Head for the Cities

If I were asked to give one piece of advice to young, aspiring writers, I know what it would be.
Go and live in a city. Or don't leave one.
It doesn't have to be London. Though if you want to be a novelist, it might be a good idea. But if you want to be a playwright it had better be somewhere with a thriving theatrical life.
Some years ago, I was at a stage in my career where, as well as masses of radio drama, I'd had a novel published, I'd done a bit of telly, I had a London agent, I was giving public readings, and becoming reasonably well known as a Scottish writer. Then, for a complicated combination of perfectly good reasons, I took the decision to move to the countryside. Personally, this was exactly the right move at the time. It was certainly the right move in terms of my emotional life and for my family. So I can't say I have ever regretted it. I love where I live, and I've never really been in the business of might- have-beens.
But as far as my career goes, it was quite possibly the worst move I could have made, especially since, at the time, I had aspirations as a playwright.
If I had stayed in Edinburgh or Glasgow, my profile would have been that much higher. When I look at my track record, it's pretty good, but there has never been a time when I felt - or was treated - as though I was building on the solid foundations of a well established career. It's like having to apply for the same job, over and over and over again.
We're assuming a certain amount of writing talent here, but to make it as a playwright, it isn't enough to write a few reasonably well reviewed plays.You also have to be seen in theatrical circles. You have to hang about in the Traverse Bar or the Tron and meet people. You have to go to opening nights, and network like mad. All of which I quite enjoy. But when you live a long way out of town, that becomes a problem in itself. Sure, it can be done, but it costs money which you don't have. And it takes time. And that's just Scotland. Move out of your comfort zone to England or the US and you'll probably have to start all over again.
Even with novels - and again assuming a basic level of talent and a handful of original ideas - the launch parties matter, the networking, who you know and who knows you, where you are seen, how comfortable you are within an urban context and - increasingly - whether you can write grittily about that urban context.
It is, I suspect, too late now - though if I had a premium bond win, my first purchase would be a small flat in Glasgow for part time use - but I reckon it's good advice all the same. There are anomalies of course: writers who work with such a strong sense of a particular rural place that they are completely enmeshed and associated with it. You would think that the Web would have changed things, and maybe it has. But we're still only at the start of that interesting process and for now, my best advice for aspiring writers everywhere, but playwrights in particular, would be to head for the bright lights, put on your best smile, and get yourself known


lavenderlass said…
It's just the same for journalists Catherine, I've been writing for the women's magazines but I live in rural Gloucestershire and love it, but it's so hard to network.
There are plenty of compensations for the family though.