SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Bookish behaviour is all about timing

There is never a good time to write a novel, writes Suzanne Harrington

Like having a baby, there is never a good time to write a novel. There’s never a time when you think, oh yes, right now is absolutely the right time to withdraw from the world, stay in your dressing gown for an indefinite period, allow the brown envelopes to reach elbow height on the hall floor. The alternative is to wait until the kids are grown and the mortgage paid off, but given the current economic climate – in this household at least – the kids may never leave home, and it would be cheaper to die than pay off the mortgage.

Which is why I have been in my dressing gown since September. You slip into a routine of sorts, one that involves Cup-A-Soup and staring out the window, then frantic typing for a bit, then more staring out the window. The postman is the only other human with whom you have face to face contact, so if there’s no post, you end up talking quietly to yourself, reminding yourself that it’s probably time for another Cup-A-Soup. (You’ve had to cut back on the coffee, since the palpitations and shaky hands made it difficult to type ).

Successful novelists get cash advances, and retreat to their Mediterranean hideaways to bang out their blockbusters. Once, while interviewing Jeffrey Archer, he offered some sage advice as he showed me around his art collection. Always lock yourself away from the world to write, preferably somewhere nice in the Balearics. Ideally with a butler. Cheers, Jeffrey. I might try dressing the dog up as a manservant but I’m not optimistic.

Whether you’re doing it in your bedroom with only flatulent dogs for company, or in a penthouse on your private island, the process is the same. Silence, introspection, hopelessness, interspersed with manic bursts of brain activity; a sort of desk-bound bi-polarity, where you can experience delight and despair in a single hour. More fun than commuting, although less well paid.

How long are we going to be poor, demands the fourteen year old. We’re not poor, I tell him. We just don’t have any money. It’s a choice. It’s not my bloody choice, he says. Why can’t you get a proper job anyway. Why do you spend all your time in your dressing gown – doesn’t that mean you’re depressed or something?

I try to explain the difference between never leaving the house because you’re depressed and never leaving the house because you want to get a first draft finished by Christmas.

He’s having none of it. Look, I say in desperation, remember the last time I did a book?

Yeah, he sneers. Nobody wanted it. No, I say. The book before that. The one that paid for us to go and see Barcelona playing Real Madrid, and spend half the winter in India?

He nods suspiciously. It was a few years ago, after all. Time is money when you’re fourteen. Well, I say. That’s why I’m in my dressing gown all day.

FFS, he says. Hurry up then.


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