from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

elephant, amnesia and ant holes... or 'don't give up the day job'

last night, moon on the hill

how many times before
have I been bird, leaf
single blade of grass?

tonight, a small mist followed
me home

This made me smile: 'You are a divine elephant with amnesia trying to live in an ant hole.' (Hafiz)
Amnesia's doing fine. Divine elephant gone absent without trace. Ant hole's a tight fit this morning. Royalty statement for 6 months' sales: £9.31 (yep – no not a mistake with the decimal point, sadly). Rude words. That's for the novel, out last March. The poetry, out last May, hasn't earned any royalties yet – come to think of it, I've had no contract either... And both have had good reviews on amazon.

I say that: Imago has had 8 excellent reviews, 1 good, a couple of iffy ones, and a negative one (someone who didn't seem to have either got the point or maybe even the book itself... and perhaps had a hidden agenda...?). There's a rash of tickbox negatives on the positive reviews, if you get what I mean: '0 out of 1 people found this review helpful'. Tourette's sufferer? Since the negative review didn't have any rating, is there a connection between this critic and the rashmaker? Very interesting that all of the 5-star positive ratings bar the latest on the poetry collection, Bardo, have attracted the same '0 out of 1 person found this helpful' tickbox compulsion. Well, can't please them all. Stick head above parapet, etc.

I think people have this romantic image of the Writer chewing pen, swigging absinthe, pouring words like fire onto the page, selling work, swanning around gazing out of windows or over wondrous landscape, hands in pockets, 'don't interrupt me – can't you see I'm working?', taking long holidays in exotic places awaiting inspiration, etc.

The reality of course is that we write because we're passionate about it, because nothing else fills that place, because it's as crucial as breathing; but it's a really hard graft with long and unsociable hours and continual chasing of the next little piece of paid work in some erratic and uncertain writing-related field (or at least, that's how it is for me).

My accountant used to suggest I ran more courses, as they brought in more money. I did, and they did. Now they don't (it's a recession and too many institutions offer subsidised certificated courses). In 2009 he suggested I thought about supplementing my pitiful income by book-keeping (me?? Has he no soul?? Plus I failed my maths O level twice!). In 2010 he suggested I'd do better on the checkout at Tesco. I responded not. This year he didn't make a single suggestion. Am well beyond the pale (or is it 'pail'? Remind me what it means?), well-broke, irredeemable, dogged, pigheaded and sheer bloody-minded about doing it my way.

And – grit teeth – am not giving up. I love what I do. But I say to myself 'Don't give up the day job, girl.' Oh wait – this is the day job!

This is info from the 2000 Society of Authors' survey of UK writers' earnings:
  • 75% of authors earned under £20,000 in 1999
  • The average writer's annual income was £16,000
  • Only 5% (82) of authors polled earned more than £75,000
  • Only 3% (51) earned over £100,000.
  • Although the national average wage was £20,919 when the report was compiled, 61% of the writers polled earned under £10,000
  • 46% earned under £5,000, of whom 123 said that writing was their main source of income, while 14 had no other source of income at all. (My italics)

The level of advances is dropping. The majority of advances are under £5,000. Only 51% of writers said that more than half their works earned out their advances (advances are what they say they are: advance on estimated royalties. In other words, you get zero dosh after the advance until your book sale royalties earn more than the advance you were given). My first advance, in 1993, in the low 4 figures, was higher than any since, and the last 5 books have had no advance at all. Hey ho.


Lots and lots of stress lately. Bad news on the blood pressure front. Good news though is that the understanding nurse went off to make a cup of coffee for herself while I took five minutes to meditate in her room after the first high reading. After just these few minutes I'd dropped the systolic – top – reading by 20 points (bottom diastolic remains worryingly high). 'That's exceptional!' she said (of the reduced systolic).

OK. Time to get a grip. OK healthy wealthy world here I come. After I've made a cup of something disappointingly caffeine- and absinthe-free, looked out the window at the wondrous view, booked that exotic holiday on my earnings, and slouched around a bit more waiting for the Muse to descend... There again, I'm free to go for a walk whenever I like. Maybe now?

ADDENDUM: just had the library lending statement (PLR) for 2011. Hey! I earned £15.55! Enough for flour for 8 or 9 loaves! (Well, half a dozen organic spelt flour ones, anyway.) Or might it stretch to a bottle of absinthe?


  1. Rereading Roald Dahl's 'Boy' the other day - wonderful description of the life of a writer, beginning 'The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman' and ending 'A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it'.

    Loved the extracts from the Burnside poem yesterday.

  2. All sounds horribly familiar, Roselle ... as a small publisher as well as a writer all I can say is that there seem to be more people writing books than buying them. Selling fiction unless it's by blockbusting household names is close to impossible. Debut fiction IS impossible. Good reviews even in the big nationals don't sell books. What does sell a book? When someone figures it out we'd love to know ... meanwhile, writers suffer and small publishers go out of business. Such a hard business to be in for all of us ... Keep meditating, keep carrying the flame. What else can we do??(Oh - and it's beyond the pale - the pale in this case being the enclosed area of old Dublin city which was deemed to be safe from invaders. Pale = fence. Beyond the pale therefore = unsafe.)

