100 untimed books: coming of age

85. coming of age

85. coming of age

This was one of my absolute favourite books when I was a teenager, and I still love it. It’s a riotous, anarchic story where the characters are refreshingly and unapologetically flawed (and wandering through a gentle alcoholic haze most of the time in a way that would horrify the morality police). Nothing much happens, but everything changes.

It’s just right for these sultry summer days when you never quite know what the weather’s going to do next. Or, if it comes to that, what you’re going to do next.

100 untimed books

The conundrum

I do not have the answer. I thought I’d say that right at the beginning, and save you all the disappointment.

The conundrum: how to write, and survive.

For a few, a very few, the stars align and skill and luck get them a bestseller followed by another bestseller and they never have to worry again*.

Some others never had to worry in the first place. Virginia Woolf famously prescribed a room of one’s own and a private income. And I can see her point. That would be very nice. One can manage without, but my goodness, wouldn’t it be nice.


The rest of us have two choices:

Writing full-time

And spend most of your time writing stuff you don’t particularly want to write, and/or hustling to sell the stuff you’ve written.

The day job

This is the one that works for me. And you don’t have to tell me how lucky I am to have a day job that pays me enough to live on while leaving me enough spare time and enough of my brain to write. I know.


This isn’t just a conundrum for self-published authors, though certainly we have to do more of our own hustling. More than half the professional writers in the UK earn less than the minimum wage – i.e. not enough to live on by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I probably earn more per book sold than most debut authors published in the mainstream. Though of course I sell fewer books.

Anyway, whichever way you slice it, the sums don’t add up. And there isn’t an answer. I said that at the beginning.

My point is this: I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone who manages to make a living by writing things, and I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone who manages to write while making a living doing something else. I’d buy you all a drink, if only I could afford it.


* Or so I assume. If it ever happens to me I’ll let you know. Actually, I’d probably still find something to worry about.

100 untimed books: fear to feel safe

90. fear to feel safe

90. fear to feel safe

I’d been meaning to make another excursion into the spy thriller genre anyway, and had managed to lose The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (it turned up on Saturday morning, in a plastic bag in a cardboard box of things I’d cleared off the sofa bed). And then the work book club decided to read this. I enjoyed it: some effective twists on a number of tropes that needed a bit of refreshing, and the proper sense of just-because-you’re-paranoid-doesn’t-mean-they’re-not-out-to-get-you.

100 untimed books


Peanuts give you, gram for gram,

the densest protein ratio, and crisps

(fat and carbohydrate) are best

for energy. Likewise, poetry’s

the most efficient form in which

to take your words. Three slim volumes

(you buy it in slim volumes, like

crisps in bags, unless you get the

multipack, Collected Works)

will make a feast

to last me eighty miles.