The journey – but where to begin?

Based on the advice of my old friend Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, I created a list of ways I could make money to pay for my Arvon course:

A garage sale
Unfortunately, we don’t get enough foot traffic down our street to make prostituting myself in front of the neighbours a workable option.  An alternative would be to get up very early on a Sunday morning to go and car-boot-sell all the junk I’ve been storing for years for this purpose.  Very, very early indeed.  So that’s a no-no, then.

Ebay and Amazon all the junk I’ve been storing for years for this very purpose
I tried this last year and after initial excitement at an early flurry of sales, soon realised it’s more aggro than it’s worth.  It creates more trips to the post office than I have time for and even with a stack of second hand envelopes donated by friends, a £1.50 sale costing £3.50 postage is never going to make me a millionaire.  A very disappointing feeling I can tell you, not dissimilar to the time I was given tuppence ha’penny for two large carrier bags of rare and high quality books.  If I hadn’t been so heavily pregnant and such a long way from the car, I’d have told the Antiquarian Bookseller where to stick his money and used them to fuel the gas fire instead.

Sell old phones for cash
Mobile phones have become the new returnable pop bottles but again, though I’ve had some success with selling them (having a husband who succumbs to every deal the phone companies wave at him and, thus, a house full of unused mobiles), I’ve been pushed out of the market by my children.  They’ve caught on to the fact that it’s a fantastic way to supplement their pocket money.  Hence my brother-in-law dropping by at 7 am the other morning with a box of phones for Child 2 to sell online on his behalf.  For 50% commission. 

Not going shopping again until every tin, packet of food and frozen meal in our cupboards have been used up
The kids aren’t too happy about this one, partly because the slowly emptying cupboards make them anxious they’ll starve to death, partly because building a delicious and satisfying meal from a random pile of ingredients isn’t actually as easy as it looks on Ready Steady Cook.  And Child 1 say’s she’ll never forgive the humiliation of her domestic science teacher holding up her out-of-date-four-years-ago packet of dried yeast for everyone in class to marvel at.  However, standing at the tills in Sainsbury’s screaming ‘As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!’ is a tad over dramatic, I feel.

And that sister idea…

Never doing a Big Shop ever again, thus saving myself from buying things I don’t need and will eventually throw away
Like the woman in the Co-op Ad, I want to use the time I would spend shopping having a lie-in with the husband on Saturdays, playing board games with the children or taking the dog for a walk on a windswept beach.  Then, whenever I needed something for tea or we’d run out of toilet rolls or the mother-in-law had dropped round unexpectedly for a cuppa, I could simply walk round the corner to our local, friendly food store and buy four slices of the finest steak (ethically sourced) and an incredibly well-made Battenberg cake.  Unfortunately, we live miles from the town’s only Co-op Store and Bargain Booze two streets down is anything but ethical.   For a start the food’s way too expensive and frankly, anyone who’s prepared to diddle customers out of small but regular amounts of change doesn’t deserve my business.  And I don’t actually own a dog or live near a beach.  And the old man works most Saturday mornings and, in fact, generally drives round to fetch his mother when she visits us.

Use cheaper cuts of meat 
Last week the family refused to eat the stew I made with cheaper cuts of meat.  Was it the meat, was it the way I incinerated it?  Who knows.  Whatever the reason, I threw it away when the mould on the surface began to lift the lid off the pan.

Sell a kidney
I’m a coward, I can’t do it, and besides, at the rate I’m quaffing down medicinal red wine, no-one is likely to want it.  

Sell one of the children
An attractive proposition, this one, but one that’s likely to prompt child protection agency involvement, thus scuppering potential credibility as a children’s author.

Raid the copper jar 
This is by far the best money earner at present and with the thirty pence I found down the back of the sofa this morning, has netted me £37.20.

It looks like money-making has to come down entirely to writing, then.
So I contacted The Team  for advice.  The Team are fellow MA creative writing students, three full-timers from last year who have moved on to fresh fields (gone back home, more specifically) and two others who, like me, are taking the course at a more leisurely pace.  ‘I need to earn a heap of money from writing,’ I told them and asked for suggestions on how to do that. 
But I haven’t got long before the closing date, so I’d better get my finger out.

Laying down the gauntlet

The annual mailshot from The Arvon Foundation dropped into the in-box of Outlook Express last Wednesday, fan-faring the exciting calendar of writing courses they’ve lined up for 2011.  I flicked through the email in cursory fashion – too busy to look at it properly and too impatient to wait the six hours it takes the family computer to open each link.  Besides, why torture myself? I quashed my rising interest resolutely and clicked the email shut.
The people at Arvon weren’t content to leave it there, though.  On Thursday, their brochure – ‘Arvon Inspires’ – arrived in the post and as the husband chose to empty the mail box (we live in the heart of suburbia but are pretentious enough to have a mail box), it made it into my soap-sudded hands several days earlier than it would have done otherwise.  ‘Oh shucks,’ I thought, ‘it can’t hurt just to look at it.’  So, abandoning domesticity for five minutes and armed with a cup of tea and a biscuit, look at it I did.
It’s not that I have an aversion to the Arvon Foundation, which from April to November runs writing courses in historic country houses in Devon, Shropshire, Yorkshire and up at the top of the UK in Inverness.  These are tutored by writers of such calibre that the schedule reads like a guest list for a Booker Prize party.  Indeed, I’m more than a little drawn to the idea of a kid-free week ‘sharing and exploring creative writing’ in the middle of nowhere and having a ‘life-changing experience’ such as that enjoyed by Paul Abbott of Shameless fame.  It’s just that the courses cost quite a bit of money.  More money, in fact, than a part time teacher can justify spending on something which, to the outside world, is A Little Hobby.
But do I see it as a hobby myself?  Less and less, if truth be known; there’s been a gradual shift in how I think of myself since beginning a creative writing MA course last year.  I am a Writer, with a capital W.  But unfortunately, I’m not a published writer and though I diligently save all my expense receipts, as yet there are no incomings to offset such very substantial outgoings against. 
Not yet, anyway.  But wait a minute, there’s a course here that might help with that.  At a venue I could easily get to despite my anxieties over driving, in a genre I’ve been trying to develop myself in, and tutored by an author whose work I’ve read and like very much.  A week of uninterrupted writing under such expert guidance might produce something publishable and as an agent is the mid-week guest, they should be able to help with that.  It’s in the summer holidays, too, so wouldn’t clash with work.  In fact, the course has my name written all over it.  I ran the idea past the husband to see if he was up for lone parenting for a week.  “Go for it!” he said.  The only obstacle to overcome, then, is the guilt I feel over the size of the fee.
So on Friday I set myself a challenge: to earn enough money in the next six months to cover the cost of an Arvon writing course in August.  It’s kind of a statement of intent to myself, to show how serious I am about earning my living as a writer.  If I can do it for the short term to fund what is, to all intents and purposes a luxury get-a-way, I should be able to do it for real in the future, to fund my writing life.