A writer in a residence

THE WRITER’S LIFE

writer-in-residence
Writer not in residence

Without wishing to tempt fate, or count the eggs which the horse laid before it bolted and I found out where the stable door was, I may have cause to relax just a little bit. All the clues point to my landlady giving me a rolling tenancy, without actually telling me.

Apparently this is par for the course, according to the other two benefits tenants who live in this little hut perched atop a coffee shop. Like me, they came here on an initial one year tenancy and it was never renewed. Which may not seem like great comfort but it’s the most secure I’ve been in a long time.

Three years of varying degrees of homelessness meant that I became quite knowledgeable in a few areas, including squatters’ rights and latterly, those of tenants. We squatted only in abandoned commercial premises and never forced entry. Since then, I’ve had a tenancy agreement and the limited rights which one of those represents. Even without a tenancy agreement, a sitting tenant is entitled to two months’ notice to vacate a property, under the terms of a Section 21 eviction notice, and the latter is a legal requirement of the property owner.

I’ve been at my studio for almost a year now and a Section 21 notice to evict me at the end of my current one year tenancy would therefore have been required almost two months ago. There wasn’t one, and I’ve received a notice from the council about ongoing housing benefit payments being made directly to my landlady. So apart from an actual tenancy agreement, I feel quite secure. In law, I retain the right to two months’ notice, and a tenancy agreement doesn’t give any extra rights. But the key was in speaking to my neighbours, neither of whom have a paper contract but who have both been here for several years on rolling tenancies. Given that the council have confirmed they’ll continue to pay my rent, I have to assume that I have a rolling contract too.

Renting is never secure, as it will always lack the permanence I crave, but this is the next best thing: A rolling tenancy with a council landlady.

The studio is small: It’s a living room barely twelve feet square, with a small kitchen. The toilet and shower are off-suite but for my exclusive use. As I’ve said before, as a flat, it’s not the best; As an office, it’s fantastic. And seeing as writing is my life, I treat the studio as an office which I also relax and sleep in. I’m unlikely to ever make a living from my writing and I’m too ill to work, but writing gives me purpose and it’s therapy. I call it my job, because it’s what gives me and others satisfaction. Whatever it is, when anyone asks me what I do, I am qualified to answer that I’m a writer. It took a long time to be able to say that with confidence. My landlady simply squeezed an extra flat in where others might not; The kind of place which might only be taken by the needy and unfussy. Well, there was a place with a me-shaped hole in it.

And despite its shortcomings, I love my little studio. The flat and the strange little building it’s in with three others is quirky. The end wall on the outside is apparently a rare example of a mill wall, where sacks of flour made from corn were thrown from a first floor door, opening onto thin air, so that they could be dropped into waiting horse carts in the yard below. The door is still there, fifteen feet up, and the wall itself is Grade I listed. The flats sit on top of a coffee shop in the village high street, which is quite a poetic thing for a writer. It’s quiet. It’s very quiet around here, in the studio, in the mews, which is in the yard, tucked behind the village centre. It’s ideal for me. It’s small, but I don’t need any more. I’m paid a basic state income on account of my depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, OCD and many times PTSD. That security has allowed me to improve myself and give something back.

Of course, that’s part of the whole Universal Basic Income (UBI) model, now being trialled in Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands, among others. While it may be some way off in the UK as a whole, it’s something being studied and which I’m a great advocate of, not just because it would suit me, but many others and much more as well. The argument for a UBI is gaining traction, thanks in part to such visionary advocates as Elon Musk, and the author, Rutger Bregman, whose latest book was the subject of a feature in this weekend’s Observer:

As liberal democracy seems to be crumbling under the weight of widespread despondency, some hardline opinions are in danger of becoming received wisdoms. In the global market, we are told, we must work harder and improve productivity. The welfare state has become too large and we need to cut back on benefits. Immigration is out of control and borders need to be strengthened.

The choice seems to be either to accept this new paradigm or risk the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders gaining power. The centre ground is being dragged to the left and right, and collapsing down the middle. Meanwhile progressive politics has returned to its comfort zone, busily opposing everything and offering almost nothing. Where is the vision, the ambition, the belief?

Yet into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Rutger Bregman is a 28-year-old Dutchman whose book, Utopia for Realists, has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe…

“I’ve heard for years that my ideas are unrealistic. You want to stick to the status quo? How’s that working out?”
Rutger Bregman

The full article is here.

It’s a facsimile of this model which has allowed me to publish three books, which are now being enjoyed by others, because they’ve told me so. And although I lack some written proof regarding my tenancy, other correspondence and all of the available evidence allows me to conclude that in this instance, no news really is good news. I’m a writer in residence, with the current residence being the most secure that someone in my situation can expect, and the most security I’ve had for the last six years, following that knifepoint robbery in Lewisham which triggered everything which lay beneath, prompting my fall into the gutter and subsequent recovery.

With three books published, I’m now able to relax and concentrate on the next ones: a sci-fi space opera, and a second volume of short stories. I’ve already finished the first for the latter, and I’ve gone back to my slush pile, which contains many unfinished works.

The bubble could burst at any moment. This won’t cure my anxiety, but tonight, I may allow myself a small celebration, with a pizza. Because it was a man from Iceland who used to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

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