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This Writer’s Life

April 14, 2011

BY PAUL LAWRENCE

Every morning I’m awoken by the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore. I fall out of bed, stumble down to the kitchen and make myself a steaming mug of hot coffee. I stroll down to the beach and look back and marvel at the magnificent beachhouse I bought with the proceeds of Sweet Smell of Decay. I wander through the sands, letting my mind gently sift through the ideas that have touched my consciousness during the night, until my coffee gets cold. Then I turn on my heel and return home where I sit out on the deck with my laptop, ready to write the first page of the day.

By eleven o’clock I’m ready to walk into town, where I stop at my local cafe to read the paper over a cup of lemongrass and ginger tea. I stop off at the bakery for a fresh crusty loaf before returning to my computer to bang out the next thousand words. By afternoon my creative self is wilting, and so I return to the beach and dive into the cold waves to revitalise myself. Before the sun sets, I finish the day’s chapter and head downstairs to let the masseuse in, to have at my aching neck and shoulder muscles with her strong fingers.

Yeah, right.

The Sweet Smell of Decay sold pretty well. It was in the top 5 independent booksellers list for a while, tucked behind the three Stieg Larsson books (albeit tucked in quite a long way away behind), and still now more than two years later sits in Amazon’s top 50 historic crime novels. A Plague of Sinners did OK too. That doesn’t mean I can afford a beach house.

The RRP of Sweet Smell is £8.99. Amazon sells it for £5.41. I was lucky enough to have a great publisher who got the book into Waterstone’s through their 3 for 2 deal, and if I was ever successful enough to get picked up by Tesco’s then I would be a loss leader. A bit like petrol.

Royalties are usually paid on the basis of actual retail price, not RRP (at least mine are), and of course I must reimburse my agent, without whose sterling efforts I would never have been published in the first place. What I was left with was nothing to be sneezed at–I could have taken my entire family of six away for a wonderful holiday, or else bought a new car (a small new car), but it’s not enough to change my life. When you consider how long it took me to write Sweet Smell I reckon I earned about $3.50 an hour, considerably less than my fifteen year old daughter earns at Domino’s.

Writing is a disease. We don’t write to make money; we write because we are compelled to write by some strange virus the invading space aliens inject into our water systems to distract us from sitting back in a chair and staring up at the stars.

My writer’s life is spent tapping away at the keyboard from seven until ten every night after I’ve done all the things I need to do to pay the bills. My writer’s life is spent staring into space thinking I need to go to bed earlier. My writer’s life is spent squinting at people on the bus wondering if I could turn them into a 17th century villain. My writer’s life is spent buying more money than my wife thinks we can afford buying obscure books about 17th century London.

I did go to the beach once. It was nice.

4 Comments
  1. April 14, 2011 1:11 am

    Pity about the beach hut. But then, buying a beach hut off the proceeds of a book called “Sweet Smell of Decay” does sound like tempting fate a bit too far.

  2. April 14, 2011 7:05 am

    Great post, Paul. The closest I ever came to living the life of that writer you so eloquently describe in the first few grafs is when I was single, no debt, and free to roam about the country at will, working little jobs at bookstores to cover my week’s boarding fee and some grub.

    Actually, that sounds nothing like what you wrote, after all. But it still felt that way, because writing came first in all that I did. I moved to Boston to be on location for my novel. I traveled to Vermont and played out the chapters leading up to the climax in real time, just to get every detail exactly right.

    Those days are long gone, but my passion to write remains, and I still find time to steal away now and then to be on location with my characters, sit back and let them play out their scene before me, as I capture it all in words as I can best envision it happening–still in real time.

  3. April 14, 2011 1:27 pm

    “Writing is a disease. We don’t write to make money; we write because we are compelled to write by some strange virus the invading space aliens inject into our water systems to distract us from sitting back in a chair and staring up at the stars.” <— poetry to my ears!🙂

    Great post.

  4. April 14, 2011 8:22 pm

    This is a bit of a depressing post, to be honest, but better doing what you love and not making money, than doing what you hate and not making money, right?🙂

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