TWO YEARS AGO, I was ejected from the newspaper where I had worked for 27 years. A day or so afterwards, I started this blog and have now written around 380,000 words.
The idea in part was to record what it felt like to be made redundant and left without a job for the first time. I was standing on a ledge with my arms out, trying not to look down. It felt puzzling and bruising; bewildering and raw; in short, it felt like shit, but at least there was a modest cushion of redundancy money. But that cushion lost its padding eventually.
I doubt whether a single person alive has read all of those words, although my wife has dutifully skated her eye over most of them. She’s lived those words, too; heard me prattling on, a two-for-one offer denied ordinary readers of Man On Ledge.
Facebook yesterday sent me a reminder of what I posted on redundancy day. I shan’t share this again because those words from two years past seem, in retrospect, overily buoyant.
Sadness was expressed and new challenges mentioned. But I would ‘write my way out of this situation’. A hitman was going to help me, a novel featuring that hitman that has been written and rewritten and seen me part company with my agent along the way. And re-written once more. I sent the latest version to a publisher the other day, so we shall see.
Another new novel is being given a makeover as we speak. It’s a Victorian murder mystery with steampunk elements and the writing is great fun, which is something.
Two novels, a slagheap of blog words and not a penny from any of them. Sadly, you cannot live by words alone unless your name is Ian Rankin or JK Rowling.
The money I have earned from words lies in freelance feature writing, mostly for the Yorkshire Post, and a spot of copywriting.
Turns out the plan outlined in that Facebook post two years ago was the hopeful scrawl of a lunatic optimist, but never mind: you can’t help being the way you are. I have had features published and scratched together a few pennies, and the freelance penny-scratching continues.
The steady money comes from working for the Press Association for two days a week, part of a team editing pages for the Irish broadsheet the Sunday Independent. I like that work. It is based around words and it is still journalism, pretty much all I know.
The other element to my new life is where I have most surprised myself. Since September I have been, on and off, a visiting lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, teaching journalism.
I taught magazine journalism for a term and in the second semester other classes and responsibilities were added. No teaching at present, but I have been mentoring students on their work placements.
The teaching has been great; most recently rewarding time was helping oversee students on a work challenge day. Groups of employers came in to set tasks and the students divided into teams and went off to complete their challenges. After that they did their presentations to the employers and returned to the lecture hall for a summing-up.
At the front of that hall stood a balding man in glasses, surprised to discover that he had to address 95 students and then introduce the employers. Two years ago, that man might well have made his excuses and left, but New Julian didn’t do that. New Julian stumbled through and learned a bit more.
The grimmest point in these two years was a month on Job Seekers’ Allowance, a hellish pause in my self-reinvention test. God, that did nothing for what was left of my self-esteem, although one day I did rush from the job centre to interview Jesus, so that was something. To elaborate, it was the actor Philip McGinley rather than the man himself.
What else have I learned? While you can take the boy out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the boy. So that’s why I edit a bit, write a bit, teach a bit. And blog more than is sane or sensible, but then I did write a column for 25 years.
Is the re-invention complete? Not according to my bank manager, which is to say my wife. Out of term times, pickings are lean as I am only paid when I teach. But survival is the name of this game, and I have just about pulled it off
That achievement aside, I don’t recommend being made redundant in your late 50s, although there is a lot of it about.
And how do I feel today? Ask me tomorrow.