These days, some years after my decade-long stint in the television industry, I am swiftly becoming accustomed to calling myself more of a writer and less of a television presenter.
I'm happy about that. In fact, I think my frustrated ambitions in TV-land have been the making of me, for as I have turned to writing I'm now doing something that feels totally and utterly right. TV was always great fun, but writing feels more natural. It feels special. It makes me feel truly alive.
I write in quite a bizarre way - back when I had my first book in mind I would write maybe 10,000 words in a weekend and then spend weeks unable to add a single word. The creative gaps were tormenting but always, just when I would start to lose faith that I would ever near completion, the flow would return and I would blast out another 40,000 words in a matter of days. Repeat.
Then, as every author knows, come the painful months of further writing and re-writing, honing and polishing, adding in and taking away. You're trying to find balance, pace, variety. You write and re-write some more, you cut and paste, shift and organise. And then you add a chapter. And then delete it because it doesn't feel right. Another month lost.
Make no mistake: writing, while brilliantly fulfilling, can also be a hell of a grind. Writing, like life itself, is beautiful agony.
From my finished text of 130,000 finely tuned words I then cut out 55,000. Yep, 55,000 lovingly written words ditched; in the bin...hundreds of hours of hard graft gone forever. God, that hurt; but I knew my book would be better for it.
Just as I was adding a few more finishing touches, I got some publishing interest (thank you Stu Wheatman and Tonto Books) and managed to secure a somewhat less than lucrative deal for this, my first book. My advance was a magnificent £500 all in - working out at around a quid a day for the time it took me to complete the manuscript.
J.K Rowling it was not.
On the scale of things, if J.K Rowling is a whale, I was mere plankton. Just as in the music industry, in publishing the gap between the haves and the haves not is enormous.
It's not crumbs most of us are picking up from under the table, it's atoms. Well, traces of atoms.
Still, no worries; I was now a published author, something I'd never thought I would be able to call myself and something that I remain, to this day, genuinely proud of.
From then on, I was hooked - I had caught the writing bug. I adored the process of writing; I loved doing the rounds at bookstores; I thrilled at rescuing my book from the oblivion of some remote corner of Borders Books and popping it in the number one slot of the Bestsellers section. That felt so good - I felt like my own one-man indie band, socking it to the Big Boys. But that's all I was ever going to be - an obscure little indie band, playing to a dedicated few. Still, that was fine by me. As long as I was having fun and doing what I loved, then I was happy.
So writing made me happy and so it was to writing that I turned for comfort and solace some months after the death of my father in 2007. My way of dealing with such a monumentally life-changing event was to express my feelings on paper.
The result is Seven Days to Say I Love You.
This is the story of the last week in my father's life: He died suddenly from liver cancer after a week-long struggle.
Like any author, I want my books to be read - if only by a few - and with no publishing deal on the horizon I decided to go it alone and make use of the Amazon facility for self-publishing on Kindle.
There on Kindle, we - the unsigned - can put our art into the ether. Financially it's a non-starter, but I'm not exactly in this for the money. Like anyone else though, I like to be rewarded for my work, and God knows I've put some work into this. But I don't think I'll be buying that Ferrari anytime soon, at least not with the proceeds of this particular book.
To give you an idea of numbers, my first royalty cheque from Amazon, after nearly four months of being self-published was for £112.86. That may not seem too horrific (especially not to fellow writers) but in terms of actually making a living wage, it's utterly laughable. You could earn that kind of money in less than a week at MacDonald's. Think of the time I've sacrificed for that pittance - before I've even uploaded my manuscript we're talking months and months of writing and editing.
And that's just the creative process - that's the best bit. Afterwards comes the really maddening bit, the bit you hadn't really signed up for as a writer - getting your work noticed. It's virtually impossible, but you still try. There's always a chance, there's always hope. And so you spend infuriating weeks trawling through online book review sites pleading for a write-up, endless solitary hours spent pushing the book on each and every social media...Before you know it you've ended up as your very own PR machine doing a job you hate.
What a massive, gargantuan ball-ache.
Add to that the stress of having no idea where you're next pay cheque is coming from, and for me the aggravation that because I'm a vaguely recognisable face, everyone assumes I'm minted when, in fact, I've been unemployed for years and am completely, nose-against-the-wall-skint.
Meanwhile, everyone else with 'proper jobs' thinks I'm just lounging around being 'arty.' I wish.
Writing can be a crushing slog, a seemingly never-ending battle which can sometimes leave you feeling desperate, frustrated and wanting to pack it all in, wishing you'd left your ambitions to die, bitten the bullet and studied accountancy.
It's not like I have an alternative though - I need to write, I have to write. It's not a question of choice: I have to express myself, and I do that through writing. It's just the way things are; it's in my bones.
I can't not write.
Today, because needs must - I spent that £112 a while back now - I find myself in Naples in Southern Italy, teaching English as a foreign language - something I must do to earn a living. And much as I do enjoy teaching, it's really just a job to pay the bills and keep my head above water while I conjure up my next book.
So here I am in Naples and my Italian flatmate, having seen me one evening with my head buried in my Kindle, beckons me over to his computer.
"Ashley, you like books? I have Kindle too. I can show you how to get all books for free."
I am already weeping inside.
He clicks on the book of a random author.
"You see this book? It's easy, look."
He's now on a website where you can download thousands of books at the touch of a button. No payment necessary... no royalty payment, no commercial reward for an author who, like me, has spent years of painstaking labour in the agonising birth of a book, from blank screen to finished manuscript.
All those rejection letters, all those computer crashes and lost pages, all the tortuous self-doubt, all the endless re-writes, all the care to create a suitable cover... everything. None of this is considered by the internet thief in his quest for a quick freebie.
I think my eyes have visibly darkened at this point, but I feign interest. One double-click and less than 30 seconds later and my flatmate has a new book, retail price £7.99, installed on his Kindle for free.
Not wanting to wake the neighbours with a primal scream of despair, I excuse myself and go to my room. Breathe in, breathe out. I power up my computer and load up the internet. I think you know what I'm about to do...
Seven Days to Say I Love You.
I type those words and press return.
Don't fucking do this to me. PLEASE don't do this to me.
And there it is: Seven Days to Say I love You, by Ashley Hames.
My book; my book, which I wrote about my father; my book, which I typed through tears of grief as I relived the last moments of his life, is being pillaged on the internet. My book, which became an all-consuming passion, which was the focus of my energy and creativity for more than three years, is now a PDF document to illegally download. My book, into which I poured my heart and soul, which I wrote with purity and innocence, and which I hoped would help others suffering from loss and bereavement, is just one more product to exploit.
My book; my book about my lovely dad; my sweet little book, the book which I nurtured and caressed, the book which I feel I was put on this earth to write, the book which will stay with me forever, is just another rape victim.
I think I need to find a new place to live.
If you want to buy Ashley's book, it is available on amazon.co.uk for just 77 pence.
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