When we founded Leaf by Leaf Press I had plenty of time to write but since then I’ve managed to construct a huge scaffold of excuses. I got a full time job, (which I like), a four hour train commute, (which I sleep through) and recent bouts of ill health, (which I moan about). So instead of being a writer I’ve turned into more of a facilitator. I deal with the website, the typesetting, the Kindle formatting, the accounts and of course I encourage our brave authors to persevere with their excellent writing whilst quietly, deceitfully, neglecting my own.
I use the word ‘brave’ purposefully. It’s a brave thing to be an author. Authors put themselves into their writing and, whilst they want to be read, it’s no small thing to open oneself up to such close scrutiny and criticism.
It can also be lonely, just you and the often obstinately blank page. No one can write those words for you, they are your words. No one can help until those words are committed, saying here I am, this is all I’ve got.
But are those words good enough? Are they the best words you have? Are you sure you’re a writer?
Yes, it’s a brave thing to be an author.
Eleven years ago I was a wannabe writer taking classes at the Gateway in Shrewsbury. As an assignment we were asked to write a small piece on a place that we’re familiar with using the ‘first thoughts’ technique.
The place I chose was my office up in the loft. I had always dreamed of having the luxury of both the time to write and a place set aside to do it. I thought I loved going upstairs every day but the writing somewhat belies this and it seems even back then I had my doubts.
Now, being an obsessive editor, I cannot guarantee these were my ‘first thoughts’ but they are close.
I am sat on my wife’s grandfather’s chair. Not a small chair. This chair, a nineteen thirties, straight-backed, straight-laced, work-ethical, upright chair. A chair whose meagre leather padding punishes a lack of motion with numb limbs, stifling the life-blood.
My desk. Had it for years. Blinded in the white heat of IKEA furnishings, my company bought a load in the nineties. They worked, they were big enough and they looked the part. They helped us sell out. Now in a post dot com bubble vacuum it has a position less glamorous, surrounded by an off grey emulsion that barely covers the loose-tongued and not-so-groovy cladding of my office in the loft.
But still it faces south and someday I will put in a window.
A big desk, but computer stuff dwarfs it and alongside the electrics is a three layered in-tray. No out-tray for me. Three levels. The top, my work, programming projects. The middle, my writing, details of competitions, missed deadlines, drafts and yet more drafts. The bottom holds climbing stuff, logbooks, mountaineering journals, my escape to fresher air and more heroic deeds. But the triptych spills over my desk, scattering it with books, flowcharts, maps, and even some rope, which like a set of worry beads I find myself knotting and un-knotting repeatedly.
Throughout the day, I sometimes hear dogs barking and on a Thursday wheelie bins rolling, but I can always hear the church clock. Chiming its way through my life. A peaceful pastoral evangelical plot, reminding me quietly that I now have fifteen minutes less to live. I should get over there now and repent.
To the left are two pin boards once the earnest destination of lists, notes and dates, now largely covered with photographs of loved ones, past expeditions and postcards. The one list remaining looks down on me with contempt, it’s never pleased, never satisfied, it watches me attempt to ignore it.
This is my office, this is my space. It’s strange how a dream can feel like a prison.
The clock chimes again, fifteen minutes less.