Going to the post office to buy stamps and post cards to friends abroad, writing cards, writing letters to the people that I write Christmas letters to, cooking meals, going back to the post office to send the one foreign card I forgot, buying Christmas presents, wrapping Christmas presents, doing the washing, going back to the post office with a parcel, preparing a Christmas stocking, making a Christmas cake, planning menus, posting Christmas cards, cooking meals, writing a shopping list, ordering a turkey, collecting a turkey, cooking meals, taking a child to the pantomime, doing the washing, tidying the house, making up beds for guests, preparing and giving a reading at Carols by Candlelight, cooking meals, going to the post office with a final parcel, doing the washing, choosing and wrapping present for child’s teacher, stopping car so that child can run back to the house for it on the last day of term, ordering flowers for my mother-in-law’s birthday, doing the washing, finding time to celebrating my own birthday a week before Christmas, going food shopping, having a tooth out, cooking meals, doing the washing, doing my accounts, vetting a contract with a publisher, taking old toys to charity shop to make room for new toys, cooking meals, doing the washing, remembering cards and Christmas boxes for the postman, the dustbin man and so on, persuading my reluctant husband to come with me to buy a tree from the local National Trust nursery, consternation when we see the SOLD OUT sign, driving on over the moors in a desperate search, it’s starting to snow, and it’s getting dark, and the car’s making a strange clanking noise . . .
I take back everything I wrote in my last blog.
But when the last Brussels spout peeling has sunk into the compost, the last bit of Christmas wrapping paper has been smoothed out for recycling, and my head is no longer full of lists, I’ll be back on my blog writing about books.
Maybe I’ll even get round to writing a novel myself.
And yes we did find a tree in the end. We got home safely, too.
I am still mulling over the biography of Elizabeth Taylor that I wrote about a few weeks ago. One of Nicola Beauman’s arguments is that Taylor might have been an even greater novelist if she hadn’t been tied to her sweet-manufacturer husband and the domestic round. I wonder . . . There is virtually always a difficult time in the life of a writer when they are honing their craft, serving their apprenticeship as it were, and earning hardly any money. For many writers this problem never goes away. The general public would be amazed, I think, if they knew how little most writers make. For Taylor this was never a problem. There was plenty of money – enough soon for domestic help and for boarding schools for the children – and she was able to concentrate on producing the best work she could while for years she didn’t earn a penny. In his book ON BECOMING A NOVELIST John Gardner states the case baldly, ‘The best way a writer can keep himself going is to live off his (or her) spouse.’
Yes, there’s another side to this. Cyril Connolly felt that the pram in the hall could be the ruin of a promising writer, and it is true that combining writing with babies and toddlers is difficult, but once the children are at school it becomes a whole lot easier (even without boarding schools). Of course the school day is short, but look at what Trollope managed to do in three hours a day. He thought a writer shouldn’t need much more than that, and I tend to agree. It’s the other stuff (like writing this blog!) that it’s hard to fit in.
On balance, it suits me. And I couldn’t put it better than Agatha Christie, who once sly remarked that crime is an excellent occupation for a woman at home.