I’ve written stories and poems all my life, was given my first book deal in 2008, but it is only as in the last few months I have felt comfortable telling people I’m a writer. This is mainly because it’s contributed to so little of my income. I’ve always had to supplement my writing earnings with day jobs, but since August 2011 I have been able to concentrate my entire days and nights on writing. I’d be fairly confident saying it’s been my least productive writing period too. Having all day to write is not necessarily a good thing.
At the moment I’m writing my third book, Bring me Sunshine, to be published by the AA in 2013. As well as this I’m working on my first full collection of poetry, to be published by Nasty Little Press at the end of this year. There’s a few scripts ideas and articles I’m working on, a few workshops a bit of teaching, experiencing being a freelance writer for the first time. I’d have liked it to have been this way for the last few years, but have always been a bit scared of the lack of guarantee work coming in. I was so reliant on the certainty of the regular pay cheques on the last Friday of each month from Anglia Windows, Norwich Union, Pizza Express and all the other boring companies I’ve worked for while in my head I wish I could have been leading a poetry workshop to some posh kids. Instead I’ve spent years in offices around Norwich; if they need stuff filing, I’ve been there.
I took the much easier option of going to a recruitment agent, giving them my CV and they’d point me in the direction of the nearest generic office. But this isn’t entirely financially motivated. Although I’d have loved to have clinked champagne glasses with commissioning editors as they handed over a massive cheque, the work in offices has done me a lot of good, most notably as a regular point of contact with human beings. In the last few months I have barely seen anyone, other than my housemate, who is also a freelance writer and we meet in the kitchen making our cups of coffee, or at the booze fridge in the corner shop buying a four pack of Kronenberg for £4, both of us in our slippers, preparing for a late night doing all the work we haven’t done during the day because of YouTube / snoozing / listening to The Guardian football podcast. For me writing was never about having allocated time staring endlessly at a computer screen. It was about stolen hours, writing in notebooks, or in my case at Anglia Windows, a secret Microsoft Word file I opened up when no-one was around so I could work on poems, while giving the appearance to anyone who looked over that I was diligently getting on with my data entry.
As well as the contact with people, you need to have something to write about. Open plan offices are perfect for overheard conversations, for observing people living their lives. It’s been a constant source of fascination for me and these people, these snapshots, feature prominently in my poems and books. Writing is also about rebelling, no matter how small that rebellion is. You have to have something or someone you are dissatisfied with, hence the popularity of political poetry, but this happens in offices on a much smaller scale: you’re not allowed the day off you ask for, Amanda in accounts eats her crisps loudly, there is no milk in the fridge. All of it is stored for poems.
I’ve never had the courage to be proactive and go out there and arrange workshops, write to English departments in schools and universities, get involved in projects. I really admire people who go out there and make things happen, it’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, so it’s a bit scary being freelance for the first time, having my days to myself, the safety net of minimum wage removed. I don’t know how long it will last, maybe when I’ve finished my book I’ll have to get a job again. Or maybe I’ll have to get a job again so I can find the creative inspiration necessary for me to even finish the book. But for now it’s me and the four pack of Kronenberg from the shop down the road.
About The Author
John Osborne is the author of two books: Radio Head, Up and down the dial of British Radio, published in 2009 and broadcast as Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and The Newsagent’s Window, adventures in a world of second hand cars and lost cats. He has had poetry published in The Guardian, The Big Issue and The Spectator and performed at festivals including Latitude, Glastonbury and Bestival. He co runs Homework, a night of literary cabaret in East London.