When I first started writing my notebooks were large affairs as if to announce to the world that, ‘I am a writer.’ You have to recall the heady days before social media where people had conversations about real time events rather than memes, racist tweets and body shaming. Though the latter lurked in fashion magazines and tabloids. Body shaming is an old and perverse story. However, there I am in the early nineties with a notebook in hand bigger than my head. I first passed it off as a sketchpad and after awhile I used it to announce my genius, as teenagers do, especially the obnoxious ones like me. Here I am. I am writer! Look at the size of my notebook! It was like middle aged car buying for the young me. I couldn’t drive, hence the notebook, black hair and brief love affair with the band, Bauhaus (‘Oh, they so get me,’ said no one who listened to them).
Big notebooks used in public somehow denote either a large wall to keep everyone out or a crumbling ego. I had both problems back then. I wanted to be a writer but knew nothing of writing bar reading. That was often reflected in my notebooks. I learnt to listen. Hell, I was thrown out of so many pubs for writing down overheard conversations. I sought out other writers, R. S. Thomas told me to get off his lawn, Jeff Noon gave me a car crash workshop in editing, Charlotte Keatley looked forlornly out of a window. I learnt that practice was hard and long, Thst many writers didn’t want to teach other writers. Wannabe writers, fine. Real writers, Jesus, no! After a decade or so I gravitated from the manuscript tomes to less conspicuous pocket sized notebooks. This was no longer a case of ‘Look at me. I am writer’ but more, ‘Yeah, I am a writer.’ Did the humility and shrinking notebook come with age? No. Did it come about because once the floodgates of social media opened everyone thought they could write? No. I suspect it came with convenience. It came because I look back at all those who were my contemporaries when I started and I can count the ones still standing on one hand. What of the others? Death, frustration, divorce, anger, alcoholism, drugs to name a few. Some just jacked it in. I remember one wonderful writer telling me on his thirtieth birthday that it was time to call it a day. He’s a call centre manager now, so fiction still plays out during his day but he refuses to talk to anyone from the ‘old days.’ Why the smaller notebook then? Why, if I am still standing, am I not crowing over the bodies of the fallen writers? I could yell, ‘Look at my enormous notebook and weep ye mortals!’ However, that would miss the point. I am not that young, unsure writer anymore hiding behind the pages of a notebook bigger than my head. Now, my notebook slides into my jacket pocket and if people ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I reply, ‘Just writing something down to remind myself later.’ I don’t have to announce I am a writer. I just have to write.