So, it’s Friday and at some point I’ll be abandoning all screens to read a paperback.
Perhaps writing a novel is as simple as this:
An attempt to distil 25+ years of effort and experience into a simple diagram.
This is a photo of the house I rented with five other students in Nottingham. It was rundown and in a rough area, not that we cared at the time as it was more important to be near the college and city centre.
My room was at the top. It provided a fascinating window on our street that happened to be in the red-light area of the city.
Watching from that window provided the inspiration for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.
This extract forms the end of the first chapter (after a woman’s body has been found nearby).
Back in my room at the top, I looked out the window to see if there were any girls out on the corner at the crossroads. The wall where they liked to sit was empty but I sketched it anyway – the waiting-for-a-trick wall with its bricks falling from one end.
I reapplied my eyeliner and pinned up my hair, gathered my uniform together, and raced down the two flights of shag-pile carpeted stairs. “Seeya,” I shouted out in the greying light of the hallway, and slammed the front door behind me, pressing my fingers against it to check.
Two women with bare legs were sitting on the wall opposite. It’s too cold to dress like that, I thought. What are they doing there? Have they not seen the news? I wondered if Mum and Dad had. Probably not, this was local stuff. They didn’t even know I was living in the red-light area.
As I turned onto the main road, I saw the police cordon further up the hill by The Vine, our local pub. Nottingham and particularly our scrappy corner of the city suddenly seemed more dangerous, and yet nothing had changed. The threat of a madman roaming the streets had always been there. It’s probably safer than normal – police everywhere, I thought. But still, to make the twenty-minute trek across town to Saviour’s Bar and Restaurant, I slipped my keys between my fingers. The sharpest, jagged-edged Yale was between my index and middle finger, and gripped discreetly by my side. Everyone needs keys.
You’re a woman and you write, so no doubt you have a dedicated writing space and a private income? No, me neither. It’s quite a while since Virginia Woolf stated that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.
When Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was first published in 1929 this was most likely true, but is it still the case? Money has always been an issue for writers, both male and female. How do you make art pay? DJ Taylor’s new book Literary Life in England Since 1918 looks at the ongoing struggle that most writers face in order to pay the bills so that they can write what they really want to write.
Journalism, teaching, a quiet role in publishing: these have traditionally been the jobs that have provided a steady income for writers, but as the workplace becomes ever more competitive and demanding many writers find they are left with little energy for their art, and yet at the same time they cannot survive on writing alone.
The Society of Authors this week issued an open letter to publishers urging them to address the issue of author earnings which it says are “falling fast”. Authors are “the only essential part of the creation of a book” and yet “the percentage of UK writers living solely from writing” has fallen from 40 % in 2005 to 11.5 % today. So, yes, when it comes to money nothing has changed, in fact it’s getting worse, but do we need our own cubby-hole in which to create?
Since moving to London 23 years ago I’ve set up home in 15 different places and while some flats or houses have provided enough space for a completely separate room that I can call my own, many others have not. London property prices being what they are space is at a premium and for me the luxury of a personal, hands-off, me-only writing space became impossible as our family increased from two to four.
Until recently my desk was a family affair, subject to a ridiculous level of hot-decking. The main computer was rarely left alone. This could slow me down, but there was no reason why it should. All my first-drafts are longhand, as are my edits, and that means I can write anywhere: in an armchair, or a coffee shop, waiting in a car and on trains.
Trains are particularly good for writing (as long as you have a seat). Perhaps it’s the steady movement combined with confinement and boredom. I may as well get on with it and go elsewhere in my head because this is the one true room of one’s own – the place in one’s head.
As a skill, craft and discipline writing is completely portable. You can do it almost anywhere. There’s no point waiting for perfect conditions (such as your own clear desk in your own swish room), you the writer must take control, ignore all chores (think Iris Murdoch’s school of housework), as you make space in that room in your head to let your imaginary world grow.
Of course a room of one’s own and money to support oneself would help a woman write fiction, but at the same time the lack of one or both of these criteria should not close the door on literary ambition, although in all likelihood its realisation may well take longer.
Think of Jane Austen writing at that tiny table by the window in the front room at Chawton (listening out for the creak of the door to warn her of interruptions), or the Brontes all together in the dining room at the parsonage in Haworth, and JK Rowling upstairs in an Edinburgh cafe (whilst on benefits). No one said it would be easy. The compulsion to write is strong – it has to be to enable a writer to reach the end whatever their personal circumstances. Lack of sponsorship or a private space to write are hurdles that can be overcome as long as you nurture that one true room of your own – where the magic happens – the place in your head.
This feature was first published on Women Writers, Women’s Books
Up early: wake kids, wake kids again, wake eldest once again (probably shouting), walk dog (unless it’s raining – he doesn’t do rain), make massive coffee and check Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook. Write diary and plan day.
Write, rewrite, edit or blog until lunchtime. Brief break for lunch with other half (he also works at home). Watch the news – risking boredom, depression or incredulity depending on severity of news items.
Back to work: check Amazon Author Central, Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook and respond to messages and emails. Write, rewrite, edit or possibly format depending on where I’m at with a project, and keep going until there’s a need to shop for food (always out of something). Walk the dog again.
The teenagers return. Cup of tea (I am British), and more of the same until it’s time to cook, read or watch TV (choosing either low-brow or high-brow, but nothing in between), whilst checking Amazon (cue excitement if I have any book sales) and Goodreads (again, happy to gain any reviews). Take the dog out in the garden (I have to accompany him because he is so small and there are foxes that might eat him), read and bed where, in my sleep, I solve all plot issues and devise brilliant promotional campaigns (if only), and wake ready to start again.