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Every week I will be bringing you a sneak peek of A Novel Idea, my new weekly column in The Lady magazine in the UK (http://www.lady.co.uk/). What my readers may not know, and as my new weekly column for The Lady will reveal, is that I also spend an awful lot of time avoiding writing my novels. Take my work in progress, the title of which you will discover over the coming months; have I started it? Or have I been online shopping, drinking coffee, gardening, tending to my family and other animals? The clues are in my columns…
By Jane Green
Hours spent driving: 4.5
Hours spent playing solitaire: 2
Hours spent lugging stuff to and from the beach: .5
Hours spent cooking/cleaning: 3
Hours spent writing: 0
I am just back from a four and a half drive back from Nantucket. I should have started the new novel, but Nantucket was calling, and when Nantucket calls, there is only one thing to do.
It is a four and a half hour drive to Nantucket, which feels like nothing to me these days. Growing up in London the thought of driving anywhere for longer than three hours filled me with abject horror (unless it was the usual three hours to get from Hampstead to Soho, which was par for the course on particularly bad traffic days).
Since moving to America fifteen years ago, I think nothing of jumping in the car and driving seven hours to Maine for an overnight visit with my daughter at camp. In fact, I positively relish the journey, not least because some of my best ideas for novels seem to come to me in cars.
Sometimes, I listen to books on tape. (I wholeheartedly recommend Wild by Cheryl Strayed), occasionally I listen to cheesy old music of my childhood and sing along very loudly to Wings and Paul Simon, but mostly I have fascinating conversations with myself about my characters and my stories.
Every now and then someone will pull alongside me and I will catch them staring as I animatedly chat. In the old days, I would be mortified, immediately pretending to be singing along to a song they couldn’t hear, but now, thanks to Bluetooth, I figure I just look as if I am chatting on speaker.
In America, here on the East Coast, road trips in the Summer are de rigueur. Every holiday is spent piling all our earthly possessions into a giant SUV, before driving hours and hours to somewhere like Nantucket or Cape Cod.
No-one stays in hotels here. We rent crumbling houses and lug beach chairs and umbrellas, coolers filled with picnic lunches and cold drinks, to a deserted beach with no amenities, then bake in the sun all day, trekking back only when we’re desperate for the loo.
The first time we did this, we rented a house for a month on Nantucket. I got up every day, made breakfast for our six children who were at the time, Smalls (they are now Mediums with a couple of Larges), washed up, put the laundry on, started preparing lunch, did some ironing, cleaned the house. I managed just under an hour of sunbathing a day, and by the time the rental ended I was exhausted. All I could think about was a luxury hotel in the Mediterranean.
Preferably by myself.
I am about to institute a new house policy: if it doesn’t have room service and someone to make the bed every day, I’m not going. And yes, I will accept room service from the Mediums. I’ll even let them make my bed, because reader, there is a first for everything in life.
For the record, I’m definitely starting my new novel on Monday.
Hours spent Cooking: 2
Hours spent on Facebook: 2
Hours spent having tea with friends: 1.5
Hours spent food shopping: 1.25
Hours spent tidying/organizing: 1.5
Hours spent writing: 0
I have a tiny office in our local theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse. I moved in several months ago as their ‘unofficial writer-in-residence”, decorated it with beautiful trays, lamps and throws, then disappeared.
I get emails and Facebook messages from them saying they all miss me terribly, and I am now their “unofficial writer-out-of-residence”
Being busy with other things is not good for the business of writing novels. This year I wrote a cookbook, several articles, then went on book tour to promote the novel I wrote a year ago. I am looking for all sorts of ways to procrastinate, and this must stop.
But not today. There is cooking to be done. Tonight we have new friends coming for dinner. A couple we met last week, the husband of whom is from Belsize Park. This is not terribly exciting to anyone living in the UK, but when you have spent fifteen years