The International Writers Magazine: Life Moments
Let the career choose you
Watching the rain fall like sheets of grey metal spikes yesterday we knew summer was back to normal in the UK. Even the word summer seems incongruous somehow. I seem to recall that ‘summer’ traditionally would be when I’d get a new sweater to wear at the beach and the family would huddle behind windbreakers trying to get paraffin stove to boil a kettle.
Summer was black flies and mosquitoes, fighting wasps off the sandwiches and like now, once every four years the Olympics, which in those days we’d listen to on the radio for the lone Brit to score an actual medal. We never thought about how much effort it would have to take to do just that. No one really talked about training back then, or eating the right kind of power food and balanced diets. I used to play football on the flat wide beach with Kandy – our welsh collie – she was the best dribbler in the world. At night phosporous would glitter in the waves. Didn't even know that it was pollution.
Summer for me was a house by the beach in Sandilands in Lincolnshire, dwarfed by the concrete flood barrier to keep out the North Sea. Every year we’d arrive to see if there was any sand at all on the beach – quite often it would be just mud. We’d sail our Fireball off on the grey sea and capsize more often than not and at some point around the age of fifteen I realised that this wasn’t quite as much fun as it was supposed to be. In fact I didn’t really like being capsized, or the colour of the sea, or the flies, or the jellyfish. I didn’t like the beer or the ‘small talk’ at pub either. *It took me about four more years of drinking practice to realise I not only hated the smell of beer but drinking it made me ill. I think I’m a slow learner. Besides which I discovered wine, altogether more civilised.
Being a teen is hard. You are supposed to know what you want to do with your life. I know it’s even harder now. Then you were supposed to please your parents and do what they wanted you to do. I know that is why a number of my contemporaries became lawyers or architects or builders or even models. Unfortunately my father had already written me off as stupid because I couldn’t do maths (anything number related) and cack-handed because my woodwork sucked, so he didn’t encourage me to join the family business. My mother was more interested in her own career to worry about what her kids were doing. At thirteen I had already regretted telling my father I wanted to be an actor. He was appalled as all actors were suspect in his books and that meant that I must be too. (It took him about an hour to enrol me in a hard naval college where the discipline would knock some sense into me – he seemed to be totally unaware that there might be some odd folks people in the Navy, but hey, he was concentrating on keeping me on the straight and narrow. He was beginning to suspect I didn’t like beer too and that was borderline criminal. I wasn’t the son he wanted I guess. (How many sons are?)
About three years in at naval college (where you guessed it there was a lot of discipline) and I had succeeded in learning nothing useful whatsoever – my father died. I was packed off to my sisters and it was suggested I become an accountant. (No one EVER listens when you say you can’t do numbers). I think I had to do some A Levels and then it was going to be servitude to my brother-in-law who was, as it turns out, less than honest about his sexuality.
I came to the conclusion that I had to escape. An actor’s life for me. I enrolled in a drama school thousands of miles away from my family. All I needed was courage; some money but …there was one problem not yet faced. I had never acted. I had never been permitted to act. The arts had been prohibited at the schools my father had chosen. No art, no drama, just rugby, brute force and bullying. He must have spent hours finding these places to make sure I wasn’t contaminated by ‘culture’ in anyway. You have to understand that ‘Culture’ is something of a rarity in Lincolnshire, even today. Art galleries, theatre, were perhaps something that happened in Lincoln, but nowhere else (except amateur drama). Even bookshops are hard to find now. I have no idea why there is this antipathy but clearly in my father’s head it wasn't manly and that was bad.
It took me about a week in drama school to realise that I couldn’t act. Couldn’t remember a line. Nothing. Don’t have that kind of brain apparently. I could just about carry a spear without falling over. So alongside numbers, I couldn’t remember words. I was consigned to total failure. Seemed that my father was right. But a chance came up to make a film (Super 8 no less). Film needed a script and since no one else was going to write it… I wrote it. Shot it too and it won a little prize. (The film long since lost sadly).
Someone said at one of the screenings that they liked my dialogue, could I write a play for them for radio (by Monday the next week). He was a radio producer. So I read some plays very quickly and sat down to write one. It was broadcast the following weekend. I was a playwright for radio. How weird was that. Can’t act, can’t count, but can write a little. Even got paid for it.
I seem to recall that over the next few years I wrote around 36 plays for radio. I only have fifteen on tape sadly owning to a really nasty customs official who confiscated most of them – no reason given. Most lost forever, as in those days they didn’t archive anything and reused the tapes.
How one finds a role in life (no matter how temporary or transient) is often a series of accidents. I do not care I never found a profession where the money is guaranteed. Or, that when one source of income dried up – I had to go into teaching. The biggest shock was just how awful and vindictive some of the lecturers I had to work with were to the students (sadly some are still there, trotting out the same tired stuff and doing their best to prevent anyone being successful). I vowed to make sure that I was there for the kids and try to make sure that they got good career advice. Some actually listened, many were already too wary and didn’t believe a word anyone told them.
Finally I settled on writing fiction. I’m glad I never became an actor. To be a writer you have to act every day anyway. You have to be the postman, hitman, the call girl, the embittered housewife, whoever it is you are writing about and dig down and find their voice, their mannerisms. You have a far wider choice of ‘acting’ roles than any actor could ever have on stage and the reader will soon discover if it rings true.
And now it’s summer again and I'm walking on the same Lincolnshire beaches, braced against the off-shore winds and I wonder what I’ll be doing next year, what I’ll be writing and where. Embracing the uncertainty is what a writer has to do. Even as the technology changes and it gets ever tougher to be a writer and make a living… it’s still the only life for me.
© Sam North August 2012
More life stories
Editor of Hackwriters and author of Diamonds – The Rush of 72 (Print)
The Great Californian Diamond Rush of 1872 - promised a fortune to all and ruined the lives of almost everyone it touched
iPad (iTunes version)
Mean Tide - Oliver,
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with his only relative. On a foggy day, one bald boy, with his
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in Greenwich. Oliver discovers to his horror that his Grandma,
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and silent Justine seems to hate everyone. Add crazy Harriet,
who has seen every fortune teller in London; Aura, a mysterious,
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e-book & Mean Tide (print) ((PS Ignore Category placed under it is most definitely not erotica!)