  3. Thanks, writers both. Always very heartening to be reminded we're in this together! Glad to read Dahl's words, B. S, thanks for reminding me re pale - I remembered the gist but not that it related to Dublin! Makes me wonder about etymology of 'pale' – Old Irish? And I think probably what sells a book is sex and death... And I don't mean that cynically. But if I say 'sensationalism plus a celebrity name', too, that is cynical - but it sure as hell sells! Oh well. And yes, Sharon, I see over and over that far more people want to write and be published than seem to read and buy books...

  4. When I think about my own writing, the 'world' I'm creating, the various interlinked websites, planned ebooks, perhaps print books which go with it ... then just about every second day I end up with: 'It's never gonna make me a living, nobody is going to read this in sufficient numbers to ... '


    And I think about all the mistakes I've made thus far, all the time I've wasted, and the fact that the whole process has been so slow, and I do get overwhelmed with this feeling that it's just ... meaningless to go on.

    Well, from a rational perspective - for example, a perspective of one who is hellbent of making a living, or better. There are plenty of doubts to go with that dream.

    So I write because I'm incapable of stopping, right? I have to, right? It's not about the money, right?

    Well, yes - and no. It is about the money, too. It is not *firstly* about the money, but I don't think I could go on as much as I already have if I did not allow myself to dream of the day it might come true: That I could make a living from this.

    I have to hold on to that dream, no matter how impossible it is. I can't detach completely from it, all though it would probably give me a whole lot more peace of mind.

    But in a way ... perhaps that is all right. It's a choice and with it comes a certain amount of pain and frustration, because there is every chance I fail in achieving my dream. It would probably be easier to [insert vocation of your choice].

    And still, it's okay, isn't it? To make that choice, to allow oneself not only to stoutly affirm that 'yes, I write because it is my passion' but also admit that 'yes, I dream of one day when ... '

    It's almost like saying yes to being in love. You can't stop it, really - it is something you have to be, because it is so powerful.

    But you may choose to be in love at a distance -- having resigned yourself never to 'get' the one you love. But OTOH you can't be hurt if you keep that distance, or so the tortured logic goes.

    Fortunately, most of us don't choose that kind of Shakesperean martyrdom, at least not when we beyond the teenage years - or so I'd like to think. Most of us just acknowledge we're in love ('damn - again!') and that we have to be ready to face the pain of having our love rejected by the one we love.

    Or at least life pushes us to that particular realization. And then we must be ready to fall in love again ...

    ... As with the dream of making a living from writing.

    Hmmm ... I think maybe we writers have more in common with the rest of the human race than we have hitherto suspected ...? :-]

    (End speech. On to writing more ... )

    1. I love it, Chris, thanks. Yes it is like being in love, too - wonder if you read one of my early posts on writing and promiscuity?? - and I write because in every way other than financially my life would be poorer if I didn't. And as my writing friend Mario Petrucci said this morning: 'A human being is not an economy or an economic unit. We are creatures not of consumption but of something timeless.' And yet, and yet. Chris, you'll be pleased to hear that I've just signed my novel over to (also) Kindle. Dammit!

  5. :-) - Yes, I am very pleased that you are allowing yourself an extra option for income. I mean, it's a win-win situation, isn't it? You get to reach a broader audience and you reach more people who will compensate you for your work. Maybe it is not going to be a goldmine for you, but you won't be leaving dollars on the table - even if it is just a few to begin with.

    Now, as for the other posts about this topic ... I would love to read them. Are they tagged with a special term, or perhaps there is one you'd recommend that I started with?

    Sorry, for being so lazy but I have to spend as much time as possible writing (cough, cough) ...

    Or, er, something ...

    All the best,


    1. :-) Cups of coffee I find are a good distraction from - er I mean addition to - writing. (Absinthe would be better. Sigh.) And watching the birds. And going for a walk. And urgently needing to think about creating a - filing system. Or tags. Sorry Chris - haven't mastered (mistressed) the art of tagging yet... Do you mean posts of mine re not earning a living?? Or e-publishing? Or both or neither??

      PLEASE don't apologise for not trawling back through all this verbiage of mine! Not worth the effort.

      Thanks as always for taking the time to write.

  6. Yeah, the ones about "writing and promiscuity" - that sounds sufficiently saucy! :-)

    Anyway, tagging is pretty easy - it's also called "label" in Google's blogger, which you use. But there's probably not much point in spending your precious writing time going back thru all those posts and tag them, even if you wanted to start doing so from here on. :-)

    What I like about your blog is, in any case, that it is so intensely personal. There's a lot of wisdom and beauty in much of what you write, and a sharing of, well, the experience that we all have - more often than we'd like, I suppose: That life is fragile, topsy-turvy and sometimes downright rotten. But also very, very beautiful. In other words: paradoxical! :-D Ha, I guess that's the best term I've come up with for life in a long time!

    Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I feel, with your blog, I can pretty much dive in anywhere and dig up a treasure. It's not like I have to have a list of '10 things you can do' or a smart index to find something valuable here. So I hope it did not come across like *that* ;-)

    Sigh ... I wish I felt like I could take time to update my own blog as much as you do yours. But right here and now it is just a small repository of personal thoughts. But I'm glad to be part of the conversation over here, and to get plenty of thought for thought - enough for several blogs!



    1. Chris, some days the blog is the only writing I do at the moment! So it's a kind of practice. Thanks, as ever, for your generosity.



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