Wednesday, 28 January 2009


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any author will at some point have an incredibly annoying conversation with a taxi-driver. There are many varieties of this conversation, and you will meet them all, and you will deal with them in different ways. I have no advice for these situations, since it would not be appropriate for me to recommend extreme physical violence, preferably involving dismemberment, on the pages of this sedate blog. I offer only the warning and the exhortation, gentle reader, that you prepare yourself.

(By the way, "gentle reader" is a cliché and modern editors hate it, so please don't use it.)

Clearly, I am not making this taxi-driver point entirely randomly. Percipient readers will detect a kind of gritted-teeth tone to this morning's missive. I am, indeed, holding myself back womanfully. I am calming myself, having taken a large number of deep breaths; I have restricted myself to three cups of hi-caffeine beverage this morning; I have spent the whole night forcibly self-administering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I am doing my best - I really am.


It started in the usual way:

TD: So, what's your line of business?
NM: I write books.
TD: Really?
NM: Yes.
(As you can see, it's currently not rating high on the annoyance scale, but I know it's going to get there. I am expecting that we may be going for the regular, "They say everyone's got a book in them." To which my answer will be either, "If so, that's usually where it should stay," or "Yes, but would anyone want to read it?" Unfortunately, the situation we are in goes way beyond the paradigmatic version of Annoying Taxi-driver because this is how the conversation actually continues:)
TD: So, how do you get a book published then?
NM: (wondering where to begin with this one, but not actually needing to because the guy hasn't finished)
TD: Because anyone can write a book, can't they? (Stunned silence.) Not meaning to be insulting or anything, but anyone can. I've got a friend who's writing one. He says it's easy. Unless you're dyslexic or something.
NM: Actually, you could be a great writer and still be dyslexic.
TD: Well, that proves it - anyone can write a book. If they've got time. Like, I've often thought of writing a book but I've never had time.
NM (tempted to ask, "What about when you're waiting at a traffic light? Or your passenger has just decided she'd rather walk?"): Actually, it's extremely difficult. Real writers know that - we may make it look easy, but you've no idea of the incredibly difficult technical skills and spectacularly creative gifts that are involved.
TD: Well, I suppose you'd start by writing a children's book. Like, one of those ones with just a few words and mostly pictures. That must be really easy - most of the work is done by the artist, isn't it?
NM (starting to have palpitations, and wondering how much it would hurt if she flung open the door and threw herself out): Trust me, it's very difficult indeed. Otherwise, why do so many people try to get published for years and years?
TD (who is on transmit and not receive): Mind you, you'd be rich, wouldn't you? They earn a fortune, some of these children's authors. You read about it all the time.
NM (wondering why she didn't put a handy weapon in her bag before coming out): You don't want to believe everything you read in the papers.
TD: I don't have much time for books. Like my son - but that's boys, isn't it? Got more important things to do. My daughter now, she's a really great reader. She read the whole of the last Harry Potter book in about ten days.
NM (having lost will to live): Really? how old is she?
TD: Twenty-five. My wife and I, we always told her she could be a writer. Thing is, she doesn't have time. But they say everyone's got a book in them, don't they?

The journey ends fortuitously at this point, with the taxi-driver getting no tip and with me stomping down the street to my front door prior to off-loading onto my long-suffering husband who has many times in the past few years wondered when the pyschotherapy is going to work.

I tell you this story as a cautionary tale about the downside of the fulfilment of your life's dream. Not that I'd want to put you off - not that I could put you off if you want it as much as you need to. After all, we earn a fortune, most of us. You read about it all the time in the papers.


Jane Smith said...

Speaking as a writer who is the semi-dyslexic daughter of an ex-London cabby, I loved this piece!

I once was talking with another ex-London cabby who asked me what my (then) boyfriend did for a living--the cabby and the boyfriend had met briefly the week before, but things had not gone particularly well. When I said that the boyfriend was a writer the cabby said to me, "Really? Damn. I'd have talked to him if I'd known he was going to be interesting."

There were so many different layers of wrong in that response that I didn't quite know where to start, and so I turned the conversation round to the weather instead. It was either that our attack him with my sharp blue pencil (and we know how messy that can get).

Nicola Morgan said...

Ah, yes, and that reminds me - I should have made clear that I know there are many charming and intelligent and sensitive and even modest taxi-drivers in the world, including your father (mother? I wouldn't want to jump to more conclusions!) - just that I don't seem to be able to find myself in their cabs. I know, I know, I over-react - but REALLY!!! Mind you, there's always chocolate, as you very well know.

Editorial Anonymous said...

What a great story.

