Skip to Content

'A compulsion, a pleasure, a necessity'

14 December 2009

'It is a peculiar conundrum to write in the knowledge that you are creating a product, but not concerned with production, and knowing the only way to do it is to put that knowledge completely aside. I think for most writers it's a form of mental acrobatics verging on contortion: to hope to reach others by creating something uniquely personal. Or perhaps I'm making a generalisation based only on my own, rather roundabout journey.

From childhood, writing has always been a compulsion, a pleasure, a necessity, and not concerned with compromise or approval. But when I was 21 I wrote my first screenplay and an agency took me on. I moved back to London from Paris, where I had been teaching English as a foreign language with some fabricated qualifications, rented a flat and waited for my career to happen. No one feels older than the very young, and it seemed to me that I had travelled a long time to reach that point. I remember a sense of joy and rightness. There was nothing else for me to be doing. I was meant for this. So armed, or unarmed, with my naivety I faced the market place, and everything changed...

For me, in the end, unemployment was my apprenticeship and I had my first novel published when I was 40. I am concerned about those very young people being trained up in creative writing courses and universities around the country; being taught how to present, how to sell as if they were heading for careers in advertising, being snapped up by agents and scraping it all in the first - only? - book. Success may be recognition, it may be admiration, or money, but it is an impossibility without the purity and the clarity of the thing itself. Fifteen years ago I would sit down to write and think: "What will people like?"and now I begin every day with the virtual mantra: "Do what you need to do; nobody need ever see it."

Sadie Jones, author of The Outcastin the Sunday Telegraph