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!