Confession: I spent most of my teenage years in my bedroom reading, but in the last decade, I’ve finished more biographies and books on writing than novels. (Before that, as a doctor, I spent the time I wasn’t working or studying, eating and sleeping.) This is not good. Non-fiction inspires articles, but if I want to get better at fiction, you need to read that.
Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” But nevertheless, it’s felt like an indulgence. King has a wife and fewer children than me. It took a Youtube video with Ian McEwan to change my ways.
He sees reading as much a part of his working day as writing and spends an equal amount of time doing both. He’s doing something right, so I picked up a novel- This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. As I was away for my birthday, I felt no guilt devouring it in a weekend. Since then, I’ve made sure I always have something to read in my bag and in the last ten weeks, I’ve read eight books.
It may be that I’ve now entered that phase of parenting where reading when the children are around is OK, even advised. They need my presence without constant observation.
I don’t know what effect this reading has had on my prose, but counter-intuitively, it’s already improved my productivity. Enjoying other people’s words with no sense of responsibility for their use, living in the world’s they’ve crafted, I feel so much more inspired.
Last week was special. I have seven younger siblings and as there are thirty-three husbands/wives/partners and children, it’s rare even those in the UK are all in the same place at once. Pretty much my whole family met in the Lake District to welcome my third sister and family who were visiting the UK from New Zealand. It was the first time most of us had seen them for six years. Some children had either to be introduced or re-introduced to each other. And yet, shared genes and heritage created an immediate shorthand. I’ve never had to explain one of my children to their cousins in the way I’ve needed to do to their friends. (Meeting my own first cousins a few weeks ago was a very similar experience.)
Thanks to another sister’s and brother-in-law’s organisation, there were nerf gun fights, party games and I sent my eleven-year-old son on the Via Ferrata. (As he was making his way there without me, I watched this on Youtube!)
As for my novel, I would say I’m fleshing out my world, but that’s a very active term. Ian McEwan described this point as ‘coming into focus’. (Who says I have to be a literary genius before I compare my process with his?) I’m asking questions and finding answers that convince and interest me. These may not reach the final product, but they will still improve it.
For instance, Jane has always been the nearest thing to a villain in my mind- bitter, disowning her own son- but this morning I realised how she’d got to that point. I think I like her.
Work-life balance would be a struggle if I had lots of work. This is not a complaint. Actually, I’m becoming increasingly relaxed about the ebb and flow of freelancing. The current ebb means I have time to prepare for next term, find things to do with the children over the summer, help my son relearn how to touch type, push him to learn some Spanish, write my current novel, submit my previous one and catch up on reading. And the reduction in stress means inspiration comes more easily. I suppose it’s the flip-side of the perennial working parent’s complaint- that you can never do everything as well as you want. When you don’t have to do everything, your performance improves.
It was dark, but this is Bournemouth, in the middle of a subway, under a roundabout:
Is it just me being pretentious, or is there a metaphor here? Even if it is mid-May rather than November.
I don’t actually live at Michael House, though at times in the last couple of months it has felt and probably looked like it to the residents. I’m a freelance journalist writing an article about the place.
I had a little panic when I received the job, although it had been my idea. So many awards! So many different things going on! It all seemed very complicated. What if I couldn’t distill everything into 1200 words? And what if no one wanted to speak to me?
But eventually, the information fell into place. As for interviews, I couldn’t stop people telling me about their lives. Keeping within word count was a challenge.
There were common themes. Most had become homeless after a relationship breakdown. Everyone was relieved to have a door to lock behind them. And they were all looking forward to their next chapter.
I’m hoping the article will explain why Michael’s is so special. Meanwhile, here are some photos of the garden that the gifted Sarah Cotton took for the magazine:
I am slowly building up my list of editorial contacts. Slowly.
I don’t like unsolicited emails, so I understand why there’s often a two-tier system for contacting magazines. Those in the know have addresses for specific people. Everyone else has to put their trust in ones beginning with ask@… or helpdesk@…
It takes effort, money or other contacts to find the first-tier kind: sometimes, you can find them on Twitter- if you know what you’re doing; you can pay lots for a media directory or know people who know people. I belong to a great on-line journalist’s group, but I’m sure it’s possible to expend that goodwill, so I don’t ask for addresses as often as I need (every third pitch).
It’s all part of the process. Instead of getting discouraged, I should expect it to take time.
“I don’t know why you’re miserable.” My husband has never been comfortable with emotion. His strengths lie elsewhere.
“Brexit,” I said.
“Oh! That’s completely rational. It’s going to be a disaster.”
So far, I’ve not said much about Brexit online because friends I respect voted for it. I disagree with their decision, but I don’t think it was the electorate’s fault. We weren’t given enough information. What we were given was misleading, sometimes downright deceitful.
But I’m horrified by Parliament. We elect MPs to act in our best interests, even if that makes them unpopular. Unlike the rest of us, they’ve been fully briefed on the issues. The majority are convinced we should remain, but yet they’ve pressed on towards a “Hard Brexit”. “The people have spoken!” May says. I bet we’d shout something else now.
There I was, telling myself that now we’d triggered Article 50, it was time to move on, I couldn’t do anything about it, when I heard Nick Clegg saying this:
I met a deadline yesterday. Relaxing a little today, I had a very pleasant morning and early afternoon with my next one. I’d already done the research and produced a rough draft. Now it’s a matter of making sure it reads well, makes sense and importantly comes in at the right number of words. Hopefully, I’ll manage to send it in a few days early.
This means that tomorrow, I can afford to focus on other things in my life, like catching up with friends. I’m not talking about long lunches, just messaging people to let them know I’m still alive. And laundry. I wish I knew how to drop housework into a writing day, but I don’t really. You’d think it would be easy to put a load of washing on when I’m working in the next room.
If any of you have any tips on the whole freelancing/housework balance thing, I genuinely want to know.