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Lorna Hoey: Those awkward questions…

December 13, 2010

With the party invitation comes the situation I most dread. It’s not about the dress, the shoes or the hair. It’s not about how to get there or who’ll be there. It’s worse than all of these things.

It happens when I’m standing at the canapés, or the buffet, or the drinks table or (more than likely) in the kitchen, and somebody sidles up to me and starts one of those conversations which inevitably culminate in: ‘So now that you’re retired, how are you filling your days?’

And here we go. Do I say vaguely, oh, never been busier, can’t think how I found the time to go to work, all that stuff? Or do I come clean? Usually it’s easier to take the first option, but sometimes, if I’m feeling brave – maybe after a prolonged visit to the drinks table – I will say that I am a writer. And why not? It’s what I do, and I do it every day.

But then comes the inevitable response: Really? What have you written? Should I have heard of you? And at this point I have to admit that as I’m not yet a published writer, then it’s unlikely that anyone has heard of me.

Ah, comments my smiling assailant, already veering off to more interesting pastures, it’s just a hobby then. I feel stung, cheapened. It is my dearest wish to be a published author and I work towards that each day. I feel insulted. But should I? Can I really call myself a writer?

Recently, having repeated this scenario – probably once too often – to a friend, I was given a little book entitled You know you’re a writer when…which contains a number of statements apparently designed to test your commitment to the scribing world. Here are a few examples:

You eat dinner with your plate on your knee because your manuscript is laid out on the table.

In bed at night, it’s not your own problems that keep you awake, but those of your characters.

You assess every person you meet as either poor or good character material.

You can work alone in a room for a year.

As you back the car into the lamppost, all you can think about is how to describe the thud of metal on metal.

Every surface in your house has morphed into a desk

Despite anxiety, humiliation and frustration, you can’t stop writing because you are doing exactly what you should be doing.

And it’s that last statement that holds the key. I can’t stop writing and if that makes writing my hobby, so be it. One day somebody will take a chance on my work and I’ll be a real, published author.

But for now I’m happy – no, proud – to call myself a writer. I just need the courage to say so.

Maybe another visit to the drinks table?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 6:01 pm

    Hi Lorna

    I definitely call you a WRITER. I have really enjoyed hearing your pieces of writing, some of which have appeared on the Buzz about Books blog here. Your memories of growing up in Northern Ireland are extremely interesting – and what about the Novel?!

  2. December 14, 2010 10:25 am

    First of all, its very clear you are a writer. Secondly, I love that list and shall quote it forever. Thirdly, even after I got my contract I got that kind of reaction when I said I was a writer. I was in the waiting room at the doctor’s a couple of weeks ago, some woman got me into conversation, asked me what I do, I said I was a writer and she said, “Really? Are you really a writer?” Honestly!! What does it take? We are writers, get used to it!
    Good luck with everything you are doing Lorna and HAPPY WRITING!

  3. December 15, 2010 10:47 am

    In the film Hearts of the West veteran screen writer Andy Griffith tells a struggling young Jeff Bridges “You’re not a writer until someone else calls you a writer.” So it’s official, Lorna, you’re a writer.

    He also goes on to say something else that’s too rude to repeat.

    Talking of published work, I’d love to read the piece you entered for the Christmas short story competition a few years back. Is it too long to post on the blog and, if not, can we have it before Christmas please?

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