Escalator Literature 2009/10 was crucial for me – it made me decide that this writing malarkey was serious. After thirty years as an illustrator that was a massive realisation and surprise, and, having painted pictures since I was an embryo, I felt some guilt about my new direction. This lasted for about a week; the concomitant poverty has been more tenacious.
Escalator was enjoyable and nerve wracking: I had no prior experience of presenting or formally discussing my writing, though friends from the UEA Creative Writing courses had been incredibly generous and helpful, informally. So, to receive feedback, in a public place, from my mentor Courttia Newland, and to have to read to literary agents, in a public place, was demanding. To do those things without weeping was a triumph.
Perhaps most valuably Escalator opened my eyes to tangible practicalities of literary life: how to write synopses, how to use social media (still not 100% there), how agents operate and – most interestingly – how practising authors actually work. My appreciation of the latter went from indiscriminate absorption of all information imparted to a far more selective mode, as I realised that all writers differ and that it was OK to put together my own working routines. Some pointers, such as write original material at one time of day, and edit at another, were invaluable: thanks to Alex Preston for that. I manage to adhere to it some of the time.
Other People’s Dogs is not my Escalator book: The Rec – now re-titled Retribution – is still ongoing and I think it’s going well. OPD began life a year or so earlier, as (50,000 words of) light relief between two longer manuscripts. Its genesis was, definitely, as ‘dog book’, rather than ‘memoir’: I dislike that m-word. But my dog book differs from most in that, while the majority are concerned with a one-to-one relationship between dog and owner, OPD is written by someone who adores dogs but has never owned one. So a degree of autobiography was inevitable, in describing serial, irresponsible relationships with any number of canines, over many years. And, for me, that aspect of the book has been the most interesting, as it threw up dilemmas revolving around memory, wish fulfilment, truth, fiction, etc. All of which sounds too serious: OPD is predominantly humorous – and that’s an h-word I dislike. Oh God, I’ve written a humorous memoir. Shoot me now.
I’ve been very lucky in getting Ian Pollock, an old RCA friend, to illustrate the book, and I’m hugely grateful to Barrie Tullett at Caseroom Press for sticking with me while I dithered and edited – two activities that can seem fiendishly similar. My sincere thanks to them, and to Courttia Newland and WCN for the Escalator experience.
So, if you want to read a dog book written by someone who has never owned a dog, or a memoir written by someone who can’t remember what he had for breakfast, look no further.
You can purchase a copy of Other People’s Dogs online, or from The Book Hive.
Robert Mason graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1976. He embarked on a thirty-year career as an illustrator, working for many major publishers and producing artwork for books by Rose Tremain, Robertson Davies, Robert Musil, Angela Carter, Alan Moore and many others. In 2006 he virtually stopped drawing and began to write, and in 2009 applied successfully for a place on WCN’s Escalator Literature programme. Robert ran the Illustration course at the (then) Norwich School of Art from 1990 to 2006, and eventually retired from the (now) Norwich University of the Arts in 2013. He has written two short books about Illustration; Other People’s Dogs is his first non-Illustration title. He lives in Norwich with his wife, the totally brilliant jeweller Elaine Cox.