I missed Jubilee bank holiday 2 because I was writing in my nightie and no one told me I was on holiday. I only became aware of our dear old sovereign’s munificence when another self-employed friend phoned me up to whinge about it and she only knew because it was her birthday and there was no post (It must have been a relief to learn that Tuesday 5th had been cancelled not that she was totally unloved). I realise writing, nightwear and anti-social hours go together; Monique Roffey, author of an insightful novel about Trinidadcalled White Woman on a Green Bicycle (2009), described her occupation as ‘writing in her pyjamas’. Typically, writers so rarely get on a roll they really don’t have spare minutes for fancy stuff like getting dressed. Barbara Cartland might have lounged around in pink sateen and a tiara on her chaise-longue, but have you read her books?
A young student told me this week that she has decided to get up at 6 a.m. and write before work which would be admirable had she not fessed up to sleeping through the alarm every day since the new regime began. I cautioned her against creating really hard-to-keep resolutions; you can end up dispirited, down on yourself and reaching for the gin and/or Hobnobs. Set achievable targets. Be kind to yourself.
I read that Buchi Emecheta got up at 5 am every morning, in a grotty flat in 1960s Ladbroke Grove, while her five children slept, in order to write, only to have her husband burn her first manuscript. She left him, as one would hope, and wrote many novels including a seminal account of a woman’s experience of immigration Second Class Citizen (1974). All of which proves that anything is possible – getting up at 5/writing/bringing up five children/ditching bad husbands.
Notwithstanding this fine example, I’m not sure I can write anything more challenging than a shopping list at the crack of dawn. For me that is a time for gently ushering in the demanding day with a damn good read i.e. a novel written by someone else and a large pot of Ethiopian Sidamo (northern slopes) that is if I am not rolling over for another few hours’ kip. I like to start serious creativity around 10.15 when the aforementioned beans have kicked in and I’ve had a little carb-boost in croissant or bagel form. I can then keep writing until midnight pausing only for a crumpet and cream slice at 4 pm (we Brits like afternoon tea) and a large red Rioja and chicken leg about 8 pm (note finger food lets you keep typing albeit with greasy little digits). Then I wind down with another bucket – sorry small glass- of Rioja and a plate of pasta while I watch re-runs of Family Guy. (Raymond Chandler warned against writing late at night as he said one gets ‘very gaudy’ ideas; of course that could be because by then he’d got through a bottle of Scotch.)
Maybe we all have optimum creative times during the diurnal/nocturnal cycle but don’t let that become an excuse, think Buchi, think Monique, write early, late, fully-dressed or pyjama-ed but please write! It beats eating soggy quiche off a soggy red, white and blue paper plate under even soggier bunting with neighbours you haven’t spoken to since you celebrated the Silver Jubilee by playing the Sex Pistols at full blast for three days.
BTW Monique Roffey doesn’t just write in her jimjams; here’s some interesting thoughts on why women write better sex than men: