Another one bites the dust

February 28, 2010 at 18:36 (1)

I was very upset to read in the newspaper on Saturday that the Hughes & Hughes book chain had gone bust in Ireland and was closing down its stores. I’ve done lots of enjoyable events at H&H stores over the years, and hadn’t heard that they were in trouble. It’s a shame to see them go, especially as they were Irish-owned. I have fond memories of a prive war between an Easons and H&H store at one of my events. It was in a shopping mall, where both chains had a store. I was siging in Easons that day. To try and take advantage of the hundreds of fans who turned up, the H&H staff cheekily slashed the prices on my books!!! That wasn’t really playing fair, but part of me admired their brazen tactics!!!!!! I was looking forward to doing some more signings at H&H stores at some point this year, but now, alas, that can never be…

Coincidentally, a couple of hours after I’d read about the stores closing, I received the following email from long-time Shanster Paul, who I know well from years of emails, letters and meeting him at events. He’s a wannabe writer and had been working at one of the H&H stores.

Hi Mr Shan, I’m sure you’ve heard the news, that Hughes and Hughes is in receivement. That’s put me out of a job… it’s an alien experience, and I don’t really know what to think. My mum says I could be worse off, but she didn’t realise that that was the job that was supposed to help fund my writing – you know, pens, paper (*lots* of paper), stuff like that. Have you ever been in this situation? It feels selfish to be thinking only of myself and my writing, when there are people out there who have mortgages to attend to and all that, but I can’t help it…

Sorry, don’t mean to moan. Bad mood I guess. I found out through the radio that I had no job. AND I had to see the shop empty, with all the lights off, but with the rest of the shopping centre alive and bustling. I’ll have to lose myself in words to get through this… (hopefully I’ll still be able to afford my reading habits… like all of your books, and those of other writers! – speaking of which, you might like Mr Mumbles by Barry Hutchison. Kids’ Horror story!) Anyway, best be off before I get myself down by repeating the jobless scenario over and over again.

This is how I responded to Paul (it’s rare that I would spend this much time on a reply, but having been where he is now, and knowing what that’s like, it spurred me on to respond in depth — though I must admit it helped that I knew I could use the email here on my blog!!!)

Hi Paul, I read about that in the papers today — it came as a big shock, since I hadn’t heard any rumours. As for being out of a job — hell yes!!! I drew the dole for about 2 or 3 years when I first quit work to write full time!!! Luckily my parents were very understanding and let me stay with them for not much rent (even rent-free some of the time). Unlike you, though, I wasn’t actually looking for any other job — I made a decision to go for broke, give myself a couple of years to see if I made any progress, and only go back to a 9 to 5 job if forced to. To be honest, that’s not an approach I’d actuvely recommend to young writers — I had several very low-key, thrills-free years, in which I didn’t get to do a lot of socialising. I was very content, because I could see myself progressing rapidly on the writing front, but not terribly happy as I was leading a very isolated life. But I’m not looking for sympathy here — I’ve made up for those lonely, quiet years since!!!!

It’s not nice to be without a job. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, when the country was in an even worse state than it is now, and I hate seeing it slipping back to those grim days when emigration was the only solution for most people who didn’t want to draw the dole long-term. All I can say is, hang in there and keep fighting.  Your experience at H&H should stand you in good stead — maybe you can get in with some other store.

As for funding your writing… Thank your stars!! If you were an artist or sculptor, you’d be in much more trouble than you are now!! The great thing about writing is that its cheap!!!!! You can get cheap reams of A4 paper just about anywhere. BIC pens cost next to nothing. You don’t need leather-bound journals and fancy fountain pens — the words you lay down are all that matter. I worked with the cheapest portable typewriter that I could find when I was starting out, and I bashed out many rough-looking but enjoyable stories and books on it. When I first moved up to a computer, again I picked up a very limited model, as cheap as I could find, little more than a glorified word processor — it didn’t have internet access or anything like that, and backing up books was nightmare, but it did the job and got me to where I wanted to be.

Every young writer struggles with the demands of the real world, with paying bills, clothing themselves, having some money to go down the pub or on holiday or whatever. But when it comes to writing, the tools of the trade aren’t computers or paper and pens — your brain and your imagination are all that matter, and as long as you keep on beavering away, it won’t matter a damn what you use to get those ideas down on paper (or even just onto your PC — I never print out any of my books these days, just email them to my agent). So don’t worry about that, and don’t use it as an excuse to stop writing — instead, see this as an opportunity — you’ve been given something far more precious than any writing material known to man, something most young writers rarely get enough of as they struggle to deal with the demands of the outside world…

You’ve been given time.

My advice — use it. Nothing will ever drive you forward faster in your chosen career than a bit of free time and a lot of hard work…

Best of luck!!!!

And this is how Paul replied to that:

Thank you so much! That’s exactly what I needed to hear. I’d been thinking it, but things always sound better when other people say them – I tend to listen… I’ll get to work right away (well, college work first, then editing my novel). Still fascinated that you knew exactly what needed to be said… your reply made my day. All the very best,
Much Happier Paul.

Heh heh — Shan sees all, knows all!!! To be honest, it wasn’t the difficult, since I’ve been where he was, as most writers have been — you should never forget that your writing idols all started out the same way YOU have, and had to put in a lot of hard work and time to get to where they are. We know your struggles and heartbreaks because we’ve endured them ourselves.

Even though I’ve never read anything of Paul’s, I think he has a very good chance to making the grade, for two reasons. (1) He’s prepared to work hard to make his dream come true. (2) He’s prepared to listen to the advice of other writers. Many people in his position would have reacted negatively to my email. They would have missed the core of it, that I was telling them that their brain was their most important tool, and would have pouted because I wasn’t more sympathetic to the fact that they could no longer afford to buy nice pens and fancy paper. Advice from writers is like advice from teachers — it isn’t always glowing and nice. If you’re truthful with people, the way all good mentors are, the truth will sometimes hurt. If you’re an A student, and a teacher gives you a B or a C, and explains why, you can either sulk about not getting an A, or learn from their comments and take that experience forward. Paul is a learner, and that makes me think he has what it takes to go far.


  1. Miley said,

    That’s really too bad… I’m sorry Paul…

  2. Sophie said,

    Yeah it’s a real shame…

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