The Secret Literary life and its Challenges.
Have you ever had a burning secret that you are desperate to share? For me it feels like resisting that open bar of chocolate when you are on a diet. So where has this come from? Well when one begins writing there is a choice to be made: do you write under your own name or do you write under an alias? One of my students advised me that he had been writing under a secret name and was living two lives. It was a struggle because his girlfriend had no clue what he was up to and he could not share it with her. His fan base had escalated into thousands because he wrote about contentious subjects. He felt that by being ‘someone else’ he had the freedom to express true opinion. This alter-ego was very different to the shy man in the class. What’s more, he felt that it was too late to let his girlfriend know and felt torn. It made me wonder how spies manage.
Something about living a double life struck a chord with me. I had always written under my own name. It was an easy name to find but at the same time it made life a little bit of a challenge. My work colleagues ordered my books off the net and one morning I walked into a sex scene being read aloud. There was nothing malicious in it, it was a bit of fun. The thing is there was a shift in attitude towards me because the colleagues who surrounded me sensed I was working towards something bigger. The benefit of people knowing who I was that when I released books I could sell them from my desk. I could promote through the work place and hype. Unfortunately policies were introduced which put a stop to this.
People knowing I wrote was lovely because my colleagues would ask me what I was working on and the work place asked me to do presentations based on teaching creative writing evening classes. Over time my colleagues began dreaming on my behalf and would say things like ‘when you’re famous…’ ‘Here is an idea for your book – I want a cut if you use it.’ ‘I have this great idea for a book for you to write…’ That was when I realised that maybe people knowing I was an author wasn’t so great. Also people would come to me and tell me why I should write about them and what made them so fascinating. What made ‘authorism’ more of a challenge is that people had this idea an author was propelled to stardom and earned millions. The question, ‘so why are you here? Can’t you just be an author?’ would be asked when people found out I had published. I would explain that most authors would earn around 7K a year on a book if they were lucky. What I did not tell them was that being in a work environment provided numerous excellent conversations and material. Watching how real people react to difficult situations is better than sitting in a room imagining it. I had a source of inspiration at my type-worthy finger-tips.
It was when a series of events happened to a friend whose book was optioned to be made into a film that things shifted for me. Over a couple of years she shared her excitement and talked about her film and what would happen when she earned loads of money. People became excited for her and it was a major topic of conversation for all who crossed her path. By watching her I could see how I might have been perceived. As time went on the project slowed and money certainly was not flooding in. In the meantime, she still needed to support herself and she said to me ‘I wish people didn’t know. I just want to go away and be anonymous.’ That little insight also struck a chord with me. Did I really want people to know that I was an author? Who really cared? Was my ego trying to prove how special I was? After a lot of thought seven years ago, I decided to rebrand and write under a different name. I maintained my work as a business analyst but moved to a new department where people did not know my history. It was funny because I felt a real sense of liberation. The whole secret literary life was quite wonderful. I felt that I could maintain a sense of mystery and write about my passions: love, relationships, spirituality, healing and money. It was over the last seven years I slowly wrote Money Farm. Working as a financial analyst provided a depth of insight into the financial system. What I had considered a role to support me while I wrote was in fact the perfect job because it provided all the material necessary to evidence the workings of the financial system. What makes it all the more beautiful is that Money Farm has now been produced in audio by the extremely talented producer Helen Lloyd and reached the audio market. Oh and guess what? I still sit amongst my colleagues discussing the ridiculous, the absurd and the trivial while a book about one financial institution deciding to completely change the global economy (the Brave New World of Finance) is listened to and read all over the world. There is something deeply satisfying about that.