It has today been a full decade since I was last employed as a writer. For a brief period, I could legitimately claim that as a job description, without people being able to laugh straight in my stupid face for doing so, or giving me that look. You know, that one.
When I first moved to York I was hired by a tiny charity-backed start up as a writer, and from there got hired as a features writer for an Asian lifestyle magazine, despite the obvious drawback of me being neither Asian nor in possession of much of a lifestyle. The boss at the time rather kindly overlooked this, mainly because he assumed that I’d be desperate enough for work that he could attempt to work me to death. He was absolutely right. After a few months of me writing articles he was basically too lazy to write himself about BMWs, he launched a newspaper for the same market. It was hugely ambitious, a free 50,000 word monthly paper distributed throughout the Asian community of West Yorkshire funded entirely by ads. He made me editor and sole writer, and proceeded to do the working-me-to-death thing.
After nine months of endless promises that he’d hire other writers soon, I started looking around for more journalism jobs, hoping that this experience of being utterly shafted on a regular basis, having to edit all my own words at three in the morning on deadline day and living off the worst chicken burgers known to man would stand me in good stead for whatever shafting the next job would have in store for me. The plan was to slowly work my way up the food chain until I was editor of The Guardian. Or Empire Magazine, or maybe Metal Hammer. I wasn’t fussy back then.
I was hired by another company, again as a journalist, this time with the promise of normal hours and vastly improved pay, which would have been splendid had I not turned up on my second day of work and found the company was being wound up by inland revenue for non-payment of VAT. Two weeks before Christmas.
I’d fairly spectacularly burnt my bridges on exiting the previous job (and spent the subsequent few months chasing my last payment) so, with little other option, I went back to my default twenties job, serving behind the bar at a rock pub and dying inside every time someone selected Chop Suey on the jukebox (approximately every seventeen minutes).
That dream crushing event was ten years ago today.
I know that, because it was the day after the Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed on stage in America by a deranged fan, along with another band member and some unfortunate crowd members. I spent the entire morning at my new office waiting for someone to tell me what I’d be doing, and in the absence of such instruction I scoured the metal news sites, being shocked by the events. Then an odious little man turned up and told us all to go home and I moved on from events in America. Now every year on the anniversary of his death I get this odd mix of sadness about the event (not that I’m a huge Pantera fan, but it was a pretty shocking end) and frustration at myself that I had to walk away from being paid to do the stuff that I now spend my free time doing.
Since then I’ve not really been able to claim ‘writer’ as anything other than an aspiration. Sure there was that time I gave up my job in a shop and tried to start a metal magazine, but that only lasted a few months and made me utterly financially destitute for a further year, so I don’t really count that, because that was humiliating and awful. A story for another time perhaps, perhaps for a blog post entitled ‘How to do a really stupid thing and end up not being able to pay your rent and come pretty close to being homeless.’
So there it is. A full decade since I thought my dream of writing had gone forever. I’m still writing though, and hopefully this time next year I’ll have an actual product on the market that people can buy from me, and when that happens I can again call myself a writer. A proper one, that gets paid for it and everything. Just try not to make that face at me until then. You know, that face.