THE LIFE OF A WRITER is a strange and wonderful thing. It is, truly. Here I am, a proper serious grown-up with a very serious birthday a scant two years away, and I spend my time in as much of a bubble as if I were a toddler in a playpen. Writing has disconnected me from calendar, salary, and commute. There’s a fabulously creepy movie from 1962 entitled Carnival of Souls, where the female protagonist (to call her the heroine would undo everything the movie does) simply doesn’t know if she is still in this world, or if she is not, and nor does the viewer. Imagine a benign version, with added cat, of that.
It has disconnected me from clock as well. Hands up all those other night-owls out there – my word, we truly are a thing. I didn’t hate getting up at 7 just because I hated getting up at 7 (although I did) – I hated getting up at 7 because my body-clock wanted me to surface at 10, and then still be awake and tapping away at 2 the following morning. At 2 the following morning on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday…. I used to love my weekends. Croissants on the sofa, big mug of coffee made just the way I like it (I don’t care how you make yours, mine is better), weekend papers spread out all around me, Radio 4 burbling away in the background and at some point Spurs either covering themselves in glory or causing one to wonder how come they were ever in the Premier League in the first place. I loved my weekends. I can’t remember when I last had one. There was a point before Christmas (Christmas being one of those moments when even the most demented scribbler really has to pause) where I realized I had been working for 19 days on the trot. I am the writer who lives by herself, and all days are the same to me.
For some of them, I don’t even unlock the front door. For some of them, (oh the shame) I lever myself from the bed, as the last and the tardiest of my neighbours are running from the building in a panic that they’ll miss the bus; I pull on an old stained sweatshirt or holey jumper over whatever I happen to have been sleeping in, and that’s me, dressed. I used to wear skirts; I used to wear tights; I used to wash my hair every morning; I used to wear heels in the daytime – not any more.
If I do have reason to emerge into the outside world, it’s a different place to the one I knew before. The tube is empty; the pavements ditto. Shop assistants are chatty, the shops themselves populated by gently drifting flotillas of mothers with young children, and OAPs – two tribes I never really had any contact with before, but with some of whom I am now familiar enough locally to share a nod. And not for me, any longer, grabbing something for dinner on the way home. I can take my time. I can food-shop with a mindfulness that would make Madame Maigret proud. All those hours between 9 and 5 have opened like blooms on a tulip-tree. When the fridge died recently, after one of those lingering fridge illnesses whose symptoms include a dreadful rattling wheeze and a tendency to wee all over the floor, the folk at John Lewis who provided its successor were deeply apologetic about the fact that I would have to stay in all morning to take delivery. ‘Sometime between 9 and 1’, they said. ‘We’re sorry, we can’t be more specific than that.’
Not, I assured them, a problem for me.
And people are so damn nice when they learn that you’re a writer. If I ever venture into the world of the thriller, and the plot demands some character has to justify their presence in some place they have no business being, all I will need them to do is utter the three magic words ‘I’m a writer’. Abracadabra – everyone’s your friend. We truly are the animal that tells stories, and Lord how immediately and positively we still respond to those who help us do so.
There’s a saying (you know it, I’m sure) that everyone has a book in them, but God help us if should that be true. A world with nothing but writers in it would fall apart within weeks. We’re only half the story. Writers need readers. When you come down to it, there are only two reasons for disconnecting as I have done: to get something written out of my system and to get it into that of as many other people as I possibly can. Thank you for indulging me.