Sunday, 31 August 2008

How to Care for your Writer. An Owners Guide.

Me and Sy have learned to live quite happily together over time, but his little foibles have taken some getting used to.
If you come from a background that has no experience of writers and how they live, i thought i would write a section on their general habits, firstly so you know what i have to put up with and what i do as a writers wife, but also a general pointer to anybody out there who is considering living with someone who writes for a living.
Maybe i should add a disclaimer here....Not all writers are the same.

1/ It is imperative you ration their drinking to two caffetieres of coffee before 12.00 o'clock. If they hound you for more, do not give in. You do not want them bouncing off the walls causing havoc.

2/ After midday, they will head for the Scotch bottle. Do not let them have too much too early if you are hoping to have any form of conversation with them at any point.
If they tell you it helps the creative process, nod in an understanding way and tell them that until they get an advance on the book/ piece they are writing, you can't afford any more.

3/ Your writer will not ask for food very often, as he believes he can live on coffee/alcohol alone. Check on your writer every so often, and see how they look. Make him a sandwich, but don't expect him to leave his work to eat it.

4/ If you are going to cook a meal, make sure you tell him the day before, and also leave post-it notes stuck to his computer, with the time of the meal.
If you are really lucky, your writer will come and dine with you.Try not to be offended if they don't.

5/Never let them bring reading material to the table.
If they do dine with you, expect to be regaled with the literary history of the food you have served; for this reason, oysters are not a good idea.
It might be a good idea to stock up on ready meals, as at least your writer can grab one from the freezer when he feels like it, and you don't waste you're time cooking meals that end up in the bin- or the dog.

Some writers work through the night, which can create problems for you as you can't monitor their food and drink intake.

6/ If your writer is on a night mission, just leave a sandwich for them and hide what's left of the Scotch supply.
If your writer is working nights, do not try to adjust this-you are likely to incur a psychotic episode. All you can do to help is to impose a blanket ban on roadworks, school buses and military manoeurvres in your street during daylight hours.

7/ Your writers bathroom habits can be a problem if he is wrestling with a particularly difficult piece of writing. He will not leave his work until it is finished, so keeping him clean can be quite difficult.
There is only one way forward with this one.
Approach your writer slowly from behind, tell him that he looks tired and would he like it if you ran him a bath?
This one normally works well, as any writer will tell you, all their best ideas happen in the bath.
That is why a writer will insist on sitting in his bathrobe all day long-in readiness for that 'great' idea.
If your friends find this sort of behaviour off-putting, reasure them it is only temporary, because writers can't see the point in putting on clothes to sit at a desk.
That, or drop the friends.

Some other points to note when your writer has told you he is NOT to be disturbed (and believe me, he means it).
Make sure you take all phone calls, don't ask friends round for a cuppa and make sure any friends or family who turn up unexpectedly can be dealt with, without them even leaving their vehicle.
In addition to this, try to instil in your children Victorian values- they are to be seen and not heard-and if this fails, gag and tie them to their beds until your writer dictates otherwise.

 Whatever else happens,DO NOT ask how the work is going.

Never, EVER, throw away any scraps of paper- even if they only have a single word written on them.

Don't bother even thinking about trying to clean a writers workspace- There is no hope of you getting any where near it until your writer is dead. And buried, come to think of it.

Always listen to your writer when he wants to talk to you about his work, even if you don't understand a word of what he is on about.
Always be there for your writer, particularly when they feel they are getting nowhere. From your point of view, this would be better during the day, but in all probability it will be between midnight and 5.00am.

Try to have some interests of your own. This is vital because there will come a point when your writer will want to know what you've been doing (it will be a massive shock- be ready!).
When you reach this milestone with your writer, the last thing they will want to hear is that all you have done is clear up after them.

If you need to talk to your writer about something (and it had better be important), be prepared to tell them several times over several days, and then initiate the same plan as per food (Post-its).

Understand that although this man is first and foremost your husband, his writing is his work and it is not, and never will be, nine till five. Because of this, you are going to have to do everything, and you will manage to cope as there is always the belief that the next book will be the Booker winner.

So, bearing this in mind, to make life easier for all, try to get up in the morning two hours earlier, seven days a week, so you can fit in all other jobs on top of your working day.

Be prepared to go out and have fun at a moments notice.If your writer has finished a piece/book, he will want to go out and celebrate.
Not next week, or tomorrow- now. It really will be immediate.

Till next time,
Shakespeare's Housekeeper xx

Saturday, 30 August 2008

A space of ones own...

