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Friday, 18 January 2013

Never open the cupboard under the stairs after a productive day. No good will come of it.

The kind of weather that warrants a Red Alert (that's me, in Lapland , two years ago)  

There’s a problem with ‘being up to date’. I mean with having ticked off all the major tasks that were on your desk. It’s a little like deciding that you absolutely have to do the ironing. You gird the loins, plough through the whole basket-load, check the clock - yep, the sun’s over the yard-arm - and pour yourself a gin and tonic. Then, as an afterthought, you decide to put the iron back in that cupboard under the stairs.

Big mistake. You should never, ever, open the cupboard under the stairs late in the day, especially if it’s been a good day. You know why, don’t you? (Clue: snow accumulates on a mountainside; sun comes out.)

So, that’s how I’m feeling today - as if I’ve just got in the way of an avalanche of unfinished tasks. Yesterday I had a storming day, an absolute belter. I beat a path to the end of my sample chapter for the next (or next but one) Mike Pannett book (The Childhood) and shipped it off to the man himself. 5,250 silken words. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! There were still several hours left in the day, so I returned to my Ucross Residency application forms (the one I went for, and failed to get, last September) and knocked off a brand new proposal for this autumn. Followed up with dinner, a pint of beer, and bed. You don’t get many days like that in a year.

This morning I started looking around with a vacant air, a kind of what-next expression on my face. And now I wish I hadn’t. While I’ve been a busy, productive bee, everybody else, it seems, has been sitting on their arses staring into space - yes, that thing that writers do between paragraphs, the thing that writers are allowed to do (read the contract). But not everybody, surely? I mean, what’s the point of being a gentleman of leisure if everybody else has their feet on the desk too? Where’s the advantage?

Let me run through the list. First, the woman in Florida who took a 10,000-word piece from me in March last year and said she would like to publish it in a well-known quarterly, subject to a few light trims. Several excuses and ten months later… nothing. Yes, she got ill, then she got better; and yes, she got busy… stop me if you’ve heard this. I’d been trying to sell that piece for three, four, five years and thought I’d scored at last.

Second, the proprietor of a British magazine who promised to take the same piece, many moons ago, and even offered me £50 (which I said was acceptable), but has since succumbed to the blandishments of the Trappist faith.

Third, an editor at a major publishing house, known to me personally, who received a carefully constructed proposal last November, took the trouble to say he couldn’t read it until the week after Christmas, then promised to do so over the weekend, two weeks ago. Nowt.

Next up, an agent, who received the same proposal at the same time, promised to read it ‘this weekend’ a month ago and has forgotten it so comprehensively that he gaily emails me to tell me about his recent publishing successes.

Add to that lot the public servant (i.e., her job is funded by Arts Council money) who has blanked three sporadic but lengthy, and polite, email approaches over the past two years. I wasn’t pleading for money, just suggesting a chat. I have things to offer in the region she represents; she ought to be able to help me with a bit of advice and exploit my experience.

Now that I’ve got that lot off my chest (you know, that’s really quite a gruesome metaphor if you care to think about it) some good news. In the U.K., since some time in the 1970s, writers have been able to claim monies on public library loans of their books. The current rate is 6.20 pence (pence) per withdrawal, up from 6.05 pence last year. That’s about a dime in the U.S. Up until the time I started writing the Mike Pannett books and claiming 50% of that income, I was getting annual cheques for £6.90, £2.20, occasionally as little as 78 pence. As of three years ago, the sums have shot up spectacularly. Last year £790 or so, this year (this week!) £1350 ($2000), reflecting some 45-50,000 withdrawals - which is pretty impressive, seeing that it’s based on the first four books only, and that book 5 will be included in next year’s figures. There is a ceiling on how much an author can earn. I believe the figure stands at £6000. So Mike and I, at £2700, are way up among the highest earners, probably in the top 5%.

Well, they’ve been issuing the direst weather warnings on the radio and online. I even got a text from the train company. Red alerts, no less. Beware of snow, wind, and roads populated by clueless drivers. So why am I looking through the window on a cloudless sky and a sun-drenched landscape?  Is it because I too owe someone, somewhere a response to a query….? 

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