I started my career as a writer when we – my husband and myself – were living with my elderly father and looking after him. As his condition deteriorated, the demands on us increased till it became difficult to sustain any outside commitments. I adored my father and never regretted being able to spend those years with him. But the daily routine of care was very tedious. He lived in an isolated house and the countryside around was lovely – but quiet. Day-to-day life was unbearably dull.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do – the acme of dullness – I decided to start writing. I enrolled on a postgraduate Creative Writing course. Every morning I ostentatiously shut the door of the spare bedroom, hung up a Do Not Disturb notice to deter the carers and embarked on my first novel.
The conditions, I have since understood, were perfect. Writing needs the mental fallow of dullness. All that arises then is interior – the imaginary landscape of the novel and the characters who populate it. Without the distraction of the ‘real’, the imaginary world starts to materialize.
Dullness is boring, of course. But when a moment of early morning inspiration arrives, when suddenly a chapter or an article starts to form itself unbidden in the mind, it is all worth it.
We have recently moved to the country, in part due to a desire for quietness / dullness. But the new house needs work, both indoors and out. When we moved in, it was easy to imagine how it would all be – a new window here, a door knocked through there, a change of bathroom – it all seemed airily feasible. Now we are having to live through the reverse process, of having the imaginal ground out into physical reality. We are in the thick of the works and the house is never still. It is full of builders, plumbers, electricians and decorators, often with competing radios. The alterations that are so easy to conceive in the imagination, which seem so clear in the architect’s plans, turn out to be arduous in every aspect of their realization. There are constant decisions to be made, materials to be ordered, items to be returned, snagging, chasing – and endless cups of tea to be made. Our belongings are always on the move from one room to another. When they all go home in the late afternoon there is only time to recover and regroup, ready for the next day’s onslaught.
It has had a disastrous effect on my writing life. Day after day passes in a state of constant distraction. Weeks without writing turn into months. Mercifully, I was able to complete the final draft of my new novel in the interlude between moving house and building work starting, and it is now at my publisher (due out summer 2023). The novel includes a section on building problems which is close to my heart at the moment. My C18 relative, William Cresswell, seems to have made a complete hash of building his new hall; it was demolished less than a century after its completion. I feel an especial kinship with William and his difficulties now, untrammelled as they were by Building Warrant applications and the like.
When at last the work is done I am planning an extended celebratory period of dullness. No, I do not plan visits or parties! No, I do not care to take a trip or have an adventure! Let dullness reign. I plan to close the door and hang up that notice again.