Jul 3, 2021

30 qwerty years: a quick overview of my writing life

This month marks 30 years since I became a journalist.

More accurately, it's 30 years since I crashed and burned in my A-Levels, and then at the age of 17 started three weeks of work experience at my local paper, the South Manchester Reporter. They kept me on because the editor said I could type fast. A skill which was, in all fairness, not that common in 1991.

My first assignment was as a music columnist. I would review gigs in the grotty basements of Manchester venues, and tip local bands, always incorrectly, as the next big thing in rock and roll. My pseudonym was Trelawney, and the column was called Sound of the Suburbs, a music reference that was entirely lost on the teenage me. I was paid via a government Youth Training scheme, while previous Trelawney columnists before me were proper freelancers. I could type fast and I was cheap.

Throughout the 1990s, I built up my career at the paper. I worked in the dark room at their production office, a job conducted amid fumes of stinking chemicals. Unlike the newsroom, I could blast the radio in the dark room, and this proved surprisingly informative, especially when John Peel took over a daytime Radio 1 show. I continued as columnist, then went on to become a chief reporter on two of their other newspapers, then music and features editor for a couple of spin-off magazines. Friend to the pop stars, I was. Well. For my allotted 20 minutes during a mid-tour interview schedule.

Then came a big life change. I lost both of my parents quite young, and the subsequent mire of depression had me quitting journalism. After a brief time trying PR, I stumbled into what would become my longest career: bookselling. I was a bookseller for a full 18 years. That's, like, a whole Greta Thunberg. The great thing about bookshops is you're surrounded by writing and writers, so it was quite easy to carry on with freelance journalism here and there.

We're fast-forwarding really quickly now. I did a bunch of DJing. I started this blog. People noticed this blog. I started performing. I became a spoken word artist. I released some books. I did an album (it's on Discogs). Our monthly night won awards. I now work for uber-cool literary venue the Burgess Foundation, I job which I adore and which combines all the skills of everything I've mentioned so far. Oh and Electronic Sound took me on as a music columnist, which means I've technically regressed all the way back to 1991.

It seems weird to have a 30th anniversary of anything, and to count your adult memories in decades rather than years. As I've moved my performance work from spoken word into alternative cartoon comedy weirdness, I've increasingly felt like that naïve but endlessly creative teenager that first walked into the newspaper office asking for work experience. I'm growing older, but younger at the same time.

And yes, I cann stull tyope fast. Sorry, try that again. And yes, I can still tyep fats. Nope. And yes, I can still type fast. Slick work. My old editor would have approved.

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