If I am completely honest with myself (something I try to do as infrequently as possible) I’ve always wanted to be a real writer. ‘But you are!’ I hear my sheepdog Twink bark loyally from outside my office’s open window. But what does a mere bitch know about such lofty aspirations? If I’d asked her opinion about flushing stuck lambs out of a half-blocked culvert in a dyke, I might have taken her seriously. But no, not literature: that was never her strong point. But to answer her implied question, I am an author, specialising in archaeology and landscape history – and that’s not the same thing at all. It’s not quite as lowly as writing something like historical romances, bodice-rippers, that sort of thing, but it’s nowhere near the literary stratospheres. Great literary critics would never waste their talents discussing the merits of a book like The Making of the British Landscape. And why not? Because it’s not ‘literary’ in the accepted meaning of the word. It’s ‘factual’ or ‘non-fiction’. And if I may allow myself a brief rant (and digression, which I promise not to prolong), why is it considered OK to label a genre as massively huge in both volume and scope as ‘non-fiction’ by describing it in negative terms; by what it isn’t? It’s rather like calling serious novels ‘non-thrillers’ or even better, ‘non-non-fiction’. End of digression.
Real writers write fiction and/or poetry. I once wrote a short poem when I was about twelve, but then I read it again in the morning – and I realised I’m no John Keats. Make no mistake, I love poetry, but that doesn’t make me a poet. Now, however, things are about to change. I’ve written a work of fiction, The Lifers’ Club and when/if it’s published, I already have plans for another. So will I shortly become a fully-fledged writer, rather than a mere landscape and archaeology author? Will I be able to go to Hay and hold my head high in the Green Room? Will I? Please say Yes someone.
And the answer to that question is indeed Yes, but first I must acquire some writerly accessories, and the first of these has to be a shed. Now I’ve published a view of my shed on the Unbound website and frankly it’s a disorganised tip and barely worthy of being called a hut. A bloody awful mess. Truly authorial. Nothing even remotely writerly about it. The likes of Philip Pullman or Roald Dahl wouldn’t be seen dead in such a place (sorry! Not in very good taste, but what the Hell…). Frankly it was deeply embarrassing and I’m very surprised I had the temerity to put it on the website at all (but Twink insisted, the bitch).
Then yesterday I finished reorganising, or should that be plain, organising it. And it has been truly transformed. I think everyone’ll have to agree it now looks highly writerly. And just in time for Hay! WHOOPEE! I can imagine setting my laptop on that potting table and dashing off a few Alan Cadbury short stories for the Literary Review, or Granta, or both.
Now to have a writerly shed is one thing: I’ve also got to acquire some lovably eccentric traits for my future biographer, or, better, biographers to discuss at interminable length when I’m dead (maybe I’ll ask my cousin Charles Moore to do me ‘an official’ one, as he did such a good job for [or should that be ‘on’] Mrs. Thatcher). I’ve even asked Twink and she had nothing remotely sensible to suggest, but dropped a bone on my shoes – some sort of hint, I suppose. I then put the problem to Maisie who looked at me as if I was mad. ‘You could always say you loved zip-wires’, was all she could suggest, but I suspect she hadn’t really thought about it at all. Maybe I could claim I liked to sweeten my tea with WD-40 or RoundUp, but they don’t ring true, either. So if anyone has a bright suggestion to make, could they please either Tweet me (@PryorFrancis) or approach me in person or at the Unbound session at Hay-on-Wye? Now that I’m almost a writer, I’d dearly like to be remembered as ‘that lovable eccentric’. Or would I? Should I? God knows. Best ask Twink, as Maisie left the room about ten minutes ago.