So, the writer is in situ.
So far, so good.
But he needs a space to work....
Now, if i need to write something (which isn't very often), i'll do it at the kitchen table. My writing is either letters for school-

Dear Mrs Andrews,
Thankyou for your letter regarding the incident that occured at the School Ball, that involved Darling Daughter.
In her defence, i have always taught her to stand up for herself and that combined with the fact that she has practised kickboxing since the age of three, it would only be a matter of time before the school bully had their come-uppance.
I feel the school should look on the incident as a positive experience- after all, that particular child has caused havoc at the school for some time now, and nothing has been done to stop the appalling behaviour.
Darling Daughter has solved the problem for you in the space of ten minutes.
I'm sorry that the child involved has been hospitalized (Darling Daughter sometimes doesn't know her own strength), but I believe the school should be supporting her, and the least you should do for her now is give her a terms worth of credits.
No doubt i shall be hearing from you (and the bully's parents) again soon regarding this matter.

...or for the ladies i clean for;

Hi Mel,
hope all is well with you!
Had a 'good go' over whole house today-including under your bed.
Found some interesting things, and thought it better to put them back under the bed, as i don't think your kids are quite ready for back massagers yet.

Sy reckons he is going to need a bit more than the kitchen table to work from.
I decide to find out quietly what sort of space a writer needs, so i fire up the laptop and punch 'writers wives' into google, in the hope that i can find others like me.

Google insists that i am actually trying to find 'Readers wives'.

This isn't going to work, so i try 'writers rooms' instead.

I momentarily lapse into a daydream-
Sy tapping away on the laptop, ideas flowing from his mind through the medium of technology, happily leaving his work to help Darling Daughter with her homework and me making him cups of coffee...
Thank God for The Guardian online.
And there they are, writers room after writers room...and i can't believe what i'm seeing.
As i click on each room, i find myself looking through my fingers at the screen- room after room, covered with books, paper, good luck charms, pens, waste paper bins overflowing with paper, more books, the odd vase of flowers (probably put there for the photographer)...and somewhere, in each picture is a computer.
I should write to The Guardian and suggest a competition- Find The Computer-and maybe the winner could get a years supply of books from their favourite author.
That or a cleaner.
I talk to Sy about what i've found out and he assures me all he would like is a little desk, somewhere quiet.
At which point 'Metallica' start an impromtu concert above our heads and Darling Daughter is accompanying them on her electric guitar.

Eventually, we settle for a desk in the sitting room, and Sy has found a way of shutting out all surround sound.

But i think men are pretty bloody brilliant at doing that anyway.

If he needs to write with no interuption at all, he will work as many nights as it takes, or go away to his parents holiday home for a few days.
But that's something else to talk about.

Till next time

Shakespeare's Housekeeper x

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

'Books do furnish a room'- Anthony Powell

...and don't they just.

When Sy and me first talked about him moving in, i stupidly thought it would all be quite straight forward. Clothes (in a couple of bin bags), Pens, paper...a laptop probably.

Plenty of room in my little two bedroom house for these few extras.

He never mentioned the books.

The morning he was due to bring all his belongings over, i was watching out of the window for his little black car, terribly excited and ready to welcome Sy and his bits into the house.

A transit van pulled up outside and i rushed outside to ask the driver to park a bit further down the was Sy driving the van.

Ok...maybe a couple more bin bags wouldn't make too much difference.

Sy climbed out the van and swung the back doors of the van open.

No sign of any bin bags- in fact no bits or pieces at all. Just a van full of books. And i mean full. from the floor to the roof, books of every shape and size were squeezed, pushed, stacked and crammed. Not only was i expected to help get this lot out, but find homes for them all once they made it through my front door.

Well, it took about three hours, but get them through the front door we did. And then they sat in the living room for the next three weeks. And up the stairs...and in our bedroom, kitchen...even the airing cupboard was a mini library for about a week.

I was astounded at the different uses you could find for a stack of books.

Depending on the height, a stack could double up as the following;

A handy coffee table.

A cat bed.

A table to eat off.

A footstool.

A step ( not really advised..)

A display stand for a bouquet of flowers (bought them myself btw).

One other thing i noticed....the smell.

The older the book the more it smelt. I think i got through at least four cans of Febreeze that first week.

Writers are incredibly precious about their books. Sy gave me a list of rules regarding book things pertaining to him.

1; I must never go through his books with a view to recycling any.It makes no difference how many copies of one particular book there is-he will need all of them, all the time.

2; I must never lend any of his books out. My Jilly Cooper are an exception to this rule.

3; If there is a mountain of books on the floor, i must not move them.They will all be relevant to whatever he is working on at the time.

4; If i see a book sale advertised anywhere within a fifty mile radius, i must be sure to let him know.

In writing.

At least a week beforehand.

I took these on board. Never let it be said that i'm not accommodating.

