Guest Blogger: Malcolm Cowen
For me it started twenty years ago. I’d just gone freelance, and found myself working in Switzerland.
The pay was fantastic. There was only one problem. My wife and kids were three hours away in northwest England.
Every Friday night I would fly back to Manchester for three nights at home, then get up at some ghastly hour Monday morning to fly back to Zürich.
Work was fine, my Swiss and German colleagues were excellent, and the work was interesting. But four nights a week I’d go back to my flat in Mühlebachstrasse, cook a meal for myself, and then sit solitary till bedtime.
There were other Brits around, but their evenings appeared to be spent in the very dubious pubs in Langstrasse where the drinks were only slightly less expensive than the “hostesses.” I wasn’t going that route.
That’s when I had the idea of trying my hand at writing.
There was a trade magazine called Freelance Informer, a noisy upstart who’d taken on the staider IT publications and done rather well with a combination of informative articles and personal experience stories from other freelancers. I decided to have a go. After all, what had I to lose?
I’d had a few interesting experiences with agents and clients who liked to bend the rules. All I had to do was change the names “to protect the guilty” and to keep my own anonymity safe. I wrote my first submission out, in longhand (this was before word processors), typed it up on my portable typewriter when I got home, and posted it off. Two weeks later I had a copy of Freelance Informer with my article in it and a cheque for £80.
I couldn’t believe it. I wrote another article, and they took that as well. In all I did about twenty over the next few years. It kept me sane, and it was fun.
Then Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented this new thing called the Internet, and overnight all the advertising revenue that used to support the trade magazines dried up. The advertisers realized that Internet and e-mail were far more effective ways to reach the IT freelance market. Freelance Informer went broke, and that seemed to be the end of my writing career.
It wasn’t, though. Years later I had a phone call from one of my German contacts, He’d got work in Düsseldorf, if I wanted it. I said yes, and a couple of months later I was back in a small flat Monday to Friday, looking again at four nights of tedium a week.
So I decided to try my hand at writing again, and found that even if the Internet had closed one avenue, it had opened others. I made my first sales online to a small press in Florida and another to a magazine in the Czech Republic, and I was hooked.
I’ve never made anything like the money I got from Freelance Informer, but that’s not the point. It’s the kick I get from knowing my work is out there, and that people have said they enjoyed it.
I still earn far more writing software, but I’ve been doing that for over forty-five years now. I don’t think any piece of software that I’ve written has lasted more than fifteen years, and most has lasted a lot less.
But if I write a good story or poem, then it can last indefinitely. People can enjoy it for years to come. When I’m with the Lord, then I’ll have left something worth more than any chunk of computer code can ever be.
And certainly worth more than what’s on offer in the pubs down Langstrasse.
Malcolm Cowen has worked in information technology for over forty years, including writing part of one of the first truly multitasking operating systems, GEOrge 3. For the last 25 years he’s worked as a freelance software designer, through his own company, Cowen Software Ltd., http://www.cowensw.co.uk and www cowensw.com. He’s had about six short stories published, and two novels, Lady of Foxdale and Daughter of the King, are available as e-books from http://www.e-bshop.co.uk and Amazon. A couple of his sci-fi whodunit audio scripts have been broadcast on local radio stations.