Last week I was lucky enough to spend a glorious day walking around beautiful Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire with my fellow writers Tracy Bloom and Julie Houston. We paused once or twice to gasp in awe at the stunning scenery but most of the time we were lost in a world of books – writing books, selling books, reviewing books, living books! We gabbled non-stop, all the way round, and all of came away feeling better for it, for being a writer can be a lonely life and we do really need each other every so often to try and stay sane.
You see, we writers are a funny lot. On the one hand we are forceful extroverts, desperate to shape the world and to share our vision of it with everyone out there. On the other hand we are cowering introverts, hiding that vision behind a book cover and often even a penname, happier in our own imaginations than in the real world. We see stories in everything, talk in terms of ‘characters’ rather than ‘people’, and are always looking for dramatic shapes and purpose where others are happy to just go where life takes them. We are not, I fear, entirely normal (whatever that may be) and that is why we need each other so very much.
Only another writer will truly understand the fear of the blank page, the torment of the not-quite-working sentence, the knot of a plot that just isn’t coming together. Only another writer will understand that it is possible to be in love with both your husband and your current hero; and that it is equally possible to decide you ‘must tell’ the best friend in your book what happened to you today. Only another writer will know the pains – and the joys - of endlessly self-generating your work; the torture of securing contracts; the worries of reviews. And just as chemists love to talk chemicals, and doctors to discuss points of medicine, and lawyers to dissect cases, so writers love to talk writing.
Before I devoted myself to the writing life I worked in an office – better than that, an office within a factory. Every day I was surrounded by colleagues. Every day I went to meetings and drew up plans and drank coffee and cleared my desk and went home, leaving it all behind me. I wouldn’t go back to that because I love being a writer, but I loved that sort of life too. I loved the Monday-morning football-chat and the ‘how-was-your-weekend’ stories. I loved the way you could bounce ideas off others, the way you got to know different personalities and how to work with them, the way you could work with others to a shared goal. I loved the communality of a workplace. Writers don’t automatically have that – but it is out there.
It’s an interesting relationship because to some extent we are, obviously, competitors. We can’t all be at the top of the bestseller list, but the overriding truth is that no one author can write anywhere near enough books to satisfy all the fantastic readers out there so we need each other to keep everyone interested. I have been lucky enough to meet the very talented Helen Hollick, Carol McGrath, James Aitcheson, as well as other wonderful authors writing in and around my own conquest period, and as far as we’re all concerned, the more of us writing about Saxons and Vikings and Normans the better, as it draws readers in and helps to show that it’s a vibrant period, just as worthy of attention as the perennial Tudors.
In truth, boring as it may sound, writers aren’t actually that funny at all, or even all that interesting, especially when they get together – except to each other. I am hugely grateful for the other authors that I have met so far along this writing journey and look forward, I hope, to meeting many more. It’s a tough business but at least we’re all in it together.