In the summer of 2009 I moved to Istanbul in Turkey to start a new job – teaching English as a foreign language to young Turkish learners. I was forty-six. Bar a year in New Zealand, I’d lived my whole life on Romney Marsh and I couldn’t wait to escape. I’d only been hanging on there until my two children became legal adults – old enough to look after themselves. (That was the idea.) I’d been a qualified primary school teacher for seven years but I’d had enough of that. I was looking for change, some adventure, a bit of excitement. So I got interviewed for a job in Istanbul. I treated it as a warm-up excercise. They offered me the position. It would have been rude to say no. And that is where Oliver Tidy the writer found his mojo.
I’m not one of those who’s wanted to write since I was in nappies. But I’ve loved books and reading for as long as I can remember and I think for a lot of people like that it’s only a matter of time before they want to have a go themselves. I’d tried in the UK but with all the distractions of family, property, work, women, motorbikes, television and booze it had never happened for me. In Istanbul I suddenly found myself responsibility and distraction free. The only people I knew were the people I worked with. A little flat came with the job. Work was a doddle. I didn’t understand a word of the language, so no television. I still had beer and women issues – some things will never change, but there are worse things in life.
I said work was a doddle and it really was. It wasn’t just the teaching hours (half the number I’d been doing in the UK). The organisation I was employed by took care of everything for us. Foreigners were treated like royalty. That’s how it felt. I needed something to do. I started writing. Mostly, I was writing at school in my free hours. I had a lot of free hours.
I worked at that school for the next five years. Writing went from an interest to a compulsion, something addictive. I’d written four or five books before I decided to self-publish. Being a bibliophile I wanted nothing more than to see my name in print. I tried rather half-heartedly to get a literary agent but I had no patience for it and to be honest the more I found out the more I came to realise I had a greater chance of pissing into a gale force wind and remaining dry. I didn’t want to self-publish. I saw that as a kind of vanity publishing. I was wrong. Very wrong. Self-publishing is brilliant and liberating. It can also be quite lucrative.
So I took the plunge – I put some of my books on Smashwords. I gave them away for free because I just wanted to know what readers thought. I craved feedback from people who didn’t know me. Most of it was encouraging. Then I got into Amazon. It’s a bit of a cliché but, I never looked back after that.
I kept up the day job and I kept writing in my free time and the evenings. And I kept self-publishing on Amazon.
In 2014 I moved schools. I was still in Istanbul. And I was still able to write.
After a year there I moved to Ankara. Did I mention I’d got married to a Turk and we’d had a child? Ankara is where the inlaws lived. My price for the move was that I wouldn’t get a day job – I’d have a year and see if I could make a go of writing as a full-time occupation.
That was two years ago. I’m still writing. I ‘work’ more hours in the day now than I have in any other job I’ve ever had. But that’s because I love my ‘work’.
I’ve written nineteen books . (The last two are not ready for the outside world yet.) Self-publishing has been good to me. I have some fantastic readers. They have been very generous, supportive, helpful and kind. I will be forever grateful to my readers because without readers writers are nothing. I believe that. Without readers I would not have had the encouragement or the income to live the dream. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two years.
That’s all coming to a close now. By this time tomorrow I’ll be back living on Romney Marsh full-time. I’m looking forward to it. I really am. Romney Marsh IS home and I’ve missed it and the UK. My writing will have to take a back seat for I don’t know how long. I’ve got to prioritise. Somewhere habitable to live is at the top of the list. And then there are all those old distractions and responsibilities.
I have ideas for future stories. Long and short. Of my three series I shall continue with the Booker & Cash. I’ve been experimenting with other things and I shall continue to do so. I’ve decided that my writing is driven these days by ideas and mood. If I get an idea for a story that I can’t resist and I’m in the mood for it that’s what I’m throwing myself into, doesn’t matter about the genre. I’ve also got a locked room mystery that I know is original and I’m itching to write it. (Every mystery writer wants to write a locked room mystery.) I’ve got a book in what Margaret Atwood calls the ‘speculative fiction genre’ (I really like that) and a spy thriller both finished in first drafts that I need to attend to. Then I think it will back to Booker & Cash #4. I’ve made a good start on that.
I’ve had a great run. I have lots of fantastic memories. I’ve enjoyed my eight years in Turkey. The country might be going to hell in a handcart, propelled along by an autocratic, ego maniac bedazzled with dreams of becoming the next leader of the reincarnation of the Ottoman empire but the ordinary people here are lovely, warm, generous, and good-hearted. In eight years I’ve only ever been treated with kindness and friendliness by every Turk I’ve met. That goes for strangers too.
My last blog post from Turkey would not be complete without one more mention. It’s more of a dedication, actually. To my closest friend throughout my time here. My constant companion. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Hardly a day has gone by that we have not been intimate with each other. It’s not always been easy but we’ve struggled through the highs and lows, the thick and thin together. We’ve shared everything: tears of joy, tears of sadness, hope, despair, love, hate, even body fluids. We’ve made love together, we’ve killed people together, we’ve committed heinous crimes, righted wrongs and been all over the world together, we are privy to each other’s deepest, darkest secrets. There is nothing about each other that we do not know or understand. I’m talking about my laptop.
I bought my Dell Inspiron just before I came to Turkey. I’ve written nineteen books, hundreds of blog posts, thousands of emails, comments, Tweets, Facebook posts. (Not forgetting five years of school work.) Millions and millions of words on it. It is no exaggeration to say that I’ve poured my heart soul into this piece of electrical hardware and it has never let me down. Not once. It’s getting old. The fan is always on. It gets hot and bothered. It can be cranky and slow to wake up in the mornings. (This is starting to sound like me.) But it keeps going. Last year I bought a new laptop back from the UK (of course it’s another Dell) because I thought this one was on its last legs but it’s kept going and the new one is still in its box.
I feel some regret that something which has played such an important role in my life has got to go back to the UK in the hold of the plane. I don’t know if it will survive that experience, those temperatures, the rough handling. Whatever happens, I’ll never throw it away. Even if it stops working I’ll keep it on display somewhere. It is among my most treasured possessions for what we’ve been through together. My dearest Dell, I love you. I couldn’t have done it without you.
My final published thought from Turkey chimes with something DC Grimes said in Joint Enterprise (The Third Romney and Marsh File). I remember thinking of myself (again) when I wrote it. My time abroad has provided me the opportunity to walk Grimes’ talk. Storytelling is one of the richest, most enduring and most celebrated cultural elements in the shared history of humankind. I’m both happy and proud to be a stain (?) on a tradition I love, something that will survive long after I’m gone and probably until the last human being drops down dead.
‘We’re all going to die. Most of us will leave no mark of our existence behind whatsoever. Not a stain or a smudge or a smear on the face of history. I think that’s sad. If I can be part of something that survives long after I’m dead then I’ll have achieved a form of immortality. I’d like that.’
DC Grimes, Joint Enterprise