My Life as a writer
When did you first realise you wanted to write for a living?
For as long as I can remember I have loved stories. I went through childhood phases of wanting to be an archaeologist, then a zoologist, then a footballer. I even toyed with the idea of being a sniper. I enjoy solitude, and so the romantic image of being sat alone in the peace and quiet, on some high vantage point in an exotic country really appealed to me, the killing aspect not so much! It was the story of being these things which drew me to consider them as careers, rather than the job itself.
Which writer, past or present, do you most admire?
One who really stands out is the late Sir Terry Pratchett. I have read the Discworld novels since I was too young to see properly into the mirror they hold up to our world. Now as an adult I really admire what Sir Terry Pratchett achieved. Even more so considering his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He continues to be a huge inspiration.
What was your first published (or performed) credit as a writer?
My first credit was in screenwriting. I was commissioned to write a short film Four Walls for a local government initiative highlighting anti-social behaviour on council estates. It was a challenge to satisfy the criteria of the different organisations involved – the police, the housing authority, a supported housing unit – while creating a story entertaining enough to hold the attention of teenagers. More importantly, this first credit enabled me to join WGGB as a Full Member, which was a huge turning point in my career.
Which piece of writing work are you most proud of?
My latest piece of work is called Dead Men’s Teeth, a short story collection that I wrote with the British Library. I am proud of the collection as a piece, but given that there are 10 stories in it, there are inevitably some I like more than others. Some of the work is my favourite writing to date.
Who or what inspires you to write?
Human beings are fascinating creatures, and the way they interact with each other and the world around them is a constant source of inspiration. This manifests itself in different ways – when I read a history book, watch the news, get on the Tube, or just open my eyes and ears. I always remind myself to take a mental step back from what is around me in order to better appreciate the beauty and poetry of human experience as life trundles on.
How do you switch off when you’re not writing?
With great difficulty! I find that if I’m not writing, or at least formulating ideas to use in writing, then I feel guilty. Most people work long hours at jobs they don’t particularly enjoy or want to do forever. I chose to be a writer, and though it is a constant struggle to keep living on the right side of the breadline, it is a privilege to be pursuing my dreams.
Which one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
There are three!
People are your subject matter, individually and collectively. Observe them and take note.
Try and write a little bit of something as often as you can. Even if it is just one line for a larger piece. Don’t worry if it is good or not, just get words on page. Nobody has to see your work until you are ready to show it, but you can’t do anything with it while it is still in your head.
If it was easy to be a writer everyone would do it. You will face constant rejection, and setbacks, and many people give up too soon. You need self-belief and persistence. Be tough on yourself too, so recognise when a piece of work is not up to standard.
Why are you a member of WGGB?
WGGB is my trade union, and will always be there to ensure I get fair pay and credit for my work. Membership also gives me access to a network of industry professionals who can give me advice when I need it. I also find that people take me far more seriously as a writer because I am part of WGGB. Solitude is partly why I enjoy being a writer, but it is also why it can be difficult so it is great to go to WGGB events and chat to other working writers about their craft.
Jamie Rhodes is a screenwriter and author. He teaches creative writing and screenwriting workshops nationwide and in 2011 founded The Homeless Film Festival. His first book, Dead Men’s Teeth (Mardibooks, 2014), a collection of short historical fiction tales inspired by the British Library archives, was funded by the Arts Council. He is a member of the WGGB London & South East branch. Follow Jamie on Twitter @JamieERhodes