Taking off my overcoat

by Suw on June 15, 2011

I always used to think that blogging was for the terminally under-employed or the terminally not-very-happy-with-life-right-now’ed. Certainly that was true of me when I started this blog and at various stages throughout its history. Indeed, I often combined both conditions into one great big fugue of skint unhappiness, and was verbose with it.

These days, I seem to only blog when I have something to say. Back in the day, I had a lot less to say but seemed to say it more often. The last few years, since ORG really, I’ve busy with work and, since meeting T’Other, my life is several orders of magnitude happier. Somehow this seems to mean that I’m less likely to blog, due to having a lot less to whine about. Indeed, I am in awe of my friends who still blog enthusiastically despite being both over-employed and deliriously happy.

I still have those little moments where I think “Oh, I could write about that on my blog”, but by the time evening has come, my brain and fingers feel like they have had enough and that what they’d really like to be doing is nothing. I write a lot – a 15k word report here, a 35k word report there – and it can be hard to whip up the enthusiasm to find another few hundred words at the end of the day. It’s easier to say, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will blog.”

But I can feel an inflection point coming on. Change is in the air. I can smell it. What’s more, I want it.

I’m wary of talking about plans, because the future is one slippery little motherfucker. Kevin and I have made many plans but the ground keeps shifting under our feet. Actually, we keep making the same plan, over and over again, each coming from a slightly different angle, each one falling over at the first hurdle. The nub of the plan never changes, however, and is this: Leave London. But like a psychotic partner who makes your life hell but who’s still just enough fun to make you pause, London is a bitch to break up with.

For the first time in my life, I have a social circle, friends I see regularly and can just go hang out with. Friends within walking distance (a rarity in London). I have clients both here and at the other end of a flight from Heathrow. Favourite restaurants and pubs. Opportunities. Contacts. Cats. A life. (Compare and contrast my time in Reading, where I lived for three years, knowing no one.)

But the one thing that’s missing is the one thing London can’t give me, not on my earnings anyway. Space. Peace. Quiet. A view. A slower, more considered life. Time to write what I want to write and the money to do so. It would take a miracle for that to happen in London. Specifically, a miracle that involved a very, very large deposit into my bank account.

There are other places that are nicer, quieter, cheaper, with better views, although the downside is that I’ll be leaving my friends behind and starting my life anew in a strange land. (Don’t ask me where, because I don’t know yet.) It’s exciting, but nerve wracking. But the decision is made.

Place isn’t the only thing that needs to change, but meaning too: The meaning of me. I’ve always been someone whose self-identity was tightly bound to what I do. Being a music journalist may have broken the bank, but it was a fun persona to try on for a while. Being a musician or a stand-up comic were interesting and sometimes even enjoyable experiments.

Being a digital rights activist or social media consultant connected a bit more deeply with who I am, because ultimately it was a form of story-telling, the sort of story-telling that involves us creating a better world in our imagination and then fighting to make it come true. But who I really am, who I’ve always been, has been the Suw who wrote Argleton and the Books of Hay and Tag. It’s just that at times, wearing these other careers like coats, I might have fooled you. Or maybe I was trying to fool myself.

A few years ago, after Tag but before Argleton and the Books of Hay, I was having dinner with a writer friend. He’s quite good, this writer friend, and I confess I’m still a bit in awe of him, despite us having shared sushi and he having witnessed my meal fighting back in a most embarrassing fashion. I mentioned something about truly, madly, deeply wanting to write and the words he kindly didn’t say were, “Well, get on with it then.”

That night, I lay in bed, thinking about what I would write about if I was going to write something that no one would read but me. At some time around 3am, I realised that it would have magic, and cats, and probably some scenes in Wales, and dragons if I could crowbar them in. The next day, I started writing the Book of Hay. It was supposed to be stupid, whimsical and just for me, but it turned out to be quite good, even though it doesn’t have dragons in it.

Just before I finished the Books of Hay, which was turning out to be 30k words longer than the short story I had anticipated, I had the idea for Argleton. Egged on by friends, I put down the Books of Hay and focused on what was supposed to be a short story but which came in at novelette length instead. Well over a year later, Argleton is nearly done. Not the story – that’s been done for ages – but the project that the story evolved into. And as part of that evolution, something became very clear to me: I can be, and have the skills to be, the kind of writer I want to be.

I’ve always been somewhat put off by the traditional route that writers used to take. The idea of sending of my works into the cold, harsh unknown and waiting weeks, if not months, for a rejection letter, filled me with dread. I just don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather just put my stuff out there and see what people think. Novelettes are a great length for a piece of work – long enough to be a bit meaty, not so long that they take forever to edit. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with that format, with the idea of a little book not so tiny as to be accidentally inhaled, but certainly bite-sized.

And in the years of my procrastination, of wandering aimlessly through the creative desert, the world changed. Pivoted. In a way that is now essential to my plan. Five years ago, I could have distributed Argleton for free quite easily, but whilst free is lovely for readers, it’s tricky for writers who need to do things like eat and sleep under a roof that’s not leaking and wear clothes that aren’t threadbare. But now we have crowdfunding. Now I have a Plan.

The Plan is this: When I have finished making all the Argleton books and have sent them out, and the backers have had their PDFs for a couple of weeks so that they get to enjoy the story that they funded first and exclusively, after all that, it will go up here for free. Then I will crowdfund the prequel to the Books of Hay, which will likely be in the form of a newspaper. Then I will crowdfund the Books of Hay, which is another novelette. And hopefully, by then, I will have my 1000 True Fans, and I will have, with them, a living.

Because I’m frankly shit at doing this thing that other people manage to do where they balance writing and working and get both done equally well. I need to find a way to do that for now, through this transition, so Dear Clients, I still love you and want you and need you. But this is what I need to do to be me, because I’m not happy when I’m not me. I don’t want to wear a coat anymore. I want to feel the sun on my skin, feel the grass between my toes, and feel everyone staring as I dance through the meadow in my white dress like that chick out of the Timotei advert.

Gary Turner June 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Love. It.

Max Niederhofer June 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Wonderful post. Wish you all the best in your new endeavours!

Don’t forget us Kindle addicts. There’s a phenomenal crowd out there for right-priced, self-published e-books.

Suw Charman June 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Gary: Thank you!

Max: Oh, I shan’t forget Kindle! Once I’ve got everything else sorted, I will get a Kindle edition together.

Kevin Anderson June 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Can’t wait Love. I’m so looking forward to it. (If for no other reason that we’re doing this together.)

Suw Charman June 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Kev: Couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do it any other way!

Stu June 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Good luck. Looking for suggestions? Say …


Leonie Tame June 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I hear you! Love your writing style. Found this after someone shared a piece written by T’Other one on the Guardian’s digital strategy-ish, and recognised your name – I worked on enlighten (remember that?!) after you. Managed to combine PwC for a while with a place in Cornwall (see website), which is where I skip around in white frocks etc when not looking for UX work. Best of luck Suw.

Suw Charman June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Leonie: Wow! What a blast from the past! How could I forget Enlighten? So are you still in touch with the old gang from the studio there, Lee ‘n all? *takes a trip down memory lane*

Your cottage looks beautiful and in such a lovely place! Will definitely bookmark that and maybe come visit for a week of writing and wandering around St Ives. We just got back from a weekend in St Austell, as it happens, and T’Other is keen to go back to Cornwall.

Good luck to you too. Hope the cottage/UX plan works out well.

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