I am writing this from the midst of a perfect storm of promotional activity for my first book. My life just now is one long round of interviews, feature commissions, public appearances and photo-shoots. It is exhausting, but of course I have to seize the moment; it will all be over before I know it. I thought that perhaps the story of how I got here might be of interest to other writers; it has been a long, strange journey.
As a young man I wrote compulsively, every day, and largely just for the pleasure of it, probably for the best part of twenty years. I must surely have accumulated the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell speculates you have to dedicate to any activity in order to achieve proficiency. Most of my work I showed to no-one. Occasionally I would send something off to an agent or publisher, but a single rejection would be enough to convince me that I was clearly not ready yet. Any ability I have as a writer was honed by the quest for self-improvement; a self-doubt that never goes away, and probably never should. I am rather in awe of those who have such confidence in their own abilities that they will self-publish after a slew of rejections, assuming that the problem must surely lie with the short-sightedness of the gatekeepers.
And then my life changed. I found myself working full time to support a young family, and later I was to become a single parent too. Something had to give, and what gave was the writing. The years passed. Two years ago I quit my job to go freelance, and saw a window of opportunity. I wrote a single chapter of my memoir Deep Country – an account of five years I spent living alone in a remote cottage without services in the mountains of Wales, and a meditation on the relationship between man and nature, and the psychological impact of extreme isolation.
I sent this chapter to the agent of my choice, and received a contract the following day. Everyone she showed it to seemed to want it, and my unwritten book went to auction. These are straitened times insofar as advances are concerned, but I still received enough that I wouldn't have to worry about other work for a year or so. It appeared that I had found my voice in the years of silence.
The book seemed almost to emerge onto the page fully-formed. It was a joy to be writing again, and it was as if I must have been writing it in my subconscious mind for all those years, while I was sleeping. So, my advice to those who have yet to achieve what they want through their writing would be that it may just be that their time has not yet come. And that sometimes it may be no bad thing to put down your pen for a while, and live a little.