Of course, this is the same conversation that editors get trapped in all the time, too. You should just stop telling people that you're a writer.

When people ask me what I do, I say "I'm in sanitation."

If they ask me what I do in sanitation, I say, "Oh, don't worry. I washed my hands before I left work."

Karen said...

Brilliant post. I don't tell people I Do Writing any more, I just can't take it!

emmadarwin said...

Aaaargh! Great story.

If JKR comes up, I usually say, "Most writers earn slightly less than the minimum wage," which is true.

And if they say, "I've always wanted to write a book, just don't have the time," I say, "Only a page a day and you'll have a first draft in a year. It'll only take you another year to revise it. Maybe you could start in the next traffic jam."

HelenMHunt said...

Oh, that's so funny! I'm going to tell people I'm a taxi driver from now on. Or maybe a plumber. I'll have a think about it.

Donna Hosie said...

This blog post has inspired me write a book, because obviously that part is easy. It will be called "Taxi Cluedo" and the denouement will reveal it was Ms. Morgan with the lead piping in the back of a taxi.

So funny and yet so true and oh so typical.

Nicola Morgan said...

I'd publish it! (Because publishing is easy too, of course.)

Mary Hoffman said...

Here is a true story told by my aunt (now long dead). She lived in the New Forest with a friend who bred Great Danes and ran boarding kennels for all breeds of dog.

One day a man came to the house who looked startlingly familiar. A nosy neighbour started to probe:

"And what do you do for a living?"

"I lift weights," said the man, with a strong accent.

"What kind of weights?"

"Heavy ones."

Not gallant, I'm afraid. It was Rudolph Nureyev.

So I suppose our "little problem" afflicts people in other professions too!

behlerblog said...

prior to off-loading onto my long-suffering husband who has many times in the past few years wondered when the pyschotherapy is going to work.

This just plain rude; you failed to post a "Do Not Have Anything In Your Mouth When Reading This Post" sign. I now have half a jelly sandwich stuck in my throat.

Nicola Morgan said...


Ebony McKenna. said...

Good tip. I'm now prepared...

Taxi driver: Wot do you do then?
Me: I'm a taxi inspector.

Sarah Hilary said...

I got a cabbie once who was a published writer. He gave me this schpeel about this book he'd written about East End gangsters that was nearly made into a film etc etc. I checked it on Amazon when I got home. It was true. Made me a bit sick, that. Now I pretend to be on the phone as soon as I get into the cab.

Nicola Morgan said...

A cautionary tale - THANK YOU!

Tam said...

I never tell anyone I write - even my friends don't know. This strategy may be counter-productive if I ever find a publisher for my book...

steeleweed said...

Your mistake was telling him you wrote books. You should have said you had a job rating taxi drivers for the licensing agency.

Vicky B said...

:O I'm entirely sure what to say. I think he said every thing you could to insult a writer, and a female, and I'm proud of you for not, you know, bashing his head into the windshield. That's what I would have done, honestly. Anytime someone says to me, writing a book is easy. I say, "Go for it." Few of my friend can even make it through a book bigger than the first Harry Potter, let alone come up with the plot, characters, and TALENT it takes to write one. *sigh* Ok, rant complete.

Ash said...

Hi Nicola, I'm a new follower of your blog and so glad I found it. Loads of great honest advice. This post particularly made me laugh out loud! I've not had a taxi-driver experience (yet) but can relate to the 'I'm a writer' conversation. Most respond with 'Oh' Then pause wondering what to ask next. As I only recently started writing full time people see me typing away on my laptop or writing in my notebook in public and ask what I do. I'm often referred to as a 'lady of leisure' when people don't get it. If I was a plumber fixing pipes in public, people wouldn't be so curious- or would they? I often work longer hours now than I did before I started writing full time. I find it a shame that writers have to change their identity to get others to accept or understand what they do. I can relate to it however and often say I'm 'self employed'. Those that are interested will ask more and those that don't, don't matter. I find it a challenge establishing myself as a writer. I love writing but a lot of people don't understand my need and want to write. It seems that many people need a published book in front of them in order for me to validate what I do.
I especially like your comment that the taxi driver said 'Anyone can be a writer'. Not everyone has the dedication to pursue writing as a career. Everyone can write, but the real challenge is finding someone who wants to read your work. Thanks for all the great info and look forward to reading the rest of your posts! :)

Marisa Birns said...

So happy that the taxi drivers here don't chat one up as they seem to do over your way. Most times, they're talking on the phone and grunt goodbye.

Your story was funny. You shouldn't let that experience upset you so much, though. Just pretend he was a character in a book. An annoying one, of course.