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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

How many plates can one writer keep spinning at once?

Today's mystery object is.... no, we'll come to that later.

First, I need to catch up on this writer's convoluted life. All this year I've been hoping to investigate ways to produce The Red House On The Niobrara as a regular book. You know: pages, a cover, something you can hold in your hand. And every time I think I've engineered a little time, what happens? More work arrives.

In theory, having written the text for Mike Pannett's Yorkshire, I was going to have a little free time before getting stuck into his childhood memoirs, due for delivery around the beginning of January. But then, as with every book I've ever done - and we're talking twenty-plus by now - there came the extras. Some cover blurb. A foreword. And could I fill in the several blank pages I'd created by rejecting a handful of the photos? Oh, and... any ideas for a celebrity to endorse it? Not very likely: most of the famous Yorkshiremen I know are professional malcontents. It's what they're renowned for - as evinced by the railwayman I passed on my way to work one summer morning thirty-five years ago. 'Grand day,' I said. 'Aye, what's left of it,' he muttered.

As I scrabbled around, trying to sort out the remnant tasks pertaining to the photo book - and I still haven't got there - a fat manuscript from The Literary Consultancy flopped onto the door-mat. Money! I'll have to squeeze that in somewhere, and soon. That was when I realised I had barely a dozen working days left in which to produce an outline and a sample chapter for this memoir I'm supposed to be ghosting for the ex-drug smuggler, the one about trading in black-market oil in the Niger Delta.

Today's three-way telephone conference with the smuggler, myself and our agent eased my worries somewhat. We agreed that I would crank out the words and circulate them hot from the press. 'Beware,' I said, 'they'll be dog rough.' 'Don't worry' said the agent, 'knowing you they'll be positively Shakespearean compared with most of the shit I have to read.'

Even as turned my mind to scenes from a West Africa I have never visited, I flipped through the pages of my diary, counting the number of working days this side of 31st December. There are far fewer than you'd think. Then, just as I was about to start work in earnest, an email arrived, from China. It's on. The sci-fi project. Big money; up-front.

I'd better explain. About four months ago, maybe more, I read a manuscript penned by a Chinese businessman and translated for him by a third party. It's a sci-fi novel. He wanted somebody to re-write it completely. I volunteered my services, but explained that I was busy and would require a substantial fee. Let's skip the details and say that I have contracted to write it, starting at the beginning of July, and that the fee will ensure I have plenty of time to myself... next year some time. Until then? Mayhem. And several new keyboards, I wouldn't be surprised.

Okay, the mystery object. I'd been gardening for 45 years when I finally acquired one of these - a simple garden line, invaluable for setting out seeds or seedlings in the vegetable plot. So much better than two sticks cut from the buddleia and a ball of knotted twine. I got it for Christmas in 2011, and I have treasured it. It makes me feel... professional. Last week it went missing. I searched the allotment, the garage, the pockets of my gardening jacket, the back garden here at the house. Nothing. It had vanished, and the only plausible explanation I could come up with was that I had been robbed by  the sly thief who last year stole my wellington boots (and venerable socks) from the bench outside our back door.

I was wrong. Yesterday I collected a pile of boxes that A had stacked out the back for re-cycling, and there, at the bottom, was a small carton containing my gloves, several part-used packets of seeds, and the garden line. It gave me almost as much pleasure as the news from China. Really.

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