Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Rambles and Writing

Between the end of May and the start of October, I had the dubious luxury of unemployment - not official unemployment which requires one to be seeking paid work, but the off-the-books kind of unemployment which doesn't show on government statistics and makes no demands apart from economic miserliness. Having spent the past few terms teaching, in one capacity or another, I greeted the summer as an opportunity to concentrate on my novel. Ahead of me stretched three, maybe even four student-less months, during which I could, if I remained focussed, bang out the rest of my first draft in a mere 625 words a day. I had counted them, the words, one by one, then grouped them into doable, bit-sized chunks. I had a plan and it sounded so easy.

The first few weeks of my unemployment went blissfully well as I knuckled down to my new routine. Being a natural early riser, I relished my quiet mornings at the keyboard, a jug of thick Arabica at my elbow and a full day of uninterrupted writing ahead of me. I was in a privileged and sacred space: if anyone asked, I could call myself a writer.


I made a number of surprising discoveries in those early weeks as the plot slowly knitted itself together: Bob Dylan made a guest appearance, as did the spirits of the 34 Chinese prospectors who were murdered at Deep Creek cove in Hells Canyon in 1887. And Halahtookit, the man who was the inspiration for the story from the very beginning and who I regarded as a central character, quietly slunk away. He is not gone entirely, mind, but remains aloof, his voice barely audible. From the corners of the page, I see him watching me now, assessing my worthiness to tell his story. I learned a lot during those weeks about what my novel would and would not become.

And then my husband took his annual summer holiday. In previous years, his employers - perhaps fearing he might leave - have allowed him to take his full entitlement in a single six-week block, on occasion going so far as to add a few weeks of unpaid leave. During these extended summer holidays, we have travelled abroad with our bikes, adding another country or three in our ongoing, but segmented, round the world cycle ride. This year, however, conscious of the new financial climate, and with a new manager on board, his company were slightly less accommodating. His six weeks of holiday were narrowly chopped in two, with a slice of work, two weeks thick bisecting our travel plans.

With my budding novel calling to me, I was secretly glad that our summer travels were curtailed, and during the month of June I sent my husband to explore the margins of the south coast on solo cycling daytrips as I remained at home, my writing routine intact. Then, in July, we had our three weeks in France, cycling from Cherbourg to Bordeaux to see the Tour de France flash past.

The month of August came and went without a sideways glance at my novel. I had a book of short stories to read, and a review deadline to meet. Then it was the short story website at the university, the design and construction of which I had become entangled with, that demanded my attention. Finally, September, and I returned to the keyboard with relief. For three precious weeks, the writing flowed.

And then the telephone rang.

Back to the world of paid employment, now, and my writing routine is in shatters. There is a trade off between time and money, money and time, and no easy reconciliation in sight. Anxiety levels remain high as the first anniversary of my PhD studies comes and goes, and I number the words that are as yet unwritten. I feel them slipping from me, splitting up, dividing, scattered across the hollow prairies of the pages…