A day in the life of a writer: Richard Ayres

Today I’m posting the first of a series of guest blogs by fellow writers, inspired by the Guardian’s “My Working Day”.

 Richard Ayers

‘Writing a novel is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a bout of some painful illness. One would never willingly undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’ (George Orwell, ‘Our Opportunity’ 1941)

I have been suffering from such bouts of painful illness for over ten years. Each time a novel is complete (but is a novel ever completed to one’s satisfaction?) I put it to bed with a sigh of relief, resolving never again to expose myself to such self-inflicted torture. But after a few weeks, the demon starts to drive me again. Ideas start to come, prompted by things I’ve read, conversations I’ve overheard, sights, sounds and smells encountered in everyday living. I know I have to commit them to paper.

The ghastly process begins again. On my early morning walk I resolve to go straight to my study as soon as I get home, to type ‘Chapter 1’ (I can’t use pen and paper, the resulting scrawl is illegible even to me), and start composing. I have no plan, just a few notes: I hope that the story and the characters will evolve as I write.

But once home, I need a coffee first, of course. Then there are emails to read, most of which need a reply. And it’s a beautiful day outside, isn’t it? Shame to waste it: I’ll do a spot of gardening. Two hours later, the need for more caffeine, and maybe a cigarette? Back to the PC: the first sentence is typed, then the first paragraph is complete. I start to get into the flow; more paragraphs follow. But then, doubts. Would this opening grab a reader? Maybe that sentence is a bit clumsy? And isn’t that a cliché? No, don’t edit yet, press on. But inspiration has deserted me. Well, it’s nearly time for lunch.

The afternoon follows the same pattern. By three o’clock I’ve had enough. Leave it until the evening; writing seems easier then. And indeed, I manage another few paragraphs. It would have been more, but I had to check something on Google. And once you get on to Google…

The next day, when I finally get to the computer, what I wrote yesterday confronts me. It needs editing, drastically. I enjoy editing, a more mechanical process that trying to be creative. But will the story ever progress? I am haunted by something else that Orwell wrote. He said that the creative life-span of a writer is about 15 years and that ‘many writers, if not all, ought simply to stop writing when they reach middle age’ (‘As I Please’, 1946). Not very comforting for someone in his mid 70s.

My Published Novels.

A Pennine Incident: Contemporary social realism, set on Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Pennines. The Further Education of Mike Carter: Contemporary social realism, set in a Further Education college in the south midlands. Letters and Secrets: Contemporary social realism set in Shropshire, Warwickshire and Milton Keynes, with flashbacks to the 1960s and 70s. Tired of London: More social realism, set in London in the present day and in Leeds in the 1960s.

Soon to be published

Friends Disunited: Set in north Staffordshire and south Buckinghamshire in 2002, the story of disfigured, isolated man and his attempts to make contact with his old school-friends through Britain’s first social media website, Friends Reunited.