Wednesday 11 June 2008

Hobbies for Dream-Livers

If you’re living the dream, what do you do for fun? If your day job is what you’re most passionate about, how do you have weekends and holidays?

I think I’m not the only writer who finds it difficult to answer the question “What do you do in your spare time?” One gut reaction is to say “What spare time?” If you’re self-employed, and writers living the dream are, spare time is time you’re not earning money, so the temptation is to keep on working. But you love your work anyway, so what’s the problem?

Sure, I go to the gym, but that’s about keeping the body healthy so the mind can work well on the texts and anyway, I think about my plots and characters as I plough up and down the swimming pool. There’s the odd movie – but the critical voice analyses the “text” and the writer learns form it. Even sitting in a café or a bus and people watching is part of your work. Very pleasant work, but work all the same. I do mix with friends, go to the pub with colleagues (yes, I’m employed as well, but my job is to do with my writing, ain’t I the lucky one?) and I love getting out of my head and out of my shed. I never use friends as characters. Friends are too precious for that, but I guess something about the way people are does go to the back of the subconscious all the same. Those occasions are great when they happen, but I don’t miss them if they don’t because I’m so contented with my writing life. Not my writing of course. Part of the life is ever seeking to improve and set yourself challenges.

So what is it that I now look forward to? Apart form the gin and tonic on a Saturday night and the dinner excellently prepared by my husband?

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s singing with a choir. The Ordsall Acapella Singers to be precise. I hate it if for reasons beyond my control I can’t make it to a rehearsal on a Tuesday evening. We currently meet in Ordsall Hall itself, a fantastic old house in the middle of Ordsall and not far from Salford Quays. Our choirmaster, Jeff Borradaile, is a genius at getting the best out of us. Well, he got me singing didn’t he? He makes it fun, but is strict enough with us that we wouldn’t dare offer less than our best. He’s there every week, working hard with us, and gives us confidence at the ever-increasing number of gigs we’re getting these days. On the odd occasion that he can’t be there, our chair, Andy Townsend is a very competent substitute, as well as being a talented singer. And everyone is so nice. We even had a two day workshop last weekend. People singing instead of enjoying their gardens in the rare sunshine. Wonderful!

Why do I enjoy it so much? Yep, it gets me out of my shed and out of my head. But there’s something else about singing. It lifts the sprits. I’d swear I write better the day after I’ve been to a choir practice or a gig. One of the other ladies in my section works in the NHS and she’s been accessing articles which describe in technical detail how singing causes changes n the brain, though if you’re professional, there are other stresses. There’s also something about team work. You have to blend in with the others. There’s no room for egos – even if you get to sing a solo part. It’s a group effort and a great antidote to the solitude a writer needs. Oh dear, does it mean that even this is part of my work? Well, so be it.

I was rather bemused when a colleague I met at my new position at the University of Salford was being very persuasive about the choir. She is also on the Creative Writing team, and I became so intrigued by her enthusiasm that I thought I’d better give it a go. I’d not sung in a choir for years, thought I had helped out, with other staff, at one school I taught in when the music teacher needed to encourage volume in the students singing in “Joseph”. After getting to the end of school on a Wednesday after a day of stressful interaction with demanding teeageers I would think “Heck, I’ve got all this marking to do and get ready for tomorrow. I really could do without this choir practice.” But then I’d go along anyway, becaue I don’t like to break promises, and I’d sing my heart out, then come back to my classroom. The marking was still there. It somehow didn’t bother me so much. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “It’ll only take me an hour.”

Do you know what? There’s three of us from the Creative Writing team at the University of Salford now members of the choir. Chances are, singing is the great hobby for dream-living writers.

When I was a full-time teacher in secondary schools, I used to get a similar contrast to the day job through being in a drama group. Drama is too similar to what I now do daily, with the same stresses.

So, any more writers stuck in heads and sheds living within striking distance of Ordsall, near Salford Quays? Come and join us on a Tuesday evening at 7.00 p.m at Ordsall Hall.

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