Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Crime doesn’t pay, writing does sometimes ...

I’ve had a few articles published in the last few months in publications that don’t pay.  One was an opinion piece for a mental health magazine; another was a feature for Acksherley! (the magazine of the Malcolm Saville Society.). My fellow writers in the group known as the SevernValley Authors congratulated me on my Acksherley! article (Treasure and Miracles in Deep England) and commented that it must have involved quite a bit of research. It did, but it was a real pleasure to research and write because it was such a fun and interesting subject, (unlike some of the stuff I have to write and research.) One group member remarked that it’s appalling that writers are often expected to produce work for nothing but, as someone who doesn't make a living by writing,I try to be philosophical about this. My view is: if you can write something you're pleased with and proud of, that's great; if you can get it published that's better; if the publisher will pay you for it, that's better still and, if people like it, that's the best.

My brother Phil, a professional journalist (he’s editor of The Telford Journal – a local paper in Shropshire) read Treasure and Miracles in Deep England and phoned me up just before Christmas to ask if he could re-use it in some of the Shropshire newspapers (for no payment, of course). Not getting paid more than once for the same article is certainly no way to make a living but I said I'd be happy for him to re-use it. I suggested, however, that, for a non-specialist readership who may never have heard of Malcolm Saville, it might not be the most relevant introduction. I offered to write a more general article about the author, emphasizing his connection with Shropshire. I sent the new piece — How Shropshire Inspired the Lone Pine Adventures — to Phil and, I'm pleased to say, it was published in The Shrewsbury Chronicle (on 20th December) and subsequently in the South Shropshire Journal (on 28 December.) Shrewsbury is, I should explain, the birthplace of both my brother and I.   

Some might call it nepotism (or whatever the brotherly equivalent of this is) but I was quite chuffed because the article was 'commissioned' on the back of a previous article and, after all, published in a paper that my brother doesn't edit. And, if I remember correctly, it's not the first time I've been published in The Shrewsbury Chronicle ... Back in 1977, when brother Phil was a twenty-year old cub reporter, I volunteered to write a film preview for the paper he was working on (— he was a bit stressed and I thought I could help him out).  The review was of a Richard Harris film called Orca: Killer Whale. I never actually saw the film but wrote my piece based purely on the press release. I remember typing it up on a portable typewriter in our mum and dad's living room on a school night while Phil went and had a nice relaxing bath (in the kitchen, of course, as the house had no bathroom!) My ode to Orca appeared in the local paper the following week but I think Phil got the credit for it. At least, I consoled myself, with my most recent triumph in the provincial press, this time round I got a byline, albeit - as usual - no payment!

But I was to be proved wrong. A few days into the New Year, I received a letter in the post. Opening it up, I found not a cheque but something much more valuable. It was a letter from a lady called Rosemary Dowler who wrote to say: ‘I wanted to thank you for the splendid article about Dad in the Shrewsbury Chronicle.’  Rosemary Dowler, daughter of the man himself, had taken the time and trouble to write to me to thank me for my article and, what’s more, had thought it ‘splendid’. I was deeply touched. Who says writing doesn’t pay?

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).