On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the O2 with my mother-in-law, to see Michael Ball and Alfie Boe performing in concert together. I’m a huge fan of their solo music, but when they come together, particularly live, something magical happens. I think part of it is because of their obvious friendship and how much they care about each other. However, a large part of it is also down to the way that Michael Ball is so open with the audience. He always manages to get across some kind of moral message, without becoming preachy and he does it in such a way that I would defy anyone to disagree with what he says – a rare talent.
However, as well as the inevitable tears at ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, which reminded me of my sister, who introduced me to both Michael Ball and Phantom of the Opera, there was another point in the concert where he really got me thinking. Just before they sang ‘Army’ Michael gave quite an emotional speech about the need to reach out to people, particularly your friends, if you were struggling and it seemed, to me at least, that recent events in the media played a part in this, but also that his friendship with Alfie was something he felt was beneficial to both of them, not just because everyone needs friends, but also in terms of them being there to support each other.
I was thinking about this in terms of life as a writer. It can be a very solitary life – the stereotypical image of a lonely person sat scribbling in a freezing garret is often not far from the truth. OK, maybe not the part about the freezing garret, but certainly the lone figure is one I recognise. In truth, writers are often lonely people because a large part of our work requires us to isolate ourselves from the real world in order to inhabit and create the worlds within our stories. Writing is not usually something that can be done as part of a group, nor are the stages before we get to the actual writing or the ones that come after the book is finished – the research, the editing and the endless stream of letters to agents and publishers etc are all things we undertake alone.
So if the very nature of our work demands that we are solitary creatures, what can we do to prevent ourselves from being lonely? The short answer is to join a writing group, but although that may be a temporary solution, it doesn’t resolve the day to day issue of being alone. I think the key for many writers lies in social media.
I’ve been taking part in a 21 day writing challenge along with many of the people in one of my online writing groups and even the simple act of posting my daily word count has made me feel less alone. Knowing that other people all across the country are doing the same challenge makes sitting at my desk scribbling away feel like I’m a part of something bigger. These people understand the psychological challenge of staring at a blank page, they understand what I mean when I say it takes me a while to come out of my fictional world and back into reality (unlike my husband, who warns me that although he knows what I mean, this sounds incredibly pretentious) because to them this is normal, they get the frustration of when real life interferes with my plans to get the next chapter done and most importantly, they understand my driving need to write. Michael Ball was absolutely right on Saturday when he said we all need to know that we have friends behind us.
These are my people. This is my community. This is my Army.