The Things People Ask

cubicle    My regular reader may be forgiven for wondering if I was indisposed. Two weeks without posting. Tsk, tsk. It’s just that it’s that time of year. I can go months without anyone asking me anything, but when publication dates come round my writing habits become of brief interest to the world. And this year there’s a rather annoying crunch of dates with barely six weeks between the issue of the paperback of A Humble Companion and first publication of The Liar’s Daughter. By the end of October I’ll be allowed to crawl back down my burrow but right now Author Promotion is the name of the game.

Questionnaires are very popular.

Q. What inspires you?  A. Fear of destitution.

Q. Did you always want to be a writer?  A. No, I’d have liked to be a ballerina or a surgeon but I was too heavy for the former and not bright enough for the latter.

Q. What is your ideal working environment?  A. An unadorned cubicle. With just enough clearance for a tea tray to be slid under the door every two hours.


Some writers have sea views. That would never do for me. I could watch the sea all day and never do a lick of work. Some writers have a shed. I wouldn’t mind a shed myself. But a cubicle would be better, with strict house rules prohibiting me from hanging, sticking or in any other way garnishing the surfaces. I am the most easily distracted writer in the world. Barely raising my eyes I can see, right now, photographs of my grandchildren, a dog-eared postcard of Horatio Nelson, a London A-Z, a scented candle,  two unanswered letters and the collected poems of George Herbert. Every one of those items tempts me away from the page, either to think non-work thoughts, or open that book, or simply to clean up the clutter. I mean, I don’t even particularly like scented candles.

I’ve had some interesting desk locations in my time. When I lived in Cambridge I worked in the basement and frittered away many an hour watching people’s passing ankles. In Venice I was on the fourth floor, with a great view of decaying roofs and TV dishes, and at Christmas time the bonus of the Carmini Virgin covered in fairy lights. Now in Dublin I have a suburban street. I watch cats, delivery men, magpies, power walkers, foliage, drying paint.  You want work not done? I’m your woman.

This coming weekend is the Chiswick Book Festival, to which I’ll be chaperoning two characters from A Humble Companion. It will be work, but it won’t really feel like work.  In a sense that job ended when I signed off corrected proofs.  All I can do now is lace Nellie into her gown, straighten up Morphew’s wig, and pray.

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