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Gilly Smith

On really being a writer

I’ve let you down. I promised you the highs and lows of being a writer and I’ve hidden away all summer, nursing my creative bruises, shielding myself from that passive aggression known perhaps only to the freelance writer.

The non-response email, the reply to my pitches so heavily not in my inbox with its heartless menace, its threat to my entire way of life – and its mean disrespect for my defenceless muse – has ruined my summer. It has left me sweating through the August nights, tossing and turning between brilliant new ways of making money while staying at home (funny how I can’t remember them in the cold light of day) and pondering my place in the family as the horror of an office job threatens my children’s emotional stability. Do they need me? I never see them between the daylight hours of the holidays anyway as Sassy or Stephie or Sophie dump on my plans of strawberry picking with the far more alluring offer of sliding down the stairs in the new sleeping bags (again). The thing is that they might miss me. And for that, I have continued to email my thoughts to the cruel, quietly mocking computers in Medialand. And to receive a deafening silence.

“We’ve just run a piece on the inherited psycho-trauma of genetically fat legs, thanks”; “What a shame that your offer of a piece on the future of play for our parenting special came just as we sent our own hack off to that convention on toys of the future. Thanks for the tip off, by the way”; “We loved your idea for a green column in our inflight magazine but could you make sure that you don’t mention carbon emissions please?” Any of these would be better than the weight of nothing. Instead, I’m offered the usual viagra, Rolexes and Gucci handbags but also the free trips for two to Paris on Eurostar and even a John Deere tractor, all of which which makes me even more paranoid considering the secret shopping list inside my head. Maybe it’s those young pups in Medialand who are spending their lazy August days spewing out the best spam they can think of for a 44 year old mother of two trying to write for a living in a rural Sussex summer.

I look through the few auto-responses – that are as chilling as a Chardonnay on a warm summer night – as I pull myself into a cooler, more focussed shape for September. “I am basking by the pool of my Italian villa until September 4th. In the meantime do call my 20 something assistant who won’t remember your name and won’t pass your message on anyway”; “I am so highly paid as a section editor of a national newspaper that I have taken the entire summer off. Why don’t you freelancers take on French students until I get back?” “It’s the summer, for God’s sake; what the hell are you doing at work, you saddo?” I write a quick pitch linking Jeremy Paxman’s attack on the working life of the BBC and Anna Ford’s fabulous dissing of the TV industry’s lack of basic manners with the role of email etiquette in freelance work culture. I get the auto-responses, but hey, it’s only 9.16am.


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