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Scented

Scented’ is an exploration of who a person is when they lose the security and status associated with professional work … her central character, Sian, goes from being a university professor of American Studies, appreciated for her research and her teaching skills, to unemployment, and failure to gain even the most basic of jobs. She descends into paranoia and bitterness, which doesn’t make for a greatly sympathetic character, but it does reflect what can happen when suddenly we find ourselves unvalued.

I read this book during a time when I was between projects – there was uncertainty about whether a previous agreement to carry out some work would now go ahead in the post-Covid lockdown environment we are now in. And during that time of uncertainty, with fear creeping up my spine in a physical way, I kept reading Sian’s story.

Yesterday I caught up with a friend whose work has dried up in this pandemic-related environment. She was still waiting for proposals to be considered, and for her usual range of work to come online again. She wasn’t emanating fear, she has learned to deal with these times pretty well, and I know what strength that takes.

We have gone through lots of these periods of uncertainty as fellow freelancers over the past six years. And then work gets confirmed and we look back and laugh and wish we had reveled in the freedom of that spare time much more.

When my work was confirmed I immediately felt the confidence as a physical sensation in my back, in the same place the fear had been residing. To know I am useful, I am in demand, is an amazingly steadying experience.

And yet it also comes at a cost, of the freedom to pursue the personal writing projects. My quieter week right now has been a true blessing. I can feel I have shinier eyes, I have more energy in my connections with others, and I wake up looking forward to what will come out in my morning pages and these new blog entries in particular. During free moments in the day I make hurried notes on new ideas, and it sparks me up in a way that is different from the steady confidence and security of client work.

Laurence Fearnley’s character Sian also experiences this pay-off by the end of the book, finding a new tribe and a new way of life. We leave her at a crossroads, with the option to return to her former life or to continue on her new path.