Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Telling Lies To The Young, or What Do You Do All Day? by Sheena Wilkinson

I’ve just lied to a group of impressionable young people. To make it worse, I’ve told this lie over and over again. I’ll probably continue to tell it.

Last Thursday saw my first school visit of the school year. I was glad to be kicking the year off with a day at Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun, Dublin, where I’m proud to be Patron of Reading. I met all the first year classes, delivering what has become my standard author talk – telling them how I fell in love with stories as a child, thanks to the local library, and how I grew up with a fierce desire to be a writer.

I reveal some of the mistakes I made going the long way round to publication – the distractions, the laziness, the working in fits and starts, the envy of ‘real’ writers which finally spurred me on to take my own writing more seriously. I show them rough drafts and answer frankly when they ask – as they always do – if I’m famous and how much I earn from my books. (Answers: 1. If you have to ask, then the answer is clearly no; and 2. Very little.)

I pride myself on my honesty, on telling it like it is. So where does the habitual lying come in?

Well, I always start my talk by saying how much I enjoy going out and about to meet readers. Which is true – I’ve always liked school visits and any kind of talking in public. But then comes the lie – I spend most of my life just sitting in my study writing stories, I say, giving them a neat, easy impression that the life of a writer is mainly writing.
me telling some truth and some lies

When I say I’m a fulltime writer, I always add the caveat, in the sense that I don’t have a day job, not in the sense that I make a living from my books. It would have been too boring to have told this group of twelve-year-olds exactly what that entails, but, just for fun, this is what fulltime writing involved last week:

  1. ·      Edits of new YA novel, out in April 2017. Mostly involving adding descriptions of   characters and ensuring everyone was Irish enough to be charming but not so Irish that they sounded like extras on Father Ted.
  2. ·      Waiting nervously for line edits of above from new editor.
  3. ·      Reminding myself to be grateful for line edits, since they mean a book is On Its Way.
  4. ·      Writing a letter of support for an organisation applying for funding to involve me in a local writing project based on Name Upon Name.
  5. ·      Historical research about winter 1918 for new book.
  6. ·      Travelling 200 miles to PoR school and back.
  7. ·      Two book launches to support writer pals and network   with other writers, publishers and and librarians
  8. ·      Tweeting and FBing about two writing courses I’m teaching, on October and February.
  9. ·      Emailing a teacher to explain why I can’t really reduce the price I quoted for the forthcoming visit to her school. (Did not enjoy this.)
  10. ·      Accounts. (Enjoyed this even less.)
  11. ·      Cleaning the grout of the bath with a toothbrush soaked in bleach (To avoid 10.)
  12. ·      Blogging for Author Allsorts about my favourite fictional school (the Chalet Scool).
  13. ·      Accepting very welcome invitation to blog regularly for The History Girls.
  14. ·      Worrying about finding enough to blog about.
  15. ·      Writing ABBA blog about all of the above.
  16.     Feeling happy that I am not going back to school like my former colleagues, but looking forward to getting back to my Royal Literary Fund Fellowship next week since 1-15, while mostly quite fun, don't do much towards paying any actual bills. 

That’s what I do all day. But it sounds so much better to say I sit in a room and make up stories.


Joan Lennon said...

Telling it like it is!

Emma Barnes said...

Sheena - yes, this is so true. This last week I've been looking at my own lists of "What I Do All Day" and realising how often the actual writing gets squeezed out, and working out what can actually be done about this. Being Firm (with self and others), putting the actual Word Count first, and learning to Say No.

Anne Booth said...

So true! And I must get a toothbrush and sort out the grouting/do accounts.