Thursday, 13 February 2020

In which we find the author in contemplative, nay, romantic mood by Sheena Wilkinson

Today I’m snowed in, which means I’ve had to cancel the five things I was meant to be doing. 

view from my desk today

It’s just me and the laptop, a good chance to catch up with admin. Top of the To-Do list was to send invitations to my forthcoming book launch. Hope against Hope is my first novel for two and a half years, which isn’t that long, but it’s the longest gap I’ve had between books. I’ve joked on Twitter about this:  

Of course I have been writing since Star by Star was published in October 2017. Apart from Hope against Hope, I’ve written an adult novel, which I promise (agent, if you’re reading!) to submit … soon. I’ve blogged here and elsewhere at least once a month and right now I’m writing articles and responding to interview questions to help promote Hope against Hope – and very glad of the opportunity to do so. I’ve got a tentative idea for a new teen historical novel, which I hope to discuss with my editor soon. I’ve also put a lot of words into some reports for writing-related, actual-money-earning activities for the Royal Literary Fund. 

proof that I have not been slacking this last decade
But honestly? Actual writing? Actual immersion in a fictional world so that you blink when you come back up to earth and can’t believe three hours have gone by writing? Actual dreaming up scenarios for your characters in the liminal time before sleep takes over writing? Actual having conversations with your characters as you drive home writing? Actual thinking, as you wait in the supermarket queue, Look, there’s [insert name of character in WIP] writing?

Not so much. Well, actually, just no. And I didn’t think this was possible for me. 

Like Keren David, who wrote about the tenth anniversary of her first novel, the superb When I Was Joe, last week, I’ve been published for around ten years. Hope against Hope is my eighth novel, and there have been several published short stories and a couple of novels that were abandoned, as well as a few that never sold. (I hate admitting the latter but I’m in a confessional mood, and I’ve just read Kelly McCaughrain’s post on the excellent podcast How to Fail.)

For nine of those ten years I was single and not only did I have a fair amount of time to write, but I also didn’t have many emotional outlets or indeed demands. I was free to give all the love to my characters and didn't care that they couldn't love back. I could write all day and nobody minded. There was nobody to mind.  Other writers commented on my work ethic and that pleased me because I've always been a swot.   

When writer friends talked about not writing for a time, because of the demands of family or partners, I would think how lucky I was only to have myself to answer to. I was a woman with, in Virginia Woolf’s words, five hundred pounds a year and a room of my own. (If I’d relied on only royalties, that five hundred pounds wouldn’t have been far off the mark.)

But you know what? I wasn’t that lucky.  I look back at my schedule over the last few years and I see so many weeks when I worked seven days. Some of those days were travelling; many of them were certainly spent in wonderful retreats with supportive and lovely fellow writers; most days involved restorative walks in beautiful places. But it was rare for me to take a day off writing. I didn’t want to; I didn’t feel I needed to. Often, when I was supposed to be taking a break, I’d find myself buying a notebook and filling it with ideas. I needed to write. Writing was what I did; writer was who I was. Without my words what was I? Yes, I had lovely friends and parents and a busy, fulfilled life, but I wasn’t that important to anyone. I didn’t even have a cat because I travelled so much. I wouldn't have said I was lonely but not being lonely had to be worked at. You can have too many days alone with your characters. 

And then it all changed because last year, aged 50, I fell in love for the first time in twenty years. Not with a book idea, with an actual person.  You know, a live human. Not a paper person, but a real, complex, loving, wonderful man. Who also, luckily, fell in love with me. And suddenly I got it. I got why you didn’t have to be writing every day. Why you might not want to. Why real people take precedence. 

I still work pretty hard. No self-employed person can stay solvent without it. But I don’t work weekends. And I take time  off during the week. I don’t always have that room of my own, sometimes I work at his house -- it helps that he's also writing a book -- but mostly I just  work smarter. I haven’t shirked. I have met all my deadlines; the novel coming out in a few weeks is – my editor thinks, and I hope – my best. (And yes, it does contain a love story, funnily enough.) And I’m eager to get that adult novel off to my agent and to clarify my thoughts about the new teen historical with my editor. I’m still, and I always will be, a writer. But days like today, when I’m completely alone with my words and my paper people, are the exception rather than the norm. And I have to say I like that.  

Soon I'll be writing again, in that immersive, intense way that only another writer can understand. Soon I'll have a new cast of characters to demand my attention and keep me awake. But they won't get all the love. 


Andrew Preston said...

Lovely post. Good for you.

Liz Dorman said...

Happy for you, Sheena! Sharing a loving relationship with another human is a good thing. Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day. Looking forward to seeing you next week. :)

A. Colleen Jones said...

Awesommeeee!!! You give me hope, Sheena! Woop woop! All the love! <3

Ness Harbour said...

How wonderful! What a great post x

Anne Booth said...

I really like this! Congratulations and how lovely xx

Lynne Benton said...

So glad everything is going well for you, Sheena - and congratulations on your ten-year writing anniversary!

Rowena House said...

Real life rules! Lovely post. Hope the non-writing brings you so much joy. And good luck with the new book sales, too.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

What lovely comments, everyone. Thank you all so much.

Sue Purkiss said...

SO happy for you, Sheena! That’s really lovely news.

Catherine Johnson said...

This is lovely Sheena xxx