Thursday 15 December 2022

Enough is enough - by Rowena House

Here we are again, at the end of another difficult year for too many people, including in our industry, where recent ACLS data demonstrate that average author earnings have fallen so low (£7k) that writing books can no longer be considered a career for the majority, since you can’t live on £7k a year, which, in turn, shows yet again that talk about the drive for diversity in publishing is largely make-believe.

We should be out on the creative picket line in solidarity with each other. 

And in support of health workers, academic and railway strikers. And all the families being failed by our under-funded health and welfare systems. And refugees in the Channel. And the people of Ukraine. And Somalia. And, and, and…

But this is a creative writing blog and art is meant to bring light to the dark, so rather than facing grim realities, I want to end the year on a positive note. 

By chance, just before real world stuff stopped me writing for several months, I re-read an online article about the home of a woman who is the inspiration for a major character in my work-in-progress.

Typically for women in early modern times, my heroine gets no mention in the article, but her husband’s will is quoted in a footnote. In it, he expresses his gratitude to the two women who kept him afloat financially throughout his life: first his mother and then his wife, Lady Beth Knyvet.

Coming across this footnote was like finding a gemstone in the mud of the patriarchy.

Those few words, dictated by a dying courtier, are proof that Beth must have been, as I had imagined her to be, smart, independent-minded, and adventurous enough to make her own fortune at a time when married women could not own property.

It wasn’t inherited wealth; her father had bequeathed his fortune elsewhere and her mother came from City of London middling stock. She must have earned her money herself.

I don’t (yet?) know how, but for creative purposes I have invented a career for Beth and linked it to an incident in the life of Elizabeth Stuart, a princess turning sixteen and approaching her marriage at the time of my story.

Neither Beth nor the princess was a victim. They were educated, wily, able. It is a privilege to research their stories and weave them into a fictional history.

This opportunity to imagine other lives and how they might still touch ours is a gift which, at one level, is reward enough in itself, even if £7k p/a is an insult of galactic proportions. 

In a cold and lean Yuletide, with sad stuff to deal with, imagination is something rich to hold onto, a promise of sanctuary and learning, for which I want to thank ... something. The universe. The genes of my ancestors. Luck. The gods.

I also want to thank it/them for the people who made this year’s best moments: my husband and son, lovely Naomi, fab writer friends Eden, Lucy, Tracey and Liz, and for the people who held my creative hand professionally: Dr Kathryn Gray and Dr Min Wild of Plymouth university, and plotting guru Jeff Lyons in California.

And how could I dream without our darling dog, who is always there, and takes me out daily to breath and witness beauty. Thanks, too, for the cat, who’s a pain, but also always here.

To you, I send my best wishes for 2023. Whatever you do with it, I hope it is enough. 

@HouseRowena on Twitter

Rowena House Author on Facebook

PS, the photo is Staple Inn, London, which features in the work-in-progress, but is mostly pictured here because I don't have anything festive on the new computer.


Sue Purkiss said...

Good wishes to you too - the book sounds great!

Rowena House said...

Thank you, Sue!