A day in the life (of a writer)

‘The only reason people write is because they are not wonderful men’
Anthony J Carson

Why do so many people want to become writers?

I’ve asked this question of my fellow scribes and the answer inevitably is ‘I have something important I want to say’.

I’m not sure I would respond quite like that. I’m not at all sure I write about ‘important’ themes. I began writing books at a time when I was out of work and looking for something to do, something that did not involve waiting for someone else to give me a job, for instance.

I also needed to be creative. As a one-time actress, which I used to be back in the dark ages, it was fun more than anything to spend one’s time being someone else, to live in a world created by another person. To wear different hair, different clothes – often from a different period – walk differently, behave differently, to be for the time being cleverer, wittier, sexier and altogether more interesting than I really am.

Acting is creative, of course, but it is interpretive. The real power lies with the writer. As a scriptwriter, which I also once was, you are part of a collaborative team involving actors, directors, producers, script editors and all sorts; and among them all – as Robbie, the playwright protagonist of my latest book Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons realises – your baby, your precious creation, no longer belongs to you.

But the author, the novelist, owns her baby from start to finish. A publisher and an editor can cast an eye over it and, hopefully, improve on it. But the baby is still essentially the writer’s, for good or ill.

But are all writers ‘not wonderful’? And who was Anthony J Carson anyway? (I made a note of that quote, and several others about writers, many years ago, and now I cannot find the context.)

Sketch by Anna de Polnay

In my case, just as I became an actress because I did not think I was particularly wonderful as a person, so I suppose I became a writer because in life I am not particularly articulate. I experience all too many ‘esprits d’escaliers’ – the spirit of the stairs – when what you really wanted to say only comes to you when you’re halfway up the stairs and out of the room.

The other reason, in my case and I suspect in the case of many novelists, is the sheer joy of inventing characters. Characters are the driving force behind all my books, both the ones I write and the ones I read. I love them all, even the monsters. I love the way they surprise me, and occasionally frustrate me when they won’t do what I intended them to do. There’s no esprit d’escaliers with my characters, or if there is there’s a good reason for it. I may not be a wonderful person, or even a wonderful writer. But on the page I can indulge in a world filled with people I have never known in a world that, for the duration of the book at least, is altogether more immediate, more exciting and infinitely more joyous than the one I actually live in. (Particularly right now.)

Do I speak for other writers when I say all this? I’d love to know.

The end of another tiring day