09 August 2009

Call yourself a writer?

Along with a bunch of others, I've been tagged by hack-cum-blogger Linda Jones to come clean about my writing career. That'll be the writing career that was once very promising, lapsed somewhat when I exiled myself across the Great Ditch (aka the Channel) for over a decade, and is currently languishing in the doldrums as all my pitches vanish into a commissioning editor's black hole or two. But what the hell, I still call myself a hack and I'm not one to run away from a challenge. So, despite my current lack of any paid writing work whatsoever (and thank gawd for the editing work that's still paying the rent), herewith my answers to Joner's questions...

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

All manner of sweary stuff, especially on here. Writing for an adult mag also means I can use lots of anglo-saxon verbs and nouns legitimately, which gives me a smidgen of childish joy. I suspect the majority of this blog's vocabulary consists of grouchy, grumpy words as this is where I like to whinge. Fortunately for the rest of the world, my paid writing is more cheerful if no less serious. Or should that be was? And will be again if some lovely, charming editor ever hires me again this decade. Pleeeeeeeeease! Oh, go on. You won't regret it.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

I've given up reading a lot of mags for pleasure as they all seem to emanate from cliché central these days. I'm sick of reading about outmoded yet still perpetuated male/female stereotypes, how much I'm supposed to love designer labels, and crappy trivia about Z-list "stars". Oops, there's one - Z-list. "Dumbed down" is another overused phrase but I think it's appropriate for describing a lot of publications now. Sharp, interesting, thought-provoking and original writing seems to be in ever-shorter supply. And while the Liz Joneses of this world earn megabucks for peddling crap, many fantastic journalists are losing their jobs.

What's your favourite piece of writing by you?

I'm quite proud of this blog. And the various ones that preceded it. I had a brilliant blog about my sex life for several years, but I took it down a while back for various reasons. I've saved all the posts - racy, intellectual and entertaining as they are - and they may yet re-emerge in another format.

Of the paid stuff, I'm fond of my early stuff - I interviewed some great bands, including some I discovered and introduced to the wider world. I did some corking political features before I got cynical and cared less. And I had a fabulously bitchy TV review column in a listing mags for a while, although when they started televising the House of Lords I nearly got fired for calling the great and good "doddery old cocksuckers".

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?

Very few. I got expelled from boarding school for writing porn just before I was 13. That pissed my parents off immensely but I can't say I regret it - the school was awful and I really hated it but that youthful beginning got me out of there, so I don't regret that at all.

I've had a few run-ins with editors when I sailed too close to the wind and nearly sparked a few lawsuits. There was a column about the alleged drug habits of a certain Rezillo, for example, that had to be withdrawn and apologised for. The one about the doddery old cocksucking aristocracy that earned me a major bollocking. And a few others in a similar vein that nearly saw me collect a P45. I like to take risks, though, and tell it like it is. Safe is boring.

The only thing I really regret is getting utterly rat-arsed in the pub one night and telling a roomful of fellow hacks which famous Fleet Street journo I'd been shagging while still doing my indentures... They've never let me live it down.

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?

I doubt it. I went into journalism because I wanted to write. I wanted to change the world too, but I did that by getting involved with various causes and earning brownie points by doing stints on picket lines and at Greenham Common, and drinking lots of beer at benefit gigs, not by writing. I'd be amazed if anything I wrote had actually changed anything. In 31 years, I've only had one reader come forward and say thanks for making a difference. Which just proves that I'm utterly expendable as a journalist.

Name three favourite words

Hot, metal, and pub...

...And three words you're not so keen on

My office. Now.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

Jean Scroggie was my English teacher when I was 14. She was everything I didn't want to be - prim, Scottish, repressed and a spinster. But she gave us a short-story writing assignment at which I astonished myself. She gave me the highest praise imaginable and I beamed, because she gave me permission to believe in my talent. Sadly, the story - called "Flight" and demonstrating a maturity way beyond my years - went missing shortly afterwards and I've been gutted about it for the last 33 years.

What's your writing ambition?

To get commissioned again. Honestly. Right now I'm at my lowest ebb ever as a journalist. I know it's not me - there's a recession on and my industry is going through upheavals that will change its landscape for ever. I'm not starving as I have enough corporate writing and copy-editing work coming in. But I'd really rather be writing for the press. Any press. Well, ok, not the Daily Mail, I wouldn't stoop that low. (Not even for Liz Jones' salary?) Is it too much to hope for that someone out there still wants to pay me NUJ minimum?

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:

Well, there was that book earlier this year. The one I still hate my publishers for because they mucked me around so much. I couldn't possibly plug the other stuff without outing myself. Those in the know know what else I've done or is shortly about to hit the shops. None of it will make my fortune so I should probably consider drafting some ghastly chick-lit novel instead. Or flogging this blog to a publisher...

Tag alert!

I gather I'm supposed to saddle some other suckers writers and bloggers with the challenge of furthering this meme. So, in no particular order:

Anne Brooke

Bill Hilton

Scott Colvey

The rules according to Joner: If you have time to do this meme, then please link to this blog entry, then link to three to five other writers or bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a "published" or "successful" writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging has brought them and how it has been useful to others.


Linda said...

Oh Jesus. I knew you wouldn't disappoint. I wish I'd been in that pub to hear about the shagging but I think I know who it was anyway and that they have a job that I would like, and may or may not at one time or another, had a beard.

Unknown said...

The most shameful thing about my drunken confession is that I was so drunk I couldn't remember telling people. It was only late next day - home, hungover and swearing off alcohol for life - that I discovered I'd been the the talk of the night. It took an exchange of a number of delicately worded emails with a trusted colleague to learn just what I'd done. Or said, rather. It's all true. Except for the bit about the ferrets and the local vicar.