Violet Fenn is a freelance writer; she writes for The Metro, and she also runs the website Sex, Death, Rock ‘N’ Roll. I can’t remember how I was introduced to her work-probably due to the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter. She was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email; we spoke about everything from Autism, to her work, writing, and blogging.
Firstly, how did you start out as the freelance writer you are today?
I’ve always written. I just did it for long enough that eventually I had enough of a portfolio for people to take a punt on actually paying me to write. My first earnings from my own writing came from erotic short stories put out as e-books via a small publisher.
It helps that I’m not scared of writing about subjects – mental health, sex – that other people find difficult. Having no social filters is a really positive thing in my line of work. Neither do I restrict myself to a niche – I also write about lifestyle issues and gin, music and books.
If it’s interesting, I’ll write about it.
Could I also ask: at what age were you diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum?
I’m 48 now and was diagnosed just over two years ago, at the age of 46.
I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in my twenties and the consultant who assessed me for ASD felt that the GAD was actually caused by living with undiagnosed autism for so long, which was interesting (if not entirely surprising).
How did it feel, knowing this?
Weird. Because I kind of already knew it, but having spent literally decades being told that there was nothing wrong with me except for ‘nerves’ and that I should just learn to worry less, I was half expecting to be told that I was just being silly and there was nothing different about me at all.
How do you think that this diagnosis has influenced you as a writer?
In some ways it’s changed nothing – I still write about completely normal everyday things, the same as any other freelance writer would – but in others it has changed everything. I now know why I always felt ‘apart’ from other people and luckily I already have a platform on which I can talk about it.
So I’ve definitely taken advantage of that in order to shout about autism from the rooftops whenever possible.
How did you come to blog?
I actually started out with a blog about corpses! I was fascinated by the art of Victorian death photography and started a site called The Skull Illusion in 2010, in order to collate all the random vintage memento mori photographs that were swilling around the internet.
Random fact – I was recently turned down for a part time job at an undertakers, because I was ‘too interested in death’. I’d argue that actually I just knew a lot about it because I find it fascinating, but clearly they thought my background knowledge was a bit, well, weird. NT people really don’t understand the joy of the special interest!
What do you think about making money from blogging?
I wish I knew how to do it! Very, very few people actually make a living from straight-up blogging – in my view a personal website is more like a space in which showcase your abilities with a view to getting paid work elsewhere. I am personally hobbled somewhat in that much of the content of my site is sex-related, which restricts the amount of companies who are willing to advertise on it. People are so narrow minded, it’s ridiculous.
Sex, Death, Rock’n’Roll isn’t a blog in the traditional sense – it certainly isn’t laid out like one. It’s more like a weird kind of magazine that talks about the odd things that preoccupy my mind.
I’m in awe of anyone who actually earns money from their own website, whatever content they put out on it. Well done them!
Off the back of this, would you ever consider writing a book?
Already on it! I have been a reasonably successful erotica writer in the past, so have some knowledge of the industry already. I’m currently finishing off a fun romance novel based on one of my old erotica short stories, but my main pet project is a proposal I’m putting together for a non-fiction book about autism and sexuality. Hopefully that’ll find a home with a publisher at some point (crosses everything) and I can use my loud mouth and unusual background to help others in similar positions.
For a day at the office, what would we find in your handbag?
I don’t have an office, but I do work from coffee shops on a regular basis, just to get myself out of the house. I learned long ago to buy a Good Handbag, because they last forever – cheap ones really are a false economy. But I refuse to pay silly money, so head to TK Maxx for bargains. I’ve currently got a black Osprey for day to day use and a giant black Christian Lacroix that’s big enough to take my laptop as well as everything else.
Whatever I’m carrying usually contains an iPad with wireless keyboard, my iPhone (without which my life falls apart, not even kidding – I have terrible executive functioning ability, so rely on the phone’s calendar to tell me what to do each day), several notebooks and many pens. I am addicted to pens. Day to day notes are written with either a Zebra F.301 biro or a Hebrin cartridge pen which was a gift from a friend and currently contains ‘rose cyclamen’ ink.
My bag will also always contain my metallic pink purse which I constantly get asked about but actually just came from Primark. An Oyster card – I live miles from London but travel there quite regularly, so keep it topped up for those days when I drive in and have about eight minutes to get to a meeting on the other side of town. Oh and my Filofax – it’s purple with my initials on it and has a matching Lamy Al-Star fountain pen that writes in a lovely violet ink that my kids bought me.
Is there a rehab centre for stationery addicts? There really should be.
For people who are on spectrum and wish to be writers themselves, what would be your advice?
Just write. Keep writing and don’t let anyone stop you. If you’re anything like me there’s probably precious few alternative employment options, so you might as well just keep writing. Let your own voice develop – there is only ever one You, so take advantage of that.
It doesn’t matter what you write, just get something out. I call it the vomit draft – you can edit it later, but you can’t edit an empty page.
And don’t ever feel that you’re alone – if you think or feel something then I can guarantee that someone else has already thought/felt that thing. You are never the only one.
Random: if you had to only wear one lipstick colour for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
Red, no question! I own so many red lipsticks it is ridiculous and I’m actually in the process of setting up a lipstick section on my website just so I can justify buying more. No, I’m not joking.
I wear red lipstick for any and all occasions – there is nothing it doesn’t work for. Weddings, funerals, business meetings – red lippy makes everything more manageable. It’s the perfect mask 😉