So, today I’ve been asked to share with you all what it’s like to be an expat writer. I looked around for a real writer to ask, but they’re notoriously hard to spot in the middle of the day, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Currently, I’m working on a sequel to my first book, That Bear Ate My Pants! — a second light-hearted travelogue that covers my volunteering adventures in Thailand (amongst other things).
It is, as you can well imagine, an extremely glamorous life, full of high-octane car chases, explosions and pithy one-liners… At least, inside my head it is.
I wake up at 6:40 a.m. I’ve no choice, because that’s what time my wife wakes up. Much as I would love to moan at her about it, she’s doing it for me — in fact, she gets up, gets breakfast and goes out to work, all in the name of supporting me while I lounge around at home, pretending to be a writer.
So, yeah, I figure it’s best not to grumble.
Even though it’s bloody freezing at 7 a.m.!
It continues to surprise me that it can be this cold in Australia. Who knew? (But I’ve already written a post about that.)
At random intervals throughout the day I receive instructions from the wife via text message.
“It’s sunny out! Go for a walk.”
“It’s raining — bring the washing in!”
“Don’t forget to clean the bathroom today!”
It’s because she loves me, but also because she’s lived with me long enough to know that I’m an idiot. Without these helpful prompts she’d get home to find I’d tweeted my heart out, e-mailed everyone I know in this hemisphere and written thousands of words of my new manuscript — but that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.
Then, when she takes me to the gym, I end up fainting halfway through the class.
Oz is for artists
Australia is an amazing place for such a wide variety of reasons that I could fill this entire blog post waffling about them; but there’s one stand-out fact that makes a real difference at this point.
The wages here are good. Very good. So good, in fact, that my wife, working part time as a cleaner, can comfortably support us both!
Now, we’ve been backpackers long enough to know how to live frugally. We rent the room on the top floor of a share-house, for example, rather than splashing out on our own flat. (Hey, it’s a nice share-house, not a rat-infested dump like most of them!)
Other than that, I’d say we do okay. We eat out plenty, go to parties and the cinema, and have a gym membership so ridiculously expensive I sweat more thinking about it than I do using it — but we manage it all quite comfortably, on one part-time wage. (Ever since sales of my book took off in February, I’ve been earning just about a minimum wage from it; before then, it was pocket change!)
I’ve never found another country where this is possible.
Back to my productive morning
After wading through a mountain of emails, tweets and Facebook messages — some of which aren’t even spam — I finally get to start on the real work. And then…
10:00 a.m.: Check my sales.
10:02 a.m.: Shout “WOOHOO!” unnecessarily loudly, pissing off my student friend in the next room, who doesn’t have to be up ’till 12:00.
10:05 a.m.: Celebrate with a coffee.
10:10 a.m : Back to work, until…
10:30 a.m.: Check sales again — just to be sure I wasn’t imagining things.
10:32 a.m.: Wake up student again with another cry of “Woohoo!”
10:35a.m.: Celebrate with another coffee…
There is a compulsion amongst self-published authors to constantly check our sales and our Amazon rankings. This is because, unlike “properly” published authors, we have access to this information in real time. Watching sales tick up one by one — or watching them stubbornly refuse to do so — is a highly addictive (and utterly pointless) pastime.
I DO NOT suffer from this.
I check less than five times a day — except on the days when I check more often. Which is quite often.
But I don’t suffer from the compulsion. At all.
I also don’t do denial.
The sounds of silence
So, we’ve reached lunch. Or rather, we should have. By this time I’m usually quite deep into the world I’m writing in — which for me is my own torrid past. Having to nail it down so completely, with colors and gestures and remembering what people said, sends me into such a vivid re-living of the event I’m describing that I lose all track of time.
If I don’t get that text from my wife telling me to eat, I don’t eat lunch.
Which is one reason why I’m so skinny, despite sitting in front of my desk all day.
When I do get the text, it scares the hell out of me.
I’m usually sitting in silence. I can’t work with music on, or else I end up listening to the lyrics and, inevitably, singing along with gusto. As the student in the next room can attest, I’m one of the worst singers in the entire country. Maybe even the world.
So all is calm and quiet. Only the rhythmic clacking of keys disturbs the air as I try to produce 2,000 words (my daily minimum) — 2,000 good words (5-6 pages), not random churned-out waffle. Then my phone screeches at me and I jump three feet off my chair, in a move that amazes anyone lucky enough to see it happen.
“How the hell do you jump that high while you’re sitting down?” they ask.
“You must have some potent muscles in your arse!”
“Why thank-you,” I tell them. “It’s all the practice I get, talking out of it.”
A man works from sun to sun…
My wife gets home and takes me out to the gym. I rely on her because I can’t drive. Actually, I tell a lie: I can now. I took a test last December (my first, at age 33) and passed with flying colors. But I haven’t driven since, so I tend to rely on her — not just for money but as a taxi service, too.
Anyway, we only have one car. Or more accurately, about two-thirds of a car; it’s gotten considerably shorter since she crashed it into the back of the taxi a few months ago. But it still works, so what’s the problem?
Although I do have to put my hand under the bonnet to start it.
After the gym — assuming we’re not going straight out for dinner with friends, to pile all the calories we’ve just burnt back on at Nando’s (for those who don’t know, it’s a fried chicken chain) — we wend our weary way home.
She cooks, and I clean up afterwards because a) she’s been cleaning all day, and b) I can’t cook for toffee. Seriously — beans on toast is the pinnacle of my culinary ability. And I usually burn at least one component of it.
While she cooks, I finish off whatever piece of writing was rudely interrupted by the end of her working day.
But social media is never done!
After dinner I tweet, do Facebook, and send e-mail — but from the comfort of our bed, where we sit with our legs propped up watching a movie.
And we’re often also eating ice cream, because if you’re going to go to the gym four times a week, you might as well make it worthwhile. :0)
And then it’s 10:00 p.m.: well-earned sleep time for the wife. After all, she’s got to be up at 6:40 the next morning.
So I tuck her in and sneak downstairs, where I carry on twittering, writing the odd guest post, sending out review copies of my book to bloggers, replying to e-mails from readers, making posts on forums and indulging in my two main vices: drinking a glass of wine and allowing myself to write a bit of my first novel, a work of science fiction, which I hope one day to publish. Right now it’s just a guilty pleasure for when I’ve finished my “real” writing. Ah, good times!
At around 2:00 a.m. I generally remember that I’ll be getting up at 6:00 as well, as it’s impossible to get back to sleep after seeing the wife off to work; it’s also usually around this time that someone living in a far more sensible time-zone strikes up an interesting conversation on Twitter…
But I try to be in bed by 4:00.
I don’t always make it.
Y’see? I told you! Pure, unadulterated glamour…
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Images (clockwise, left to right): TJS’s desk, TJS in embarrassing gym costume, the Slater-mobile, and TJS’s long-suffering wife, Krista, in her wild pants and equally wild hair (all from Tony James Slater’s personal collection).