I feel I’m in a strange place right now. It’s quite possible that over the next week or two I could receive news of any one of three potentially life-changing decisions. These are decisions over which I now have no control whatsoever, and it makes me ponder this whole business of ‘being you own boss’.
As a self-employed writer, yes, I do have a high degree of autonomy. I get up when I feel like it, start work as it suits me, and finish for the day when I’ve had enough. In reality this means that I get up most days around seven, am at my desk soon after, and generally don’t shut down the p.c. until mid-evening, often much later than that.
Of course, I’m not tapping away the whole time. I break for meals; I go to town, as I did this afternoon; and then this evening, for example, I take about 3lbs of liver from the freezer, fry a pile of bacon and a kilo of onions and make a huge liver casserole which we’ll start eating tomorrow. I also catch up with football highlights on the
BBC iPlayer, and follow the fortunes of the England cricket team - currently in India - and, as right now, listen to commentary on FA Cup replays that are taking place around the country. But one way or another I manage to produce my 1,000 words day in day out - when I’m working on a book, that is.
So, on the surface, a fair degree of autonomy. And of course, if I need a day off I take it - so long as I can afford not to get paid. Weighed against that freedom is the huge dependence on other people’s opinions, other people’s whims, the ebb and flow of fortune. Somewhere in the Far East, as I write this, a very wealthy man (so my contact informs me) is currently deliberating over the proposal I sent him last week, that I ghost-write the story he is anxious to tell. I wonder whether he is stuck on my profile, my outline proposal or the hefty fee I have been encouraged to ask for, a fee that would keep me fed and watered for about eighteen months. Or is he busy making more money?
Somewhere in London my publisher ought to be deliberating over the carefully prepared proposal I sent him six weeks ago for the memoir More Jobs Than Birthdays. He promised to read it last week, but my suspicion is that something more interesting will have crossed his desk. It usually does. If he were to decide to take that it would be a considerable boost to my career.
And somewhere - also in London - various directors of a TV production company, a major league outfit, I should add, are ploughing through the five Mike Pannett books with a view to making an offer for the film/TV rights. I dare not imagine what the impact of a long-running prime-time TV series would have on my financial future. But I cannot resist trying.
So much of a writer’s life consists of waiting and hoping, and you never really get used to it. At least, I don’t. I still get an occasional stinging pain in my lower abdomen and a vague fretfulness when the answer don’t come. Fortunately, I have other projects to attend to, but I long ago realised that having several balls in the air, to use a quaint English phrase, is no consolation. Three live projects, in my experience, is just as likely to result in three disappointments.
Am I downhearted? Not really. I am now in my twentieth year as a more or less successful writer - i.e., one who makes a living at his trade. I earn my bread and butter doing what I love best, expressing myself in words. Sometimes I can even manage a slice of cake. If any of the three decisions outlined above go my way I may be spreading a thick layer of icing on it.
A note on the slightly fuzzy picture at the top of this post. I was out in the snow today and spotted the faithful old gorse bush, which I reckon has flowered during every month of the past year.