Ask any writer what their most difficult piece of writing is and the answer is always the same: this page.
Writing about yourself is just about impossible. It’s the piece that proves the old adage: Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead starts to bleed.
But it has to be done, so here goes…
I spent most of my working life in the financial services industry: nice suits, plenty of clients and 14 stripy ties. But I always had a small voice inside me: “Let me out,” it said. “I’m a writer.”
Occasionally I did let the small voice out. I had a mid-life crisis and did some stand-up comedy in my spare time and, in the Spring of 2003, I started writing a humorous weekly newspaper column about family life. But by and large I kept the small voice firmly under control – and I’d occasionally buy a new stripy tie to re-focus myself.
Then – in October 2009 – my elder brother, Mike, died of cancer. His wife asked me to deliver the eulogy. Mike had been an army officer. The crematorium – just outside Winchester – was packed with other army officers: stiff, formal, serious.
My speech was light-hearted and whimsical. Full of stories about how Mike taught me to play cricket and then – as I got older – taught me to drink beer and chase girls. After which, cricket didn’t seem quite so exciting…
As I stood up to speak I thought I’d badly misjudged my audience. I very nearly lost my nerve. But they were laughing within 20 seconds. And as I left the crematorium an old man – still ramrod-straight – came up to me. “I was your brother’s first commanding officer,” he said. “Reached the age now where I go to a damn funeral every week. Best eulogy I’ve heard. Good man.”
Those four words – ‘best eulogy I’ve heard’ – were the four words that turned me into a writer. As I drove away from the crematorium I realised I either let the small voice out and pursued my dream, or I forgot about it for good. So I sold my business, sent my stripy ties to the charity shop, and started writing.
My time now splits roughly 50/50 between work for clients – copywriting, speech writing and ghost writing – and my own writing.
I live in Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast, and I’ve an office in a Grade II listed building, the former home of the Sitwell family: in a nice coincidence for a writer, my office used to be Edith Sitwell’s bedroom.