One of my closest, and most talented, friends reminded me today that it’s always nice to dream. I second that emotion because for many of us dreams are all we have left. Without wishing to sound too self-deprecatory, I do not consider myself to be exceptionally, or even modestly, talented at anything, least of all writing which is what I do for much of each day. It’s hard to say how many of us do what we want to do. When I was at school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As I enter my dotage, if anything things are even less clear.
I first started to write when I was a very young boy. I made illustrated football comics with the most awful sketches and threadbare storylines. My mother was always interested, although I am pretty sure that being a stranger in a strange land, a Dutch single parent bringing up a child in England, she had less than no idea what I was drawing and writing about. The comics never left the house and nor did the books of poetry and song lyrics – literally hundreds of them – which still sit in a box in the loft.
I wrote for the Bristol Rovers programme and website for years, ascending to the Bristol Evening Post ‘Fans View’ column. And I even wrote a not-very-good book called Corfu Not A Scorcher, ostensibly about life in winter on a Greek island. And for seven years there’s been this blog where I have self-published thousands of comment pages and essays. To a very limited extent, I consider my writing ‘career’ to be a success. Here’s why.
I’ve had depression and other kinds of mental illness since childhood and, it appears, undiagnosed ADHD. Despite these drawbacks, I have usually managed to write stuff, sometimes quite decent stuff. Much of it, I know, is flawed because I write solely by ‘feel’. I have tried so many times to learn the basics of grammar, syntax (the first time I have ever used this word) and what verbs, adverbs, adjectives, alliteration and all the rest of these words all mean and as soon as I think I have cracked it, I find I haven’t properly worked out what they really mean. That is the reason, my main excuse, if you will, for my flawed writing. The grammar police would tear, and have at times have torn, my work – and I do see it as my work – to pieces but I’ve learned to be stronger by accepting my flaws and working hard despite them.
I still dare to dream. Time is running out for all of us and I know there isn’t a particularly large market for ageing and deeply flawed writers, and indeed all other creative souls, to somehow make a living. So my dreams are quite humble, to self-publish my work when no one else will publish it, to strive constantly to be better, to entertain my loyal reader and maybe, just maybe, give her/him something to think about.
It’s not as if I am alone in having never made it. Friends have stellar writing, musical, painting and sketching talents – at least one friend has all of these and more – and in a fairer, more meritocratic world, they’d have gained greater success in the wider world. But the reality is of a creative world that cares largely for its own. The same people appear across various publications and media outlets, often it seems to me, people with, I would suggest less than stellar talent, often with the aid of ‘ghosts’ who do the difficult bits. What chance for the rest of us who could not possibly afford ghosts and editors? No wonder my work doesn’t always look as structured as it should.
Still, we muddle on, hoping against hope that one day that golden opportunity will come along and we can genuinely describe our occupation as professional writer, artist, musician or DJ.
As the great bard Jeffrey Lynne put it in his epic ‘Hold Onto Your Dreams’:
‘When you get so down that you can’t get up
And you want so much, but you’re all out of luck
When you’re so downhearted and misunderstood
Just over and over and over you go.’
Maybe one day it will be me in the spot-light. Without dreams, what would the point actually be?