When you tell people that you're a writer, they will ask questions. It's not like being an accountant. In social situations, if you answer the question, 'What do you do?' with, 'I'm a writer', people want to know more. I find telling them more is quite hard, but although I dread the questions, I am flattered that people at least take me seriously enough to ask in the first place. However, there's one question I dread more than any other...
What sort of stuff do you write about?
I'm never quite sure what somebody means when they ask this. Perhaps if I wrote in a specific genre, the answer would be easier - "I write science fiction/ crime/ books about heroic talking animals". But I'm not a genre writer, I just write "fiction". So if I didn't get flustered so easily, I suppose I would give an answer like this:
"I write about the things that matter to the small people of the world. I write about how it feels to lose your wife through dementia, or to find the lover you lost five decades earlier. I tell tales of people who are on the edge or in the midst; crazily normal or just normally mad. I capture the moment when somebody's life becomes less ordinary and the moment when they realise that no life is ordinary after all. I write about the everyday battles of everyday life and the courage it takes to fight them without losing yourself. I write about the songs that punctuate the relationship between lovers, and the dying thoughts of adulterers. I tell stories of mothers and daughters, teenagers and housewives; people who believe they can rule the world and people who can't even look in the mirror. I write about the mundane chaos of this astonishing world and the fierce frailty of the people who live in it."
But I don't say any of that. Instead, I usually say:
"Oh, you know. All sorts of stuff really."