When I decided to change career, throwing off the proverbial shackles of city life in exchange for a (supposedly) slower existence as a writer of murder mysteries, I had quite a few preconceptions about what that would entail. Oh, how wrong I was...
1. You still need to wear a suit sometimes
I'm in partial denial about this one, because I cherished some very fond hopes of burning my suits - and indeed anything restrictively tailored - atop a ceremonial pyre the day after quitting my job. As it happened, I waited a few months and then hulked a job lot of skirts, trousers and blazers (all pricey, all in shades of grey, charcoal or black) down to my local charity shop, dusted myself off and looked forward to a liberated life of colour and free flowing Bohemian fashion. Unfortunately, I failed to consider two very important things. First, I don't like Bohemian fashion (what can I say? It's the same reason I don't fare well at festivals or other occasions requiring a tent). Second, a few days after my watershed moment at the charity shop I was invited to attend a corporate event where a suit would not have looked out of place. In fact, anyone not wearing a suit would have stood out like an enormous sore thumb.
2. The life of a writer is not slow
I envisioned life as a writer to be not dissimilar to that of Jessica Fletcher. I pictured myself jogging around Cabot Cove (read: the streets of Bath), solving everyday problems (read: the mystery of the missing sock) and casually knocking off a bestseller on my antique typewriter between soirees and book group meetings (read: grappling with plot issues while jabbing the keys of my temperamental laptop). In fact, writing books involves hours of sweat and tears, deadlines, marketing, advertising...
Ah, the glamour of it all.
3. Every industry is cutthroat, even the 'creative' ones
Ten years as a city lawyer and, I might add, seven years at a private girls' school before that, left me supremely confident that a new world of creative, literary types could never match either of those spheres for sheer, bloody-minded competitiveness (sometimes stereotypes are true).
The fact is, the literary/publishing/writing/book-loving community is no more, or no less, cutthroat than many other industries. Writing is a self-conscious business and it can lead people to behave in odd, antisocial ways. I like to think I'm better than most (at least I haven't stooped to rearranging books on shelves, or nominating myself for awards) but it's a slippery slope. I've set up a personal crash team consisting of my nearest and dearest, who are on hand to step in to rescue me from myself should the need arise, and I urge other writers to do the same!
4. Writing is blissfully cathartic
I've lost count of the number of self-help articles and throwaway comments bandied around about the inherent value of writing down your thoughts. Some people keep a journal, some people write poetry and, it turns out, I like to kill people in fictional scenarios. Let's not delve too deeply into the psychological motivations behind that (*looks shifty*) but suffice to say I underestimated just how much I would love writing fiction and just how important a part of my daily life it would become.
5. Reading and writing is a privilege
Like many of you, I've been able to read and write for so long they've become life skills I take for granted. I'm never daunted by the length or complexity of a book and if a scene in one of my own manuscripts is a bit tricky, I see it as a challenge. But the process of writing a book and becoming involved in the wider community has been an important reality check. Literacy rates are still alarmingly low. Some children in this country leave school unable to read, for many reasons, and that presents obstacles at all stages of life. There are so many initiatives designed to help, but limited funding, and all the while libraries are closing. Call it collective responsibility, if you like, but that's something we can't ignore.