We currently find ourselves in the midst of a bad case of Man ‘Flu – the noisy, explosive “I’m Really Quite Unwell, You Know” kind. If our house were a children’s book right now, it would probably be The Gruffalo. Either that or Where the Wild Things Are – except that, unlike young Max, I can’t escape the ‘wild rumpus’ created by this particular rampaging beast and return to the sanctuary of my own bedroom. On the contrary, I’ve been banished from said bedroom to the Narnia-like wilderness of Spare Oom, on the basis that poor old Wild Thing couldn’t possibly get to sleep with the vicious glare of the street lamp outside. (I, meanwhile, have been sleeping much better than usual in Spare Oom, which says it all really.)
Venturing into Wild Thing’s lair this morning in search of a hairbrush, I, like the intrepid Max on his voyage, was forced to negotiate turbulent seas – except that in this case they consisted of several dozen discarded tissues. This prompted a passive-aggressive ‘Trying Hard to be Sympathetic, But Really Not Impressed’ gesture on my part, namely plonking the bin next to Wild Thing’s sick bed.
Having taken time off work to recover, our resident Wild Thing is now in full-on ‘Working From Home While Really Quite Unwell’ mode, which is the worst of all worlds. You still get the incredibly dull (and often completely incomprehensible) conference calls, but they’re punctuated by loud coughing and snuffling noises. These are interspersed with frequent ‘Sympathy Breaks’, whereby Wild Thing plods about aimlessly for a bit, moaning pathetically, and makes regular trips downstairs to sprawl on the sofa and discard yet more used tissues on the floor. My hopeful suggestion of ‘It’s a lovely day – why don’t you go and sit in the garden?’ has fallen on deaf ears, so the germs continue to circulate indoors (Wild Things don’t need to cover their mouths when they cough, apparently).
All this means that I’m now in danger of emulating Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining which, after all, is essentially a film about a guy with a severe case of writer’s block. I’m not quite at the stage of going at AP with an axe (yet), but I’m certainly not getting any meaningful writing done – like the bedeviled Jack Torrance, I find myself typing the same words over and over again, or editing a section I’ve previously scrutinised several times over.
OK, so I’m probably being a little unfair to poor old AP. He can’t help it (apart from the tissues), and it’s not as if I need him to distract me from writing; I’m perfectly capable of doing that myself, whether this be by means of countless cups of tea, Facebook breaks or going for a(nother) walk in the park in search of ‘inspiration’. My frequent diversions from the task at hand aren’t always self-induced, though – in fact, I’d go so far as to claim that there seems to be a general neighbourhood conspiracy to prevent me from getting any work done.
For one thing, we have very nice window cleaners, who happen to love a good chat. Trouble is, being a well brought-up girl and all, I can’t help being friendly and chatty back. Steve and Lee always end up with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and the last time they were here I practically baked them a cake. Ditto the excellent relationship that I recently seem to have developed with our local parcel delivery man. Geoff is one of those rare people who manage to be unfailingly chirpy and upbeat. In spite of the divorce. Which I have, naturally, heard about in considerable detail – by now I could probably compete on Mastermind with ‘Geoff’s Divorce’ as my specialist subject. (AP is also growing increasingly suspicious about the fact that Geoff’s Topshop deliveries have increased in direct proportion to the amount of time I’ve been spending on the laptop, allegedly writing my novel. He’s absolutely convinced that there must be a connection there somewhere…) And the same goes for the postman; the local Jehovah’s Witnesses; the fresh fish salesman; my retired parents who perpetually ‘just happen’ to be walking the dog past my house. All very nice, all very talkative – and all very distracting.
All these little diversions have led me to conclude that that I absolutely must have one of these. It’s a writing shed (this was Roald Dahl’s, and if it worked for him…). AP is rather dubious about this proposal, chiefly because he’s just spent the best part of a year laying a patio and constructing a highly (unnecessarily, if you ask me) complex decking arrangement in the garden. A writing shed is, apparently, Not A Priority.
Besides, even if I were allowed to have my own writing shed, it would most likely end up being a distraction in itself. This is because I am positively Mr. Toad-like in my propensity to develop short-lived crazes for particular pastimes. A recent such craze, inspired by a visit to Tate Britain, was watercolour painting. (Incidentally, I’m slightly fearful that if I ever get round to having kids, I’ll become That Mother who hangs out by the Tate Britain art trolley going “Oooh look, Oscar, there’s glitter!”) “Mmm,” I mused as I stood transfixed in the Artists’ Materials section of the gift shop,”If only I had that beautifully rustic-looking palette of paints and that
obscenely expensive sketchbook, perhaps I too could paint like Dante Gabriel Rossetti!” (So I happen to like the Pre-Raphaelites. I know it’s not cool, but I remain firmly unabashed.) Two days and several ill-fated artistic attempts later, stark reality kicked in, as I once again confirmed that I really do have zero talent as an artist. The arrival of a shiny new writing shed, then, would no doubt send me into paroxysms of excitement over the possibilities of bunting, squidgy cushions and appropriately arty and inspiring photographs to line the walls. The writing itself wouldn’t get a look-in.
The favoured writing venues of famous authors seem at times to assume near-mythical significance – after all, we’ve all heard about JK Rowling and her Edinburgh cafés. And Ernest Hemingway, it seems, liked to write standing up (and often naked, apparently). Aspiring authors tend to regard the fortunate few who have already ‘made it’ as gatekeepers to the esoteric knowledge of How To Write. Audiences at literary festivals hang on their literary idols’ every word as they respond to such incisive questions as “What made you want to be a writer?” and, inevitably, “Where do you write?” If an author happened to give a specific answer, such as, “I only ever write while wearing my favourite red velvet smoking jacket and a fedora, and drinking a large whisky on the rocks. Preferably laphroaig,”then purveyors of said
items would no doubt see a related upsurge in sales among their followers. This is why, at a recent author Q&A session organised by Birkbeck, I was somewhat relieved when Meg Rosoff (esteemed author of How I Live Now – read it, it’s great) confessed that her preferred writing location was her bed. Now, that I can do, even from my current state of exile in Spare Oom. And if it works for Meg Rosoff…