Thursday, January 17, 2019

SJ Bradley : My Writing Day

A blurry, disorienting start: a xylophone blurting from my phone, the dark outside. Seven a.m., but it feels like the middle of the night. I'm getting up now because if I want to keep on doing Regular Person things (eating, paying bills, switching on lights) I can't very well not go to my day job. Have you ever tried calling your boss with the excuse: “I'm not coming in today. I'm an artist, and I'm too good for this sort of thing?”

Work is what underwrites my writing. It pays for little treats, like having the heating on during my Writing Days, electricity so I can boil the kettle for hot drinks: on Writing Days, when it's freezing cold in our Victorian millworkers' house, I need something to keep my hands warm. My day job pays for all the books I buy. Do I need more books? Yes, always.

The mortgage, so I've got somewhere to park my writing desk. The tea that I drink in the mornings, when the writing is going poorly, the red wine that I drink when it is going well. My snacking system is multitudinous and complicated. A lot of staring out of the window is involved. I always need supplies. So you see, I can't very well not go. 

A good thing about my day job is that I like it. It gets me out of my head and into the company of real people. Laughter with people who have seen things, my colleagues, my clients, people who have lived. I go into people's homes, I meet their children, their aunties, their extended families, I hear their stories. Often, in the homes I go into, somebody has recently been seriously ill. The relief, the anxiety, of all that fear, it's in their faces, their gestures. Everybody's home is different and I drink that in, along with the tea I've been offered, noticing the feel of their carpets, the smell of food in their homes.

From there I drive to another place. Half hours are spent in my car, driving from one home to another, to the office and back. These moments in the car can be used to solve problems with structure and plot, invent whole new worlds. I can pull up at a zebra crossing, watch a woman with her children waiting to cross the road, and draw a whole new character and story from the way she stands at the kerb, the colour of her clothes, the expression on her face. Is she waiting for somebody? Going to somebody? Maybe she has just left? These moments, these threads and rug-rags, are the pieces that make up the fabric of my work.

Yet when I leave work for the day it's always with a bit of relief. Most work days, I'm glad to have been out of the house. Glad to have spent at least a bit of time with real people, and not just the imaginary people I create in my head. You can, I've discovered, go a little crazy when the only people you socialise with are people who don't really exist.

So leaving is a joy, but the journey home a terror. Hours on the motorway, often sitting there with my handbrake on. Red lights in a fiery fairy string, stretching for miles. Five solid lanes of steel, each with a single driver occupant. We stare straight ahead like dummies in a shop. “I'm an artist,” I tell myself, inching forward. “I'm much too good for this sort of thing.”

SJ Bradley is an award-winning writer and editor from Leeds, UK. Her short fiction has appeared in December and Toasted Cheese magazine, and others, and has been published by Comma Press. She won a Saboteur Award for her work as editor on the Remembering Oluwale Anthology. She is Fiction Editor at Strix Magazine, and director of the Northern Short Story Festival. Two novels (Brick Mother and Guest) are out now, available from Dead Ink Books.

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