The Long Arduous Path to Becoming a Professional Author
I often wonder what brought me here. Here, being my writing desk in my office at home, sitting under my framed Wall Street Journal review and posters of the covers of my three novels.
Here, being me, being a full-time writer.
I know I took the long route to this chair.
I wasn’t one of those people who always wanted to do this. I was too dumb at school to be a writer. I must have been; my teachers told me so.
I remember Mr. Lloyd pointing at me across the class and saying:
“Your problem, Schumacher, is that you don’t think like other people think.”
I was too dumb at the time to realize that what he was saying was a good thing, so I hung my head and carried on daydreaming.
I daydreamed the final few years away until I fell out of school with pretty much nothing but a kick in the butt as I went through the door.
I had no job.
I had to do something.
Laboring for a roofing company came to my rescue. It suited the skinny punk rocker I’d turned into down to the ground (assuming a job where you climb ladders all day can be “down to the ground”). But not only that, I discovered that the guy who ran the company didn’t think like other people either.
That boss looked at the skinny punk rocker and saw himself thirty years before.
So he challenged me in an attempt to better me. He would task me with stuff to think about every night when I finished work. Sometimes silly, sometimes profound, but always learning.
“Tomorrow morning, I want you to tell me about what is happening in South Africa.”
“What the hell is happening in South Africa?” I’d reply.
“Find out” would be his final words as he closed the truck door and pulled away.
So, in the days before Google, I went and found out.
I lifted my gaze, and I finally started to see the world around me.
As my horizons expanded, so did my ambition to try and reach them.
I set off around the world. I left Liverpool, England, and took to trailblazing on Greyhound buses around America. I wanted to get to know the country I loved so much from afar. I went to big places, little places, and everywhere else in between. I ran out of money in Miami, watched the sun rise in New Orleans, fell in love in Cincinnati, and nearly froze to death in St Paul.
One night a Mexican guy saved me from being mugged by pulling a gun and scaring off my attackers. I thanked god and then I thanked him.
Then cursed them both as the Mexican turned the gun on me.
“You just learned a lesson, man,” he said as I handed over fifty bucks. “Don’t trust nobody, even if it looks like they are your friend.”
Years later, I used that line in a book.
I figured I paid for it, so why not?
I kept on with my education and ended up working on cruise ships. Selling underpants and perfume to people who could barely understand my accent. I traveled to places that skinny punk rockers didn’t even know were on the map.
I made friendships that have lasted this far into my lifetime and, hopefully, beyond.
Last year I was in New York celebrating a book release, sitting in a rooftop restaurant with a friend I’d made on my first day sailing out of Miami all those years ago.
“I can’t believe you wrote a book, man,” said Dave as he lifted a beer to toast my success. “I always figured you were too dumb.”
Time passed, life ebbed and flowed like the tides that had carried me around the world. I woke up one morning and found myself a cop back in Liverpool, married, and wondering where the years had gone.
That skinny punk rocker a cop?
Turns out it was true.
I loved it for a while. It was all flashing lights, fighting, and fun until things started going wrong in that way that they have.
You’d think that as a writer I would have learned a lot from my time as a cop.
“All that fighting and flying around with sirens blaring must have given you some stories?”
It did, I guess, but I can’t help thinking it was the quiet times that taught me the most, and that help me to write.
The “sitting with the dead when I was waiting for someone to come and collect the body” times.
I often think about my first corpse, an old alcoholic who’d lain down to sleep in the small garden outside of his apartment one night, after the stairs had looked too many, after he’d had too many.
The years of drinking and a November night had washed him away that night. When I found him the next morning, he was so cold the frost had settled on his face and made it glisten with a million billion stars.
I crouched down next to him, checking to see if he had a breath left in him.
The first thing that struck me was that I could see myself reflected in his eyes, and yet he couldn’t see me looking down at him.
Eyes that don’t blink.
You never forget them.
I quit the police around about the time my life fell apart. I ended up sleeping outside for a while, and for a long time I dropped out of life and became that skinny punk rocker all over again.
Something inside pulled me back on track and got myself off the streets. I went back on them driving a cab.
I saw it all in my rear-view: the lost, the lonely, the lovers, and the losers as I trekked around Liverpool trying to keep the frost off my face and the wolf from my door.
All those years, all those miles around the world, but I learned the most I’ll ever learn about living when I was driving that old cab.
That’s when I became a writer.
I had stories to tell about a dumb ex-cop who had seen it all, lost it all, and then found his way back.