Saturday, 13 August 2016

Blurred Lines and Holidays

It’s three years since I gave up the day job. Three years since I had a monthly pay cheque. People ask me how my life has changed, and how I manage to live on less than half what I was used to. My standard answer is that I don’t buy as much as I used to, that I use the library more, and that I’ve given up holidays. But you’re always away! they reply. Yes, but it’s always work, I say. 

But I realised this week that that’s not strictly true, and that the line between work and play is blurry. Take this summer. I’ve been away three times, if we count being off the island of Ireland as ‘away’, and every time it has been officially ‘work’; yet every time it has been, not only hugely enjoyable, but a chance to connect and reconnect with writer and reader friends from all over the UK.

Charney Manor: hard work spending time here 
First there was Charney, the Scattered Authors summer conference/retreat in Oxfordshire. Definitely work, as this was the second year I helped organise the programme, with Lee Weatherly. But play too – as there always is when a group of authors gets together. Charney is about friendships made and renewed. The first time I went I knew two people; this year I knew almost everyone, and those I didn’t know then, I know now.

Then there was my ten-day trip to the south-west of England. Oh, mostly work, I assure you – I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I was frivolous. Well…the Bristol conference sounded like work, but how hard can it be spending a weekend with fellow book-enthusiasts, delivering a talk about the way I used girls’ school stories in my novel Name Upon Name?

Yes; this was really hard work. 
I went on from there to Totleigh Barton, Arvon’s Devon centre. Sometimes I go to Arvon in a definite work capacity, to tutor or to look after my group of young Belfast writers, but this time I was a student, learning to write radio drama, something I’ve always been interested in. It was HARD WORK and very intensive, but I may have enjoyed it just a little.

After that, it was off to the Exmoor Pony Centre to meet Charney chum Victoria Eveleigh and take part in a Pony Author Event. Hard, hard work, of course: talking about my first three books and meeting book/pony enthusiasts. And there were cream scones and ponies. I told you it was work. I’ll admit the last two days of the trip were pure holiday – staying with Victoria on her Exmoor farm, driving over the moors, seeing Exmoor ponies and big herds of deer, cuddling dogs and a cat, and riding a beautiful ex-racehorse. I felt I was living in a pony book. But lest I imagined I was there for fun, we did squeeze in a lunch with author Claire Barker, for very solemn book talk.
Extremely hard work on Exmoor

And yesterday I had to fly to Edinburgh for the day to meet my new publishers to talk about Street Song, out next year. 100% work. But it would have been rude to have been there and not meet up with local writer pals. Purely in the cause of serious state-of-the-industry talk, you understand.
Not even pretending to work with Eve Harvey and Helen Grant

It makes sense, financially, for me to combine work and pleasure. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to work out where one ends and the other starts.

And most of the lovely people I spent time with this summer were people I didn’t know until I started writing. It’s the loneliest of jobs in some ways (not as lonely as lighthouse-keeper, I grant), and in others, the most convivial.

Thanks for the hospitality/fun/chat/laughs/support, everyone, and remember you’re all welcome in here County Down. Though not all at the same time.


Penny Dolan said...

Certainly, work travels should link up with nice things and nice people. Life's too short to be alone with a screen all the time. Thanks for all that you and Lee did to make the Charney Manor retreat such a success. Glad you counted it as a "holiday" too.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Penny! You know better than most how Charney is play AND work, but even as an organiser I always find the play overrules! As indeed it should.