A decade of deadlines

Please forgive the self-indulgence: I’m celebrating an anniversary. It’s ten years to the day since my first piece of published writing hit print. The article was about journalling, the precursor to blogging, and in it I claimed that the Hitler Diaries had been written by a small dog.

I was working in Clydebank at the time, training long-term unemployed adults in basic IT – a fairly pointless exercise, because the sort of firms that employed people to use computers tended to employ young women, not ex-welders. And the ex-welders couldn’t afford to work for the sort of cash being offered by those employers anyway.

I hated it. Not because of the people, or the job, or the commute; it’s just that it wasn’t the right job for me. That wasn’t a new thing, though. Every job I’d had since leaving school at 16 wasn’t the right job for me. I wasn’t cut out to be a dishwasher, or a shelf stacker, or a production planner, or a transport manager (which sounds pretty impressive, but we only had three trucks), or a recruitment consultant, or a database administrator, or an IT trainer. I wanted to be a writer, but I figured that you needed to do a journalism degree to do that – and even if I could have afforded it, I really didn’t want to go to university or college.

So I stayed in my rut. I’d drive to Clydebank and I’d mope my way through the working day, buggering about on the internet when I got the chance and reading .net in my lunch break. Then I’d go home, eat, go to the pub, get plastered, come back and fight with people online. I figured I’d keep doing that until my liver exploded.

And then I had an idea. I’d been reading .net, and my mind wandered, and I thought about things, and I came up with The Greatest Idea For A Magazine Feature Ever. Giddy with excitement, I emailed it to the editor of .net, Richard Longhurst. And amazingly, he replied.

That, he said, is the worst idea for a magazine feature ever.

He wasn’t being nasty; he also said that my email had made him laugh. Did I have any other ideas?

Darn tooting I did. I sat up until 4am, racking my brains until I’d come up with the Ten Greatest Ideas For Magazine Features Ever. I sent them to Richard the following morning. His reply was almost instant.

When I said you’d sent me the worst idea for a magazine feature ever, I was wrong, he said. I’ve just read ten ideas that are even worse.

Richard was clearly amused by this, though, so he gave me a chance. Can you do 3,000 words about online journals for Friday?

I had no idea what online journals were, and I had no idea how you were supposed to write for print. So of course I said yes.

And that’s how I ended up doing what I do.

It’s been an interesting ten years. I’ve met rock bands and opera singers, people off the telly, comedians, authors, activists and people whose creativity is so mind-bogglingly brilliant I suspect they’re from another, better planet. And only some of them have gone away thinking “God, what an arse that guy was.”

This is what I really get a kick out of, though: I used to read .net and get really excited about the ideas in the articles; hopefully some of my articles have had the same effect on others. I used to either laugh or get really angry at magazine columns; now, I’m writing columns that make people laugh or get them really angry. I used to listen to Fred MacAulay’s programme on the way to work, thinking that it must be wonderful to basically talk bollocks for a living; now, I talk bollocks on the Fred MacAulay show every week. I used to rely on Haynes manuals to find out how to fix things; now, I’ve written a whole bunch of them. And I’m particularly amused that almost ten years ago, a colleague who didn’t particularly like me sneered at my debut article in .net and said “Well, it’s not as if you’re writing for PC Plus, is it? Now that’s a proper magazine.” Working for Plus is all the sweeter because of that.

I ramble about the downside of writing all the time, so I won’t bother here other than to say never work with children, animals or Kate Thornton. What I would like to say is that I know I’m bloody lucky to do what I do, and I’m even luckier to have worked for – and to be working with – so many great people.

And on that note, I’m going to go and get drunk. Cheers!

14 thoughts on “A decade of deadlines

  1. Ronnie says:

    Congrats on the anniversary. Didn’t realise you’d had no formal training. It doesn’t show, perhaps you shouldn’t give away your secrets. :)

  2. Squander Two says:

    Some say that having no formal training is an advantage. Mark Steyn often says that the reason British journalism is much better than American journalism is that British journalists tend not to have journalism degrees.

    Anyway, congratulations from me, too.

    You must have been just starting about the time we met.

  3. tm says:

    Well congratulations. You certainly seem to be a generally cheerier chap since you made the big leap, and personally I did and still do find what you did very inspiring (not that I actually want to be a writer, just in a general taking control of your life and getting a job you actually *wanted* kind of way).

    Of course I have generally been rubbish at actually putting that inspiration to use, but years later the one time I did, it was quite literally the best move I have ever made in my life. So thanks as well.

    You may write for a living, but occasionally it’s your actions that rub off on the rest of us.

    Gee, I’m welling up – I need to go… ;-)

  4. Gary says:

    7.45pm is awfully early to be drunk, tm ;-)

    > You certainly seem to be a generally cheerier chap since you made the big leap

    Regular readers of this blog are going “What? He was even grumpier before?”

    You’re right, though. It’s not so much the job, although I do love what I do. It’s not feeling trapped, not feeling that every day is going to be the same old shit until you’re hit by a bus or space aliens invade.

    > the one time I did, it was quite literally the best move I have ever made in my life.

    That’s brilliant.

  5. mupwangle says:

    >>7.45pm is awfully early to be drunk, tm ;-)

    Not if you really try. ;-)

    >>t’s not feeling trapped, not feeling that every day is going to be the same old shit until you’re hit by a bus or space aliens invade.

    You can use alcohol to make that go away. See top of this comment.

    (There is possibly something poignant about ikea being the spam word….)

  6. Lis says:

    Well if I didn’t feel old enough already, this has done me in. Ten years?! I remember you worked really hard for that first article and look at what a lot of work and rewrites after rewrites got you. Hopefully when things get a bit shit with the business side of things, you can think back on where you were ten years and a day ago and see how much better it is now. Wish I could do the same :-P

  7. Lis says:

    btw, I take exception to the getting drunk and fighting with people online thing. that was SO much fun! ;-) Btw, you forgot to credit me for being your first copy editor. I deserve the recognition. After all I read it so much I have it memorized verbatim to this day. And after all that work and reading, you’d get drunk and pick a fight online. Very distressing and I think I’m owed royalties for pain and suffering.

    Sorry, this is the sort of parasitic leeching one must bear when they are a literary celebrity :-)

    Ach, forget it. Congratulations – well deserved and there’s few things one can be more grateful for than doing something you love. You know, like how I love getting surgeries et al. :-)

  8. Stephen says:

    Congrats buddy! That’s pretty cool, really. Next time I’m in Glasgow (one of the ten top cities per Lonely Planet!) I’ll buy you a beer!

    (Can’t believe it’s been several years since my first trip…)

  9. Norman Lamont says:

    Congrats Gary. I remember realising the guy that wrote the funny articles in .net was the same GM who wrote funny emails about his band and interesting stuff about online music when it was still new. Always a pleasure to read your blog and I didn’t realise you were on Fred McAuley – what a dizzying height of stardom! Now I can say ‘I used to know him (kind of)’

  10. paul says:

    I’m well late to this – haven’t read any blogs for about a month due to being so busy, but congrats :)

    When I was at university I used to read .net and thought “it would be amazing to work on that mag one day,” and the rest, as you know, is history :)

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