IT’S NEARLY FOUR YEARS since I was made redundant. Here is a letter to my (slightly) younger self. . .
TO MISQUOTE LEONARD COHEN, back then you were just a crazy young kid of 58 with a headful of dreams. You had a headful of panic too, but that’s what you get for staying on one newspaper for 27 years. That’s what you get for thinking you’d dribble out the years doing a job you loved until They messed it up.
You will be afraid as you hide behind those dreams. You’ll be a freelance journalist and a published novelist again, you will tell yourself, doubting the words even as you say them. But you will keep saying them, anyway.
You will try to follow those paths. You will spend a year as a freelance feature writer and it will be a great year, but the living will not be easy. You will write good features, see them published and feel pleased with yourself. But in the distance, you will hear the low hum of panic about that pitifully small pile of money. You will keep writing those features but cancel that holiday in the Caribbean (ho-hum!).
As for being a novelist again, you will write one thriller and you will throw it away. You will write a second and fail to stir up the necessary interest. You will start another. You will live in hope because that’s what you’ve always done. And you will live in doubt because that’s what you’ve always done.
During the early months you will not sign on because you are too proud, even though everyone says you should. Then you will sign on briefly, only to find that because you have registered as self-employed the benefit is cut to something insulting. You will go to the Job Centre, or whatever it is called, for perhaps a month. You will attend depressing meetings. You will trawl through the job sites looking for jobs that aren’t there. You will feel briefly as low as you have ever felt.
From the job centre you can see York Minster over the city walls. One sunny day you will rush from one of those dire meetings to interview the actor playing Jesus in the York Mystery Plays. You will conclude that interviewing actors is more rewarding than feeling like a reject. You will go on a short holiday to France and you will not sign on again.
Your redundancy will last more than a year with the small freelance fees, then vanish to a puddle. You will hear that low-level hum of panic again. You will find two part-time jobs connected to your old world, one in journalism and the other as a visiting journalism lecturer.
You will start both roles at the same time. The journalism job will be in a large office full of other journalists made redundant by their newspapers, a congregation of misplaced scribes, scribblers and sub-editors.
The lecturing job will be offered on a Thursday and you will be asked if you can start the following Monday. You will grab the opportunity and then you will panic.
You will turn up on that Monday. You will survive that first year and you will find that lecturing is enjoyable. You will feel more secure. Then you will find that universities hire staff year by year. Each year the university will wait to let you know if they have anything for you next year.
After three years, you will also be offered part-time work at another university. That work will go well. You will be invited to apply for a full-time job but you will miss out. More part-time work will be offered.
One day in May you will sit down to write about the life you used to have and the one that came along instead. You will think of all the new people you’ve met and all the old friends you still have.
You will think of what your wife has been through as, in a sense, both of us were made redundant that day. You will remember that you have three children grown to lovely adulthood, with their own joys and problems.
You will learn that there is life outside of a job you should have left years earlier. Some days, though, you will still miss that job and those friends.
You will write too many blogs to mention. Some will be quite widely read, some hardly at all. You will teach a wise young student from Bradford who will tell you that she doesn’t care if only one person reads her blog. When she says that, you will smile.
On that day in May, you will write another blog instead of exploring the new novel. This will be a delaying tactic because you are simultaneously excited by the new idea and overcome with feelings of doubt and uselessness.
Friends will tell you that your new life sounds interesting. And you will agree. You will still worry but you’ll remember that crazy young kid of 58 with a headful of dreams. That will make you smile. And you will keep on dreaming.
Because that’s what you do.