In Memory of Sue the Storyteller

Last week I went to my grandfather’s funeral. It was a sad occasion, but he’d lived a full life and we gave him a good send-off. I can give him no better obituary than this one my brother wrote. This week, I learned of the death of Sue Wilson, a friend from my local writing group, Derby Scribes. She had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, went into hospital for surgery, and never came out again. I had known she was severely ill, but her death still came as a massive shock, one I think will take a long time to fully sink in. Yesterday I went for a walk round the park to try and clear my head, saw an old couple walking happily hand-in-hand, and ended up in tears.

I wouldn’t have described Sue as one of my closest friends, but I realise now – too late, of course – what an important place she had in my life. She was one of the most stalwart members of our writing group, always to be relied upon for knowledge, advice, bright ideas, and board games. She helped me immensely with her advice and encouragement, especially when I was writing my first novel. Her stories were always entertaining and her conversation always enlightening (if not always safe for work). More than anyone I’ve ever known, she was a born storyteller. She spent her life steeped in stories, whether novels, short fiction, or role-playing games. She could narrate literally anything in a way that made it sound exciting, and she had a quirky sense of humour that could make anything amusing, but was never at anyone’s expense.  Her invention never flagged, and nor did her enthusiasm – ever generous with her time, she helped all our group come up with ideas and marshal them into coherent narratives.

Needless to say, she will be much missed – not only by her husband John (and I don’t believe in soul mates, but if I did, I’d believe in those two, since I’ve never met a couple who seemed more perfectly suited) and by the rest of her family and friends, but also by all the Scribes, by all her fans on WriteOn, by all those who played the games she wrote and GM’ed, and by all those who did National Novel Writing Month alongside her – not to mention all the people she helped in her day jobs working with vulnerable children. She touched many lives and left all of us better for her influence.

For her funeral, she has asked attendees not to bring flowers, but to do something creative instead, and if that doesn’t sum up her attitude to life, I don’t know what does. Sue – if you’re somehow reading this in the afterlife, thank you. I will never forget your generosity or your boundless joy in story-telling, and I promise I will keep the story going.

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Paying the Bills with Dreams

Two weeks ago I told you all about my first world problems. Since then, I’ve baked cakes and roasted pork in my new shiny kitchen. I’ve also been fired from my part-time job at a local cafe – turns out washing the dishes really isn’t my forte. Who would have guessed?

I’m not that cut up about the sudden loss of employment. It gives me more time for my writing, which after all is the whole point of the big choices I’ve made – to devote my life to what’s really important to me. And the latest reminder of mortality is the death of my dear Grandpa, a natural storyteller if there ever was one. I remember the entertaining sermons he gave as a minister in the United Reformed Church, and the tall tales he told us when we were children, most of them featuring crocodiles.

In the middle of musing on these things, I’ve encountered two pieces with different views on Life. One is a webcomic from Zen Pencils which encourages you to pursue what you love and forget about money, because spending your life doing something you don’t enjoy is ‘stupid’. Another is a Salon article which points out that many professional authors are actually supported financially by wealthy parents or – in the case of Ann Bauer, the article’s author – a spouse. Her situation is very similar to mine in some ways, her ability to write full-time enabled by her husband’s well-salaried job. She openly says that the stability she enjoys – both financial and emotional – has meant she can now write the books she was unable to write back when her life was far more precarious.

I have to admit, I identify with her strongly. My life in my twenties was nowhere near as difficult as hers, but I had my struggles, and it took me years to write a similar output to what I now manage in months. Writing books whilst working a full-time demanding job is not easy. But should I have quit earlier, and followed my dream from the start, instead of spending years working at a career I found ultimately unfulfilling? Well, you can’t eat words. Or dreams. They won’t pay your rent or your bills either.

And that is the uncomfortable truth about Follow Your Dream and Do What You Love. It’s an awful lot easier when you’ve got someone else putting food on the table. Oh sure, if what you love happens to lead to a high-paying career, you’ve hit the jackpot. But writing simply isn’t very lucrative for the vast majority of people. And we all need to eat – so most of us end up doing something else as well, whether it’s washing dishes or auditing accounts. I’m incredibly lucky that, like Ann Bauer, I’m sponsored by my husband, and I never take that good fortune for granted.

I would always encourage people to pursue their dreams, but I also think we shouldn’t pretend it’s always that easy. Until we arrive in the utopia where we’re all free of the yoke of work and can spend our time on the pursuits that make us happy – which let’s face it doesn’t feel like it’s coming any time soon – someone needs to pay the bills.