Ten years ago last May my mother passed away. Sometimes it feel like just ten days. Three months following her death, I decided to quit work and try to make a living writing full-time. Mum was always very encouraging and a great supporter of my writing, and she’d instilled a love of reading in me from a young age. I’ve mentioned before how she gave me The Rats to read when I was ten years old. And how it didn’t do me any harm. Honest.
I think about Mum every day.
Ten year later I’m still here. Tomorrow, 1st December, is the tenth anniversary of my first day as a professional writer, making a living purely out of making stuff up, writing it down, and selling it.
I remember calling my Dad from work sometime that September and saying, “I’m giving up work to write.” I’d been worried about making that call––Dad is in his eighties now, and I thought he’d berate me for giving up a steady job and income. But his first reaction was, “Your Mum would be chuffed.” That was when I knew it was the right decision.
It was a leap into the unknown. Although I had some money saved, and knew there were a couple of book deals incoming, for the very first time in my adult life I didn’t have a monthly pay cheque. That came as something of a shock, but it was also extremely liberating.
I have never once regretted the decision––not even slightly––and when it comes to writing, the past ten years now feels like most of my adult life. Sometimes I still miss working with other people, but I’m also comfortable in my own company, and with various collaborative projects, the wonders of Skype and the World Wide Web (read in Uncle Bryn voice), and occasional lunches with friends, I’ve never found writing to be a lonely business.
So after these past ten years, and over twenty novels (a few in collaboration), a couple of collections, a few novellas, dozens of short stories, a few screenplays, a handful of movie options, and one Hollywood film, where am I? It strikes me that lots has changed, and yet quite a lot hasn’t. I’m still sitting at the same desk in the same position in the same room … although now that room is also home to a couple of bikes and a load of sport kit that would have left the Tim of ten years ago bemused (and probably my Mum too … I often imagine what she’d say when I’m out on my bike: “You be careful, it’s not you, it’s the other idiots out there!”) . I’m still writing horror … but I’ve also edged into thriller territory, and I’m writing another fantasy novel with my long-time collaborator and American brother Chris Golden.
And, of course, I’m still forever in that ‘waiting for news’ limbo that writers spend most of their time haunting, striding up and down, worrying, stressing, wondering just when the news they’re hoping for will come in and knowing very well that it won’t be quite as soon as they’d wish.
… waiting, stressing, striding …
So what have I learned? Writing is a twenty-four hours a day job. It’s hard work, demanding, exhausting, frustrating, your ego is massaged sometimes, but more often takes major hits that leave it low and in hiding. Only a small proportion of writers make it ‘big’, and most of us write to live as much as live to write. Book deals come and book deals go. And some people don’t view writing as a job at all. I still get plenty of ‘will you write us a short story and we’ll pay you with exposure’ requests (try that next time you’re having your car serviced: ‘Sorry, mate, I can’t pay you, but I’ll tell all my mates you do a cracking oil change’).
I’ve also learned that writers in my chosen genres are among the nicest people on the planet. It’s inevitable that whatever direction your life takes will present you with new opportunities to make great friends, and that’s been very true of my career. I’m never without a constantly fluctuating level of money-concern, but when it comes to friends I am rich indeed.
If you’ve been buying my books over the past ten years, thank you. You keeping buying them, I’ll keep writing them. I once commented to a writing friend how lucky we were doing what we do for a living, and he berated me, and said that we work bloody hard, we take hits, there’s no guaranteed income, we sometimes live on a knife-edge, and in some regards there’s an ongoing process of reinvention required to navigate our muses through the minefields of professional writing. He was right, of course. But I still feel privileged to do what I do.
I hope it continues for another ten, twenty, thirty years. I’ve got enough ideas, for sure. My muse feels younger than my 47 years. Inside, I’m still a kid huddled in my bed between waking and sleeping, staring at the darkness between the partly-drawn curtains, and wondering, What if…?
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