A writing johnny in office-land

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
I don't know where to go now, and I'm not sure what I shall do. For 18 months I've been able to parachute, quick as a microchip, into the Australian outback, simply by switching on my computer and writing about it. Perfectly legitimate. Travel book, what? Quite so. It could have been finished a year ago. It could have been out by now. I could have had my delivery money, and paid off the school fees, the tailor and the rent.

"The thing is," said a man at dinner the other day, "you don't want to finish it because then they'll publish it and you're terrified in case that woman who wrote that your last book was bollocks says this one's bollocks, too."

But he was wrong. A hard-news man, with all the sensitivity of a wing- nut. So I went off in a grand huff and finished it, at which point I realised that it had been a safe haven all this time: God's Own Country, snug behind my computer screen: red dust, cold beer, the insane pan-pipe magpies, my old aeroplane waiting quietly up on the dirt airstrip a mile out of town. Any time I wanted. And now it's all over. What are the chances of someone saying, "You know that wonderful time you had, flying the old aeroplane around Australia? Well ... we'd like you to do it again"? No chance at all. Unless it's a marketing man. That's what marketing men do. They take credit after the event, and say, "Great! Wonderful! Do it again, just the same but different." I used to go out with a woman like that. Oddly enough, she married a marketing man. I expect they are still standing by the bed, waiting for one of them to make the first move. "Say, honey, why don't we play Consumer Testing?" "No." "Why not?" "Too innovative. It'll never work. Tell you what: let's get married again; we know that one works."

The sad thing is that you write the last word, close the file and an entire continent dwindles away like the little white dot on the TV screen (except you don't get the dot any more; why not? And why has nobody complained?). You're left with memories. More sodding memories. Do you know what frightens me? That one day, soon, I will have reached the point where I have more memories than I have experiences to come. Then it's out with the teeth, on with the comfy shoes, and arse-down in the armchair for a spot of chumbling practice. I won't go out any more; won't read, or talk, or think; just slowly submerge myself in the flotation-tank of recollection, chewing the memorious cud. Perhaps that's the secret. Perhaps we all have a memory- cistern, and when it's full, we drown in our past and die.

And if that is true, then I have been foolish and reckless. The answer is obviously to do bugger-all and live for ever, but have I done bugger- all? No. In this valetudinarian state, one is prey to strange impulses, so when a producer chappie rang up and said, "Look, why not come and help us write this incredible multi-million-dollar ground-breaking media project for actual money?" I didn't say, "Bugger off, what, I am fully occupied in fading away." I said: "Top hole," and went to the office.

Do you hear what I am saying? I went to the office. This may strike you as pretty damn pedestrian, bricks without straw, but we writing johnnies don't go to the office. We work at home, surrounded by the comfortable disorders of the creative life. Coffee-cup ziggurats. Unanswered hate mail and cries for help. Bailiffs' letters and threats to sue. Expensive indulgences of no possible use. Ornaments. Curios. Souvenirs. Saddening flotsam and all the detritus of a disorderly life. Wherever the eye rests, it meets an unspoken reproach. All those notebooks, with all those notes so assiduously put in, but which will never, ever be got out again. Costly indulgences in the stationery line: rag bond paper, big fat pens, paper- fastening systems, personal organisers, nibs, highlighters, ledgers. Palmtop computers which were going to replace all that stuff. Other palmtop computers replacing the original palmtop computers. An Apple Newton MessagePad, replacing everything, a technological masterpiece which will do almost everything an ordinary notebook will do, at only marginally more effort and 500 times the price. And all those A4 ring-binders, with their tiny mummified book-corpses, dead in infancy.

There is none of that, in the office. The office is clean and light; airconditioned, with sweeping curved glass walls, and telephones that ring with that officey insouciance they seem to have, and you don't have to be scared when they ring because there's someone to answer them and say that you're dead.

It's odd, there being other people. We writing johnnies aren't used to that, at work, unless it's hostile callers fuming at the door. But these people seem pleased to see me! "Hello!" they say. "How're they hanging?" They poke their head round the door and say, "The project's really cooking now!" There is a fridge! With Coke in! We work through lunch! Everyone is very happy! Including me! My office is clean and bare except for a table, a chair, my writing tools and the job at hand, and when they suggest a beer after work I can tell that it is now After Work and I can have a beer without thinking, "Sod it, better get back to work."

I didn't know it was going to be like that at first. When they said, "We've got these really nice offices in Camden Town; why not come and work there?" I reared back like a ferret. Office? Office? Doug from Accounts? Stationery forms? People wandering up saying, "What brings me to this neck of the woods is the small matter of your P66A/5" and "We normally do the coffee-machine on a kitty basis" and "Oh well, pardon me for living thank you very much," but I was wrong. Terribly wrong. It may not be the outback but it, too, is a safe haven in its way. From a real haven, you can look out upon the wild black running sea beyond the harbour walls. And from my office? Same thing, or nearly so: the DSS queue, shuffling beyond the armoured glass. !