Tuesday 16 November 2010

Thank you Joanne Harris

Sometimes, my day job drives me mad.  I make appointments to speak with people about their business - they’re not there.  I email them to fix another date - they don’t reply.  I make notes, constantly make notes on who I’ve called, plan to call, have almost given up on calling,  always trying to get through the admin to the point of being able to speak with the client in person.   This part is something of which I never tire and, frankly, spending so many hours alone in my study, is something I need to stave off the lunacy like a writer needs tea and biscuits. 

I admit to having a less than perfect attitude to this work. I graft, I do the job properly but I also moan about the unreliability of the human condition.  A lot.

Last week I heard Chocolat’s Joanne Harris speak.  She told of how she’d stayed in teaching for ten years after publication of her first novel, recognising that all the research she ever needed for her writing was there, inside those walls of Leeds Grammar School with all its communities - teachers as well as pupils.    I went to hear Joanne Harris speak, rather than think about my own writing.  However I couldn’t help a broad grin spread across my face.  There it was – my positive attitude, right there in front of me, in the form of this little, slightly off-the-wall writer with a tremendous underlying wit and ability to tell an amusing story about something which when you really analyse it, could be quite banal.  When she spoke of the pupils at school, the writing fodder she had at her fingertips, she was also talking about me and the massive community I have on my excel spreadsheet, 91 personalities so far, when I can catch them. 

There’s the shy builder, the punctilious car valeter, the estate agent who talks about being interested in people.  And there’s the dog lover who cleans poodles in her front room and explains what makes them sit best for the shampoo, in a desperately calm, horse-whisperer kind of way.  Then there are the suspicious ones – just what am I trying to sell, they wonder, not entirely cognisant of the fact that they have already paid for their page and that what I’m trying to sell is actually them so it would be easier all round if they weren’t quite so reticent. 

So I left Joanne’s talk with a signed copy of Blue Eyed Boy (I’ve sped through the first half, it’s a page-turner alright, in a chillingly disturbing kind of way) and a positive attitude.  Tomorrow wasn’t a day of phone calls to people who wouldn’t turn up for my call but the start of a new character.  Who, what or where this character would be I wouldn’t know until later, maybe ten years later.  Or perhaps never.  But it was the potential for future scribbling that changed my mind about the work I do for my bread and butter.

And what of people who don’t keep their appointments? I’m sure, with a little tweaking, there’s a role out there for them.  Maybe that’s where Joanne Harris got her Blue Eyed Boy?

Friday 5 November 2010

The Phone Rang

A strange thing happened today.  The phone, my second line connected via the computer and allowing free, if hard to hear and hard to be heard phone calls, kept ringing.  

That’s only strange if you know that I just use this line for dialling out.  No one knows the number, not even me.  So when it rang  for the fourth time in the same amount of hours, I suspected the line was malfunctioning somewhat.  No big deal but I did feel the need to share this with my fourth caller of the day once he’d asked for a fourth different name for somebody who certainly wasn’t me.

“What do you do then?” the comfy, slightly effeminate voice asked from the other end of the line.

“Copywriting,” I answered.

“Oh wow,” he broke in quickly before I could attempt to return the question.  “You must be very clever.”

“Exceedingly!  You wouldn’t believe how clever I have to be to do this job,” I said, feeling the need to cover the 300 words I was struggling to cut by a hundred on a local roofing company.  “How about you?”


So I have to ask, don’t I?  Why, when I’m not remotely impressed by fame, fortune or indeed anything to do with celebrity, am I reduced to a giggling wreck when I ask,  “Oh gosh [tee hee], do I know you?”

“Yes,” he answers.

Yes!  But he’s not allowed to tell me who he is.  Awwww.  So I draw upon all my feminine guise, explain how hard it is to be alone here every day at my desk, tapping out highly charged, fiendishly intelligent copy, and how I really won’t tell anyone, honest.  And he capitulates. 

“Andrew Bernard,” he says.  He was hoping to speak to his agent.  “Are you on the internet?”  I found it quite endearing when he proceeded to give me the full link to his website without realising that I could simply google him and his would be the top result. 

So, Mr Andrew Bernard, it seems you’ve been in everything.  You will recognise him.  Check out his website www.andrewbernard.tv.  You can even listen to him speak, the voice which spoke to me, in my home, on the line that sits clothed in dusty cobwebs, not un-reminiscent of the phone to the Carlsberg Complaints Line.  That’s the voice which made me laugh out loud before I got back to my roofer and the one hundred words I began shifting with renewed vigour. 

Thank you, Andrew for making me giggle, and all the very best for whatever project you were hoping to discuss when you accidentally called little old me.