about writing and life and God

The author’s job description

on December 13, 2012

Age 12 I declared I wanted to be ‘an author’. Note author, not writer. I wanted to see books with my name on the front and the spine. That was what being an author was about.

I had always enjoyed writing stories and poetry. I did it most of the time that I wasn’t reading. (No active outdoorsy type me!) I knew you had to write something to get it published to become an author but I hadn’t got as far as working out how one really went about it seriously.

In my teens I discovered a magazine for writers. Then I started collecting books on the craft. And biographies and autobiographies of authors. They sit on the shelves behind my table today. Modern pin-ups like Stephen King and Sara Paretsky have joined Paul Gallico and Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Daphne Du Maurier.

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I’ve visited authors’ homes. Rudyard Kipling, Dickens… And I’ve created writing rooms, a studio in the garden, business-like offices, in hopeful imitation.

And yesterday I got back to the Work-in-Progress. It felt good. Natural. And I loved printing off the result. Something tangible. Words on paper.

But today… today I had to wrap the Christmas presents for eight under-eights and get them posted second-class to be sure they’d get there in time for Christmas. So that was my morning, accompanied by Classic FM. A scratch lunch and out to the queue at the post office. (I shan’t tell you how much the postage and the 80 2nd class stamps for cards cost but I nearly asked for time out to go next door to the Building Society and arrange a mortgage.)

And then, finally, I could get back to the keyboard where I left off yesterday.

My question is: why are these necessary but time-consuming tasks not mentioned in the biographies and hagiographies of the great ones? Who cooks their lunch? Who goes out and shops for food, braving the crowded car parks and supermarket queues?

Virginia Woolf reckoned, quite rightly, that you needed a room of your own. But did she do the cooking? And the Christmas present wrapping? I very much doubt it.

It seems to me that male authors have it much easier – if they have a spouse or partner willing to be Mum. Just as the government now makes students take out huge loans to pay for their degrees which they will then pay back when they’re rich, I wonder if female writers should be supplied with housekeepers – only to be paid for when they strike it rich?

Because yes, I decided to be an author at 12, but nobody told me I had to be chief cook and bottle-washer too!



4 responses to “The author’s job description

  1. Helen Murray says:

    Oh yes yes yes! Can I hire a nanny as well as a housekeeper?
    I’ve just done the girls’ bedtime – which translates as ninety minutes on a daily basis spent mopping up overflowing bathwater, negotiating tantrums and squabbles, verucca treatments, hair plaiting, teeth-brushing and missing pyjama bottoms, locating vital soft toys and inadvertently treading barefoot on a small plastic giraffe – I feel like a chewed piece of string. I still have a list of jobs to do before I can retreat beneath my own duvet. The Christmas parcels that need despatching to the post office are not bought yet, let alone wrapped and posted…
    Here I am at the keyboard. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.
    Sometimes people ask me what I do all day.
    Thankyou for this lovely piece.

    • Oh Helen, I do feel for you (and that giraffe)! And I feel enormously blessed to be ancient and past that stage. Now it’s just me and the cats. So yes, I reckon all writing Mums should be offered a nanny as well as a housekeeper by the state!

  2. Fran says:

    I don’t know about A Room of One’s Own. Maybe, also, a maid of one’s own? A housework robot of one’s own? A personal shopper of one’s own?! Good blog post!

  3. scskillman says:

    This is a subject I have often thought about, especially when considering the major successful bestselling authors (male). However, I do have to say that there are many examples of major female authors, who presumably did have to deal with many of the tasks you mention too. This is all part of the false hope engendered by “Women’s Liberation” – indeed women were liberated to do all the things men do … as well as all the things they were already doing. Surely it is an even greater achievement, therefore, when women do achieve great things, as well as all their traditional tasks.

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