The extent to which my 1987 surgery mirrors my 1971 surgery is, in retrospect, remarkable. Not only are both surgeries a disaster – the post-operative care is as poor the second time round as the first. The main difference is that this time the doctors are talking to me, rather than to my parents. But I am just as unresponsive as they were. I literally “take my medicine”, unquestioning and uncritically (although in my case through fear), helplessly complicit in my treatment, without any idea what else I could have done, or could do. I am unable to be an adult in this situation.
As in 1971, the discussion primarily focuses on how I am healing. Now I have been through the surgical process, I never see the surgeon again – just junior doctors, who seem pretty uninterested – just another slot in the appointments system. They make a recommendation in respect of post-operative medication, and that’s pretty much it.
To begin with I feel reasonably healthy after I recover from the surgery itself. My thoughts turn to career matters, as QMW is deathly dull and going nowhere. I am still actively involved with Acme Press, and although I am frustrated at how we function as a co-op I do feel slightly more confident about my creative abilities. The comics industry is such a specific niche though. If I were to stay there I would like to write comics rather than write/edit about them, but I lack the nerve to try and see if I can write. A real shame because as long as I am involved in Acme I am potentially well connected to both the UK and US industries. I do get to know the people at Fleetway – IPC’s comics division which in due course is sold to Robert Maxwell. 2000 A.D. continues to go from strength to strength – although there is a steady hemorrhage of creative talent. There is now a well-established pattern of US publishers – D.C. in particular – snapping up emerging talent from Fleetway, beginning with the likes of Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. In due course Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill and many others make similar transatlantic journeys to fame and fortune, so Fleetway are constantly on the lookout for newer talent to nurture, something which they prove very good at. Pat Mills and John Wagner, creative founding fathers of 2000 A.D., do some work for American publishers but remain loyal to Fleetway as well. They also work hard to build the brand value of their flagship character Judge Dredd, who gets his own spin-off magazine. Everyone recognizes that Dredd is such a strong character that he has potential in other media – a recognition that leads, eventually, to the Sylvester Stallone movie version.
So there is a lot of potential for me to try and develop my career in the comics inudstry. As usual, though, everyone around me seems so much more confident, and paradoxically, although I think I have something to offer I am too scared to exploit the opportunities I actually have, and instead decide to plough on in a different direction to try and develop a creative career some other way. My plan is simple to the point of vagueness. I am bored rigid at QMW and want a more flexible work situation. I decide to teach myself keyboard skills so that I can leave the college and go and temp for a while. Temping, I reason, allows me to work as and when I want (as long as sufficient money is coming in to keep the household going) and in the meantime I can “magic up” a creative career somehow, make a success of my writing or something else. The idealism of someone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of what they are doing, and who also doesn’t realize that their health, and state of mind, are about to deteriorate.
Beth graduates during the year and also has to decide what to do. She goes to work for a Japanese publisher in Regent Street, Central London but this proves disastrous. She quickly moves to a religious publisher, SCM Press, at the time based in Dalston, East London, which proves a challenging commute from Maida Vale. Around this time we briefly break up (the way you do), but after a couple of months we get back together again (the way you do). Because I have returned to work, picked up the pieces of my life as though nothing has happened and seem in reasonably good spirits, neither of us realize what a difficult time I am about to face. Even when it becomes a difficult time, we kind of don’t realize it because I keep so much of the really serious stuff at bay.
I am unable to crossdress. It seems like a no-go area between the two of us (not least to me, because I feel guilty and bad about my transness) and my flat is clogged up with whichever unsuitable lodger I have at the time – the floppy-haired gents outfitter I think. So in a lot of respects I am ‘stuck’.
I leave QMW in the early autumn. Financially boosted by having a lodger my debt has been kept at bay and has, if anything, slightly diminished. It remains a worrying amount, particularly as the speed at which it is reducing is very slow. Somehow, despite everything that has happened, I take a chance. I have the sense that temporary work is easy to come by in London, and if you have word processing skills the rates are not that bad. I discuss this with Carol, Richard (Acme) Ashford’s wife, who works at the time for Kelly Temporary Services, and her view of the job market is reassuring. So I leave QMW and in the first two weeks pay for a typing training course at a secretarial college near the Barbican.
By this time typewriters are giving way to word processors in a big way. The nature of word processors is also changing. In the early eighties the term meant very specialised computers which only edited text and ran no other programmes. At Titan I used to put our catalogues together on a weird typewriter/WP hybrid that Olivetti sold us. But the IBM PC, and in some companies the Apple Macintosh, are gaining market share. So there are a lot of different WP packages out there – Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, MacWrite, the weird clunky one on Acme’s ICL computer. Temp agencies view these products as incredibly different from each other. They’re not really (apart from the ICL one) but agencies tend to think that if you are trained to use Word you will be flummoxed by Word Perfect. Because of my experience at Titan and QMW I am not afraid of computers, and I know it’s just a matter of figuring out the wrinkles of each particular program – so I am determined to bluff my way to the point where Kelly will list me as being capable of using pretty much any word processing program.
I abandon the secretarial course after a couple of weeks – it’s all done on electric typewriters and the feel of the keyboard is very different from a computer keyboard. And in any case I have a Plan B. Just before I leave QMW I buy my first home computer with some money given to me by my grandmother. For about a year I have flirted with the (relatively cheap) Amstrad word processor, but my time at the college has allowed me to discover how fantastic Macs are by comparison with any other desktop computer at the time. They just are, OK? This is what Windows looks like at the time. No comparison.
So I buy my Macintosh Plus with a whopping 1 megabyte of RAM (which I later upgrade to 4MB!) and an external 40 MB hard drive (the Pluses have no internal hard drive, or space to install one). I naughtily grab a few bits of software from the college and also buy a product called Typing Tutor IV for about £40. It’s a fantastic program and I teach myself to type at home, launching myself on a unsuspecting temp market around November of 1988. I pass Kelly’s keyboard speed test as a touch typist, but initially they just find me data entry work, which is not very well paid. Just before Christmas though I get my first proper WP job, and then I never look back. The money is decent and keeps the wolf from the door. Over the next year I get work using all sorts of different programs on PCs, occasionally on Macs (I acquire a copy of Microsoft Word 4 for myself while working for a building firm) and once even on the dreaded Acme-style ICL system.
Temping is great – no responsibility and if you are halfway competent the clients generally love you. I enjoy working for a year with no pressure – and there is as much work as I want or need. In my spare time, I am still involved with Acme, but in due course this will come to an end. First though, I must have dinner with Alan Moore and Will Eisner, and annoy Neil Gaiman. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it …