound real.
Normally in the typing classroom I would stay in the shadows and remain at my machine typing away however I came in one day to be told that all of my manuscripts had been typed on to disc. I was overjoyed as I could now devote all my time to editing them. The tutor handed me back all the files and said that her girls had enjoyed the typing exercises if I had anymore I needed putting on to disc, which I had, she would only be too happy to help and sure the girls had been so accommodating, they had corrected all of my spelling mistakes too, especially in the dialogue. Shouldn’t, suggested the tutor with an air of superiority that would guarantee her a job as a social worker, shouldn’t someone trying to be a writer be able to spell?