The perks of being a cult

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I wrote recently about co-operatives of writers supporting each other. I noted how few of us are likely to be read in any great volumes, let alone see mainstream success (however brief). Us indies are stuck on the fringes, a huge collective talent, but who don’t fit the commercial publishing mould. Being an indie and having a following makes you feel a bit of a cult (spellcheck is on), which may be all the attention my writing gets (or needs).

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We’re unlikely to be recognised in public (which suits someone like me), and it’s unlikely we’ll be bestsellers, but we have each other, and our discerning followers. Previously I made a commitment to kindred spirits, to read one book a month and write a considered review. I’m not a prolific reader and others might offer to do more, but I thought this more valuable than chasing likes or followers. Then I checked my own book sales, got depressed and fucked off for a sulk.

I’ve chosen a book for this month, and it’s being shipped from the USA. I’ll post a review here and in other appropriate places online (the bookseller’s site), and hope it increases interest in another writer.

We all love our followers and readers, we hope they’ll buy our books and tell other people about us. I value my readers, however few, because when I’ve hardly any human contact in the physical world, my loyal band of followers are the closest I want to get to anything normal. What I and other writers value most, is an online review. For the socially anxious writer, it’s like having a spokesperson on your side.

I’ve been told I’m unique. My short stories can certainly be weird, and my sci-fi novel is most definitely strange (“An extraordinary juggling act”, as one reviewer put it). I like them like that, so if that makes me a cult (it’s still on), so be it. It’s the way I write and that’s what some other people like.

Whatever kind of writer (or indeed, person) I am, I had to get back into character after my recent sulk (it was a genuine depressive episode, but I was still wallowing in myself). I inhabit my characters and stories, just as my virtual online persona is more real than the physical one, and my published writer’s life is that of the cracked actor, trying to transcend depression.

The key to getting my writer’s hat back on, was unlocking my studio from what it had become: Just my home, and not that of the writer, as I’d hit a block and given up for a while. It was a wobble like any other depressive might get, and it’s being a writer which helped, therapeutically giving me a means of outlet. I had to occupy my writer’s life again to deal with the real one it masks.

As a flat, my studio is not everyone’s idea of a des res, but my social landlord is to be congratulated for squeezing one more flat in, where someone with little choice will gladly live. It’s a 12 foot square room, which would be dominated by a bed, so I don’t have one. I have a futon, and for various reasons, it’s the most comfortable bed I’ve ever had: For starters, it’s mine. I bought it new, and it’s only ever had me in it. It’s like sleeping on a padded packing pallet, which somehow reminds me of being homeless. I don’t know why that would be a good thing, but after I’d slept on concrete floors, park benches and once in a bin, wooden pallets were quite the luxury. Then it folds up and makes a comfy chair to match the sofa. There’s a small kitchen, and the toilet and shower rooms are in a communal corridor, but for my exclusive use. The neighbours here are all social tenants too, so it’s not like they’d judge someone on having an outside lav (and anyone who did would not be welcome to use mine).

Put all of that into an office, and you’ve got a pretty cool place to work. So thinking of my studio more as a writer’s office, is better than moping around in a poky flat with not much else to do (huge DVD and music collections, but no attention span). The writer’s life really is the only one I can live, or I’d be more insane than I already am.

I walked back into my imaginary world, where all of my imagination lives. Simon Fry might as well have been sitting on my sofa, as parts of this studio mixed with others I’ve lived in, make Simon’s flat in Cyrus Song. Any minute, Hannah might call him, just as the girl she’s based on now texts and calls me more, since she understood what we’re all about. Sometimes I even imagine that fucking rabbit hopping around, plugging him into the hi-fi and listening to him in German through the Babel fish.

If I had the gumption to travel to London, I could visit the many incarnations of The Unfinished Literary Agency, where so many stories evolve and revolve. To Lewisham too, and to Mountsfield Park. I could visit London Zoo and dine at August Underground’s. Or I could use quantum mechanics to build a ship to take me to the many other worlds I’ve created.

The tragedy is it’s all here, in this studio, at the desk, in the typewriter, in me and in my books; my imaginary life my only one. A person trapped inside themselves but grateful of their inner writer for escape. What I can’t see, hear or feel; where I dare to venture, I imagine, and I write, while few read. But I’m socially anxious, so I don’t want to be mainstream. I just have to keep telling myself I’m a cult, and making sure spellcheck is on.

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