Alison McQueen


Writers tell it like it is

Lying around in bed drinking coffee I had that nagging feeling that I was supposed to be somewhere. A bit of backstory: I had been in transit the day before, airplane mode, blah blah (insert various excuses here).

As the coffee kicks in, the mist clears and I remember that I am still off radar, fumble around with settings and lo and behold, there’s a message there saying “You still on for this morning?”

Cue Clive Dunn running around shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t Panic!”, because I suddenly remember I made a date with someone and my only option right now is to send some awful excuse because she’s probably already on her way to the venue. And I’ll be buggered if I’m going to admit that I’m completely rubbish with trying to run a diary on anything except paper. The kids forced me into using iCal about 2 years ago, and it’s not been going particularly well.

I text back, all nonchantly, Why yes! Of course! thinking to myself, right woman, you’ve got precisely seven minutes to get your act together and get out of that door.

Judith Allnat is a wonderful writer. We did an event together way back in 2006 and ran into each other again recently at a conference – no time to speak – hence the arrangement that had escaped my goldfish memory.

What started off as coffee soon drifted into a long lunch and a G2 Summit on the general state of the nation for professional writers. (By which I mean those of us who do it for a living with no other job.) We have no one else to talk to about this stuff except other writers like us.

When professional writers get together, boy, do they dish it. Our shared experiences are an incalculably valuable pool. We learn so much from each other, because we are generally pretty isolated and our experiences happen within a relatively limited microcosm. (Our agent, our editor, the publicity department, that kind of thing.) It’s hard to know if other writers are going through the same kind of good/bad/indifferent experiences as us.

The thing is, when we start talking to each other, all kinds of common patterns start to emerge. Whatever issue you’re dealing with right now, there’ll be another writer who’s been there/done that and can give you the whole nine yards. It’s great. You can get right down to the nitty gritty and hear the kind of things that you need to know about which your publisher sure as eggs isn’t going to tell you.

So I throw out a general reminder to all us writers… Let’s talk to each other more. Go out for lunch and tell the family to piss off and make their own dinner. Remind each other that we are fabulous. Because we are.

I will mention here that brilliant writer Rachel Zadok, who selfishly lives in Cape Town which is no good to me at all, is great at these writerly chats which we do over Skype with a bottle of wine (each) while we dish the dirt and laugh our heads off… ergo: distance is no excuse.

Publishers could learn a thing or two if they sat in on those conversations. But for some reason I just don’t think they’d want to hear it.