On solving the practical problems of an author’s life

For some reason, attending to practical matters seems to bring the more sensitive kind of author out in hives. While the most complex literary conundrum causes him no problem at all, the need to change a light-bulb can bring on an artistic crisis. What does the light bulb feel about this? Won’t changing it alter the balance of illumination throughout the house as a whole? Maybe darkness is precisely what the project needs at this point?

For others, the mere sight of a bill can bring on a severe case of writer’s block. Too many of us, it seems, follow the example of Martin Amis who famously confessed – or perhaps that should be ‘boasted’ – that he was physically unable to open a brown envelope and that any which happened to be addressed to him would be passed queasily to his wife.

Not every author has such an understanding spouse. Agents are useless with practical matters because there is no money in it for them and, when creative writing courses promise to address the ‘nuts and bolts of writing’, they are invariably referring to plot, character and motivation, which are frankly of secondary interest if you are sitting in darkness, with the car uninsured and bills unpaid.

Last year, perhaps unwisely, the Endpaper office let it be known that it had applied for funding from the Arts Council which would enable us to hire the part-time services of Handy Author, a butch, hands-on type who would help readers with matters of authorly DIY. The Council has yet to adjudicate, but already enquiries have been piling up on Handy Author’s empty desk.

Dear Handy Author
I am a diligent sort vis-à-vis insurance and have adequate cover for my house, motor, health, libel and so on but, while working on a recent project, I realised that I am vulnerable in one particular area. About halfway through my current work of fiction, the characters took over to such an extent that the whole project became what is known in literary circles as ‘a bugger’s muddle’. My plot fell apart and what was meant to be a historical romance degenerated into a mucky piece of magical realism in which a well-known ITV newsreader becomes embroiled in an inappropriate relationship with a ram while on holiday in the Lake District and gives birth to a rare Leicester Longwool lamb. Is there an insurance policy which covers against imaginative accidents of this type?
‘Regency Buck’, Kensington.

Dear Handy Author
I am a children’s author and for the past few years I have conducted my research in the traditional way – stealing my children’s ideas, eavesdropping on their conversations, borrowing their jokes and, after they have gone to bed, reading the secret diaries for colour and authenticity. Unfortunately they are now in their twenties and are not much use to me any more. I know that some authors get divorced and start all over again but this seems an awful lot of bother, rather bad luck on my wife and has severe implications for my pensions policy. Is there some kind of agency which leases out bright, articulate children for research purposes?
‘Tots’ Favourite’, Rye.

Dear Handy Author
The good news is that I have just sold a high-concept book of memoirs to a publisher for a decent five-figure sum. It is an autobiography, situated saucily between the bestselling autobiography of the French nympho – The Sexual Life of Catherine M, I think it was called – and the confessions of a randy American pensioner called A Round-Heeled Woman. The bad news? I’ve been happily married to the same sweet but dull man for 20 years and, not to put too fine a point on it, he is nothing particularly special in the bed department. As I set out to acquire material for my book, it occurs to me that it may involve a certain amount of expense. Does the Revenue accept wining and dining toy-boys and gigolos, double rooms in a sleazy hotels etc etc as legitimate expenses for an author?
‘Cheap Thrills’, Ipswich.

Dear Handy Author
I have heard that the crisis of literary over-production within the European Union is such that Brussels has been looking for ways to reduce the so-called ‘book mountain’. Is it true that grants are available to authors who desist from writing rather as farmers are encouraged not to produce crops on set-aside fields? If so, how do you set about proving that you are a bona-fide non-writing writer and that there is a positive benefit to the community from your doing something else?
‘Europhile’, Bradford.

Dear Handy Author
Watching the Terry and Gaby Show on Channel Five the other day, I suddenly realised why no publisher is interested in my latest novel. According to a feng shui expert on the programme, it is essential for creative harmony that the lavatory should not be situated to the west of any working area. I don’t have to tell you where the toilet in my new house is situated! A glance at the house’s energy fields confirms that my office is a centre of geopathic stress and that it was a miracle that I was able to write anything at all. Have I any claim against an estate agent who sold me a house that is sob full of negative earth energies? Alternatively, do you have the name of a good plumber?
‘Blocked’, Enfield.

These and many other heart-breaking enquiries will be resolved as soon as the Arts Council release money for this urgently needed service.

Spring 2004