Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mike Sowden Made Me Do It

Recently I started a new job. And a new life, well, a continuation of life in a new place at least. This new place is Oxford. Ancient Oxford that Philip Pullman so beautifully re-imagined in His Dark Materials trilogy, that I sold from the children’s section of Clifton Bookshop in Bristol, that, like the Green Leaf Bookshop after it, where Banksy once sold prints for £50, is no longer with us. I would listen to posh religious Cliftonites bemoan the atheist undertones of a book they hadn’t even read and be spurred on to recommend more people buy this wonderful new writing with God dust particles that were released every time the book was opened and then quickly shut again. But anyway, back to Oxford. I always imagined a world where I rubbed shoulders with the elite book-readers in the hidden tunnels and rooms behind bookcases (there are always, always rooms behind bookcases) where I was intellectually gifted enough to study Philosophy for no certain reason and talk about the impossibility of ever ‘seeing’ string theory with other academics as we sat around giant oak tables in ye olde pubs for gnomes. We would saunter up the steps to the Museum of the History of Science and gaze at the old globes with the ancient Latin constellations labelled around the equator on gold-coloured brass. And look at those medieval astrolabes I imagine were the inspiration for the alethiometer in Northern Lights. But alas, I wasn’t bright enough by academic standards for this to happen (go and take up this discussion with the wonderful Ken Robinson if you have the time) so I went to Bath Spa University to do their Creative Writing BA instead. I’m still holding out for the day that Oxford University allow me to break into their Creative Writing MA and hand over an honorary doctorate so I can feel special and loved by the illuminati, but until then I’ll be the kid in the sweet shop, propelling myself to a place where I am worthy of the sentiment. It was not long after starting this new job that my esteemed peer Facebook colleague writer Mike Sowden sent a little note my way. It said I was supposed to be writing. That other people were saying I was supposed to be writing too. Just incase his saying I was supposed to be writing wasn’t valid in itself. It wasn’t the first time it had been said since I’d moved. I’d been to Athens for an annual conference and my friend Candace, the sketch artist extraordinaire, had stared into my soul (eyes) in a tea shop I had found entirely by accident on my way back to the apartment a couple of friends and I were staying in, and she said,
 “Sophie, are you doing what you want to be doing?”
“I have a plan, I am going to build this company and have some money again and make enough to run away and write about all the things I want to write about.”
I don’t think there was enough conviction in my voice or something because she looked at me in that way. That way a non-believer-of-what-you-are-saying looks at you.
“well as long as you’re sure.”
“fuck you Candace,” is not what I said next. Perhaps what I should have said was “fuck you Sophie,” which is what I thought. Followed by, “are you doing the right thing? Is this what you want?”
The answer in that instance would probably have been yes and no. In fact, a couple of weekends later, after my school friends and I had walked three and a half hours up a Welsh mountain (hill) with the reward of a pint of Swansea scrumpy and a welshcake in a pub overlooking Rhossili Bay at the end of it, followed by tea and chips on Mumbles pier the next day, I asked my friend Roxanne to all intents and purposes the same question,
“if you could be doing anything you wanted, if money was no issue, what would you be doing?”
“Probably travelling and managing community projects as I did it,” she said.
Although just seconds before she’d decided she wanted to work on Lifeboats because we’d been into the RLNI centre and seen a really big lifeboat and spoken to the lovely volunteer about working on lifeboats, but anyway.
She isn’t currently travelling the world doing that but is not far off – she’s been working with a community theatre project and taken two short trips abroad with them.
I’m not writing full time. I went freelance for three and a half years and earned a very small amount of money and felt trapped by the copywriting I ended up doing instead of the writing I really wanted to be doing. When I moaned about it my friend Kash told me I just wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t pitching hard enough.
But I hate pitching. When someone says no to me and they don’t believe me because I don’t believe myself I run away and I hide. I don’t pitch again. I eye the world with suspicion from my bedroom window. Who do they think they are, these people outside? People with jobs and money and lives they wanted?
But wait, which of those people really want what they are doing. Which of those people are 100% doing what they want to be doing 100% of the time (well, the % of the time when they are not eating biscuits or watching films or sleeping).
So I thought about it a lot and I came to the conclusion that I do have a plan. I am going to write. I am supposed to be writing. But I am also one whole year younger than Candace, and um, I have a job. And I love the job that I have, it’s exciting and I am building something and I like building things and its nice to see other people and dress a bit more properly after three and a half years either hiding under a blanket that also functions as a jumper that another friend offered to (told me she was going to) throw in the bin. Or running away to India on a one way ticket to Delhi because I couldn’t face writing another hotel special offer however absolutely lovely the wonderful website editor was.
So what am I talking about? Oh yes – SO, I shall endeavor to schedule time for writing, in fact I shall endeavor to have a schedule at all, and tidy my room, clear my desk, ignore the fact the landlady put frosted glass on my window that looks out to the garden and the stream at the bottom of it and write. About anything and everything. So I can simultaneously figure out what it is that I’m ‘supposed’ to be writing. So that I can reconnect with my pre-London self. With the self that loves ale and cider and warm English pubs and people, and the cold black winter’s night air on my face at the end of a good sit in with friends. The self that went to Bath Spa University to study Creative Writing and has wanted to be a writer since the age of seven when she penned the stapled-together and illustrated ‘Blak Cat’ that I can only assume was about a black cat.

So thank you Candace, and Kash and Mike and the other mystery people Mike said said I should write but who I still don’t actually really believe exist. You all have a special place in my heart. And I will allow you to drag me slowly down with you, to the pit of creative suffering that when it is over unleashes a sense of unimaginable joy and accomplishment (I don’t really believe that, I just said it to make you feel better). I expect copious amounts of tea to be brought to me on a silver platter, and a good recommendation for where I can buy a replacement blanket that is also a jumper. Don’t tell Becky. (The jumper-blanket-thrower outer). Over. And out.