Ah, A Writer’s Life
by Rebecca Yount
Poor Jane Austen. She has become a multi-million dollar industry. Yet Jane herself reaped little financial reward from her books before her early death at age 42 in 18l7. Her sister and heir, Cassandra, received a royalty check for eighty-four pounds shortly after Jane died, the approximate equivalent of $138 in today’s U.S. currency. In the year 1817, eighty-four pounds was a decent sum but hardly a king’s ransom. Much of that royalty payment was used to cover Jane’s debts for writing materials purchased on credit.
Ah, the writer’s life! Isn’t it grand.
Following open heart surgery in 2010, I hunkered down and got serious about fiction writing, expanding the number of books in my Mick Chandra crime series with the goal of getting them all published, come hell or high water. And, yes, I now live a writer’s life. However, as of this moment, the only thing Jane Austen and I have in common is that I, too, have reaped the equivalent of about $138.
I wish I could tell you that I write about my stirring adventures — running with the bulls, driving an ambulance under gunfire on some faraway battlefield, or living in Paris sipping absinthe with Gertrude Stein. But I’ve realized that I needn’t have experienced Hemingway’s derring-do life to find topics to write about. In fact, the important lesson I’ve learned after doing this for thirteen years is that a good writer should be able to enter a stark, empty room and discover something fascinating.
Since 1991, my husband and I have been travelling to England for free home exchanges, staying for lengths of 3-5 weeks total. My fiction takes place in the UK. I am familiar with the country, its culture, its people, and its eccentricities, all of which I find endearing.
Take the Owl Festival, for example. One year we had an exchange in a lovely small town on the English Channel. It was our next door neighbor who alerted us to the upcoming annual Owl Festival. We attended, feeding and petting owls, having a giddy time. Okay, perhaps you had to be there, but it really was great fun.
While we were fussing over birds of prey, we heard what sounded like ho-down country music on the High Street. So we followed the sound until we discovered a group of locals dressed in American country-western gear. They were line dancing. Watching Brits attempting to master the Texas slide is something to behold.
“That’s about the most sober, earnest group of people I’ve ever seen,” my husband said.
My point is this: we are surrounded by magic, and the art truly is in the details. All one has to do is observe. One needn’t live James Bond’s life to have something to write about.
A great weekend in England doesn’t have to be about hauling the family to Euro Disney. A great weekend can be spent at a village fair, revelling in homemade fairy cakes (cupcakes to us Yanks); chatting up the locals; and watching a group of OAPs (Old Age Pensioners) lawn bowling. Life’s simple pleasures.
Little wonder I found my prose voice in Britain.
This past fall we stayed in a stunning village in the Thames Valley not far from London. We were full of plans, none of which materialized. What did we end up doing? We went shamelessly native. Mornings were spent sipping coffee, reading the Times, nibbling crumpets, and planning what we were going to buy at the market.
Later we made the short walk to the village market, then purchased newspapers and wine at the co-op, stopped by the little red-brick village library (which was originally the Temperance Hall), then returned to our 17th century restored cottage for a lunch of Scotch broth.
After lunch we sauntered on the Thames Walk, admiring the dogs of fellow walkers and waving at the boat-people who live on the river. A spot of additional shopping, and back to the cottage for a nap. After nap time, I called for delicious take-out tandoori which my husband picked up. Cocktails accompanied by the BBC news, then dinner, and bed. Hardly exciting?
Au contraire. We revelled in every minute of it. Talk about a writer’s life? It doesn’t get any better than that little village in the Thames Valley.
And, by the way, book #8 in my Mick Chandra series just happens to be set in a magical village not far from London.
Isn’t it grand.