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almost every woman I spoke to grimaced or groaned when questioned about asking for more moneyNovelist and broadcaster A L Kennedy makes a similar point. ‘The collapse of UK publishing means the guardians of a huge part of our culture have left us. We’re not in a good place right now and it will get worse.’Hitting the jackpotJust occasionally, a writer will hit the big time and (if sensible) will use that money to protect herself in old age. Louise Doughty had a huge hit with her 2013 novel Apple Tree Yard – still causing controversy via its recent TV adaptation. ‘Like most writers, I have spent my entire career living from hand to mouth. I’ve always tried to keep a financial ‘float’ of three months for basic necessities, and whenever my savings dipped below that, I’d try to up my game a bit. But I didn’t always manage that and it always felt very precarious. I would probably have lived like that indefinitely if it hadn’t been for Apple Tree Yard.’She adds: ‘When that came along, lots of non- writing friends assumed I would be rolling in money. But they were thinking of that money asa windfall on top of their monthly salaries, rather than instead of. In fact, all I have done with the Apple Tree Yard money is to take out a pension, for the first time in my life. It sounds incredibly boring, but it’s given me immeasurable peace of mind.’But relying on a bestseller is not an option for most writers – and even when it comes, may not make much of a difference anyway. Debbie Taylor, novelist and Editor of our very own mslexia, recalls: ‘As a freelance writer for over 30 years, I always used my journalism earnings to buy time to write fiction. That meant that I never earned very much – by definition. I always dreamed that one dayI’d write a bestseller, which would set me up for life. Then in 2002 I actually did write a bestseller, The Fourth Queen, complete with a two-book deal with Penguin. And trotted proudly along to my accountant to ask about setting up a pension fund – and he just laughed at me. Too little too late was his response.’Patchwork portfolioAs the economy of the UK becomes more privatised, it is increasingly up to individual writers to make private provision for their old age, despite a probably patchy and almost certainly declining income. Those without a financial buffer – an earning partner, family inheritance, property, or all three – construct what used to be known as a ‘portfolio career’ as a way of keeping going and setting something aside for the future. Some work part-time or even full-time in other occupations, writing in the interstices; others keep writing full-time by developing a plethora of additional income-generating activities: a buy-to- let property, occasional teaching gigs, feature or review journalism. Though, as Nicola Solomon of the SoA points out, ‘Fewer and fewer writers canrely on journalism as a supplementary income in the way of writers of old. That role’s probably now taken by teaching creative writing.’She adds, ‘Publishers these days require authors to do much more self publicity than in the past, which can be difficult for those who are not familiar with social media or who find festivalsa strain, physically or mentally’. At the risk of seeming ageist, there may be a generational element here, with older writers possibly less au fait with the skills needed to create the kind of video- and interview-based websites that are so lucrative for younger tech-savvy writers.To make a portfolio career work, a writer needs to make sure they are paid fairly. But while almost every woman I spoke to grimaced or groaned when questioned about asking for more money(‘I hate doing it’), there seemed to be more of aLean In mentality among the younger authors; a reluctant recognition of the necessity of individual bargaining.State subsidyIt is striking how many authors recall writing their first play or novel while ‘on the dole’, although these very words now come to us like a floating fragment of vocabulary from a vanished world. It is a measure of how few writers in the UK any longer look to the state for support, apart from access to a meagre old-age pension. Solomon points out that ‘in France the state insists that authors are treated as quasi employees and they receive pensions funded by their publishers’. My astonishmentat this shows how far we are from that level of acknowledgment and security in the UK.But who knows, in the current upheaval perhaps some new ideas about a ‘basic income’ will yet emerge to help writers throughout our careers, especially in later life. Perhaps we will also sort out our current social care mess to relieve the burden on older women writers.Meanwhile, I will end with the words ofA L Kennedy, still fighting that good fight: ‘No writer wants to be tied to an institution, or to anything else. Really your solution is government intervention to open up the publishing scene,to encourage magazines, put funding into arts councils, put funding into local councils, into social work departments, hospitals, community education departments, that used to be the places where writers could earn a living. There should be a government role – that’s walled off from content – because publishing is hugely important and tells us who we are and who we can be.’ ■MELISSA BENN has published eight books, including two novels, and writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and many other publications. Her most recent books include What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female (John Murray 2013) and The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing theMyths, Exploringthe Evidence(Routledge2015).She hasjustfinisheda newnovel.8 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexiaPHOTO: BIRGIT REITZ-HOFMANN / SHUTTERSTOCK


































































































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