Monday, 15 June 2015

The pram in the hallway, and the skateboard, the book bag, the blazer...

"There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway," as the famous quote from Cyril Connolly goes. He should have mentioned the skateboard/book bag/trainers/sports kit/blazer. It doesn't end with the pram. And what about the cooking, shopping, washing, lift to the maths tutor/football/friend's house? Wanting to write when you are a parent, and especially a mother, can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task. 

As the author Ali Smith, winner of the 2015 Baileys Women's Prize For Fiction, a competition featuring only women authors, judged only by women, recently said, "Women make art against the odds". And by the way I was fortunate enough to witness Ali, along with the five other finalists, read an extract from her book, How To Be Both, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank the other week and she seemed lovely. Hers was by far the most appealing performance. And I'm including Stanley Tucci reading Anne Tyler here, which was good but no comparison to seeing an author at the top of her game, reading from her own work.

I'm no maker of 'art' myself but I want to write and have written in some very difficult circumstances. With children literally hanging off me, shouting questions, demanding snacks. And on one particularly memorable occasion when I was suddenly asked to write for the Thunderer (column in The Times) and given a two hour window in which to do so, with a small boy lying next to my desk on a makeshift bed on the floor, periodically vomiting into my wastepaper bin.

Of course there are mother-writers who shut themselves away behind the office door, expecting their offspring to be neither seen nor heard. Enid Blyton springs to mind (using the term 'writer' loosely). But I think even writers without access to her sort of 'privilege', recourse to nannies and boarding schools and such, even those who don't want to shoo their children away at all (like me), find a way, eventually, to overcome the obstacles and write.

Didn't JK Rowling, struggling and living on benefits in Edinburgh, enrol her child in nursery and sit in a warm cafe to write Harry Potter? When an author is compelled to work she will find a way of removing herself, if not physically, then certainly mentally because writing is a singularly private affair, a place to go to in your head. Which leads to the next obstacle the mother-writer faces, having surmounted the one of the pram/skateboard/book bag in the hallway, namely isolation and loneliness, a professional hazard, and especially a problem if you are a social creature, like me.

I've dabbled with libraries. I've imagined myself surrounded by like-minded keyboard-bashers, heads down in unison, tapping like fury, stopping occasionally to exchange whispered grown-up banter or request the right word. But fancy library memberships are expensive. And you can't pop a wash on between paragraphs at the library, or answer the door to the postman, or make a quick banana and choc chip loaf for your hungry boys who will soon be home from school. So I have given up the idea of libraries and turned instead to Twitter.

Twitter? I hear you say. What's Twitter got to do with any of this? Twitter is my water cooler, where I go to meet people who are not my children, to find out what's happening, to make friends, to exchange witty and/or flirtatious banter. 

I read two things this week which helped me feel marginally less grubby about hanging about on Twitter: 1) Gossip is what makes us human, in evolutionary terms it's what's enabled us to sort the wheat from the chaff, to work out who we can trust and who we can't, and pass on that information to others; 2) Twitter may not be nearly so successful in numerical terms as its rival Facebook, but it's enthusiastically embraced by journalists because it's less about bragging about your kids and your holiday, and more about what's happening in the world right NOW. Plus I've discovered you can flirt with strangers you admire on Twitter. Here's one of them. 

I discovered Stephen Mangan on Green Wing a few years back and have seen him at the theatre in The Norman Conquests and Birthday, and very nearly in Jeeves and WoosterHe's that guy who by his own admission looks a bit like the donkey from Shrek (actually I think Anna Maxwell Martin said that). These things happen. It's a crush off the telly. What more can I say? I don't get out much.

So there you have it. I entertain myself while trying to write away from my children, from the isolation of my home-office, by Tweeting strangers, who sometimes tweet back, in order to stave off the inevitable day I shall be found alone, calcified, my gnarled fingers gripping the computer keyboard, by a team of handsome paramedics (one of them a Guy Secretan lookalike from Green Wing), who will snap off my crusted digits one by one, in order to prise my rigor-mortised body away, as our three sons lark about in the skateboard-ridden hallway, demanding that I find them a biscuit. 

A grim and somewhat fanciful image, I grant you, but then I'm a writer. Or at least I'm trying to be.

Love E x 


P.S. Yes, Stephen Mangan did tweet me back, twice, the last time with an actual kiss.

Links to cut and paste - 

Ali Smith - The canon is traditionally male -

Gossip is what makes us human -

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