A day in the life of a jobbing writer

Today I am welcoming Edoardo Albert on my blog. He is a copywriter, editor and writer and his latest books, the series known as The Northumbrian Thrones, are published by Lion Fiction. The second book in the series, Oswald, has recently been published and, to celebrate, I invited Edoardo to give us some insights into his life as a writer.

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‘Alarm: 5am. But this morning, I didn’t need it. Son number three, two-year-old Isaac, had arrived in our bedroom at 1.30am, had settled in until 4.30am and then, with the hyperactive midsummer sun blasting through the curtains, woken up, thirsty, hungry and disinclined to go back to sleep. We got up. I fed and watered Isaac, and attempted to persuade him of the benefits of sleep. By 6am, he had agreed.

‘Luckily, I had switched off the alarm before heading downstairs, so wife number one and only was not disturbed. Sons numbers one and two had not stirred. The house was quiet, the street was quiet, I had an hour of calm to get some work done. The cat then came in, requiring breakfast.

‘This pretty well sums up the life of a modern-day writer: struggling desperately to fit some writing time in between the demands of family and making some actual, putting-food-on-the-kids’-plates money. Add to that long hours and every third person you meet telling you, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to write a book,’ and I sometimes wonder why I do it. But then there are times, as happened in the writing of Oswald: Return of the King, that you fall through the page into the story – it is as if a secret fire has lit inside the characters and, for want of any better way to describe it, they come alive.

‘Now, this is particularly precious but, also, particularly perilous for me, since what I am doing with Oswald and the first volume in the trilogy, Edwin: High King of Britain, is writing imaginative history. In most historical fiction, the history is the backdrop in front of which invented characters play out an invented story – sort of science fiction of the past. That’s all well and good, and at its best makes for wonderfully entertaining reading, but too often it slides into wish fulfilment. What I am trying to do with The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy is to take real people and actual events and show why they happened in a manner that is artistically satisfying and historically plausible. So it is a great privilege when these characters, most of whom were once real, living people, come to life in my mind, but a temptation too, for they are imaginings. Yet, at one level, I suppose if asked I would say that yes, I really do think Oswald was as I portray him: Tolkien, as he wrote the stories of Middle-earth, began more and more to believe that he was discovering rather than inventing. I am no Tolkien, but on the other hand seventh-century Northumbria lies on a somewhat firmer foundation of fact than Middle-earth.

‘As far as bringing this world to life, a great advantage is the fact that I have already written a book about the history and archaeology of the time – Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, with archaeologist Paul Gething. Paul is director of the Bamburgh Research Project, which has been excavating in Bamburgh for over a decade now, and through writing and talking with him I gained the sort of insight that is simply impossible to find in books alone. For if I am trying to write imaginative history, Paul is doing imaginative and experimental archaeology, down to gathering bog ore from sites around Bamburgh, smelting and smithing it, to see if he can recreate the extraordinary weapon, the Bamburgh sword, that they rediscovered at the castle.

‘All this has gone into writing Oswald: Return of the King. I hope it doesn’t show (at least, not in a flashy, look-at-me sense, although I hope it appears in a sensed authenticity of detail).

‘As for my writing day, I squeezed in 45 minutes before catching the tube in to work. You think writing pays the bills? Think again.

‘There are some days I can devote entirely to writing, but these mainly result from not being able to find any better paying work for the day. Most often, I catch an early tube train in to work at Time Out or one of the other magazines where I play catch with my cash flow, settling in there for a day spent staring at a screen. This is good work for a writer: editing other people’s work, from the excellent to the barely competent, and marvelling how some writers, hardly able to craft a sentence, have managed to pursue careers in publishing.

‘The great joy of working in central London is the tube journey, for it offers uninterrupted reading time. As with all professions, increasing proficiency often entails doing less of what drew you to the subject in the first place. I became a writer, first and foremost, because I loved stories but, being a writer, I have less and less time to actually read any stories. Hence, all glory, laud and honour to TFL, and may their trains continue to take half an hour to get me in to central London: an hour’s reading a day is the vital word infusion that keeps the words fresh and renews the love of story.

‘So, there you have it, a writer’s day: words and screens, family and work, all in all not so different from other people. But I’ve done other jobs – deliveries, TV repairs, office work – and believe me, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about with words.’

Oswald cover

Edoardo’s first book in the series, Edwin: High King of Britain, is currently on sale in ebook form at a reduced price. It is also available in paperback.

To buy Edoardo’s new book, Oswald, please click here.

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