'I forgot to mention', says Sy. 'There are a few more books at my parents...'

'How many exactly?' Says I.

'Three, four hundred...they're all in the loft'.

And they are still there, i can tell you.

Our home is now wonderfully soundproofed, courtesy of my handy next-door neighbour, who is a dab-hand with DIY shelving units. In fact, we have a library in most of the rooms now, and so the books have furnished the room(s).

Sy's clothes and bits and bobs?

One bin bag, thirty cd's, laptop.
And a teapot.
Don't ask.

Till next time.

Shakespeare's Housekeeper. xx

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

'For a start, i've got to be out of my head to write.' (Shane MacGowan)

Nothing ever, ever prepares you for the amount of alcohol a writer can consume.
I can put a fair amount away myself, but writers take some beating.
Sy can put away a bottle of scotch in an evening if he puts his mind to be fair, he doesn't do any writing after drinking that amount (he normally sways a bit, tell me how much he loves me and watching him trying to negotiate the stairs is like watching a ball in a pinball machine)but he never seems to have a hangover either, which means he can settle down to work the next day with no serious after effects.
If we go out, i always seem to be the one who does the driving. I still haven't learnt the art of negotiation on that front.
Wherever we go, whether it's to friends, family or the pub, he will take advantage of any alcohol that's on offer.
We live in a lovely village where i became good friends with my neighbours long before Sy moved in. Every year they make their own cider- the 'Double L' which stands for 'lovely and lethal'.
Sy had been working in London- very much at home, as he is a city boy-and had come back to my house for the night. Through the wall, i heard the 'tapping of the barrel'...once heard, never forgotton.
'Let's go round', says me.
Wont they be offended?' says him.
I have to explain, on the way round there, this is a village event- everyone goes, no official invite, word of mouth.
So, Sy gets stuck in. Sat there in his Armani suit, pint jug in his hand, he looks like the cat that's got the cream.

After one pint, he asks me to take him home.

I still find it amazing that someone who can really, really pack the drink away can't cope with a pint of the local brew.
It was the same with the plum jerkum. When we decided to get married, we thought it better to do it quietly. And that was exactly how it was going to stay, until he had half a glass of the aforementioned at the yearly pig-roast.
He then told everyone.
I suppose secret village brews are different to city drinks...

Sy has told me that he writes some of his best stuff after he has had a skinful-indeed, he has actually written village plays about plum jerkum, which the locals loved.
He has written while totally stoned (a play that actually sold out it's complete weeks run)
and cannot function at all until he has had at least one caffetiere of treacle- sorry, coffee.

So, how do i deal with this drinking?
I tell him i'll buy him a bottle of scotch for every advance he gets...that normally gets him motivated.

Till next time,

Shakespeares housekeeper xx

Monday, 25 August 2008

'My way is to begin with the beginning'. Lord Byron- Don Juan.

...i enjoyed hugely an episode of 'Casualty' on BBC1.
The episode is ingrained in my memory because of it's rather eyepopping content.
It's not often you see the results of an oral sex session gone wrong on the BBC.

Moving forward a few years, i'm sat at a local am-dram audition, when i spot a new member.
He looked scared to death.
Now, i'm one for meeting and greeting, so i mosey over to say thing i know, he's the lead male and i'm snogging him on stage.
The last time i'd done anything like that i was absolutely legless, in the local nightclub-old habits die hard i suppose.
The male lead comes home with me for a coffee- well actually, it was a bottle of wine. It turns out he lives in the next road and is staying locally to get a script finished.
You can see where this is heading...

Sy has been writing professionally for about twenty years.
He has written for a few of the soaps on the telly, including the infamous 'Casualty' episode, and has won an award for his writing on a police drama.
He is currently writing books on Shakespeare and King Arthur (who wasn't a king, incidentally) and has written for the stage as well as the screen.
We have been married for six years. God knows what the women before me put up with, but i'm the first one he married.
He has been privately educated and has a voice like melted chocolate.He has 'O' and 'A' levels coming out of his ears.
He has introduced me to famous people and taken me to some incredible places.


Local comprehensive, two GCSE's, a voice that's a cross between the Cadbury's Caramel rabbit and Pam Ayres on sixty fags a day...and did i mention i clean houses for a living?

We couldn't be more different-it's like bloody Educating Rita in this house.

In fact, my nickname is 'Sprouty Wench'....i'm so used to it, i don't find it insulting anymore...

So, now you know. two very different people living together under one roof as man and wife.

With a daughter, but that's another story.

So not only am i going to tell you what it is really like to share my home with a writer, but what it it is like to share my home with someone from a completely different background too.

Till next time

Shakespeares Housekeeper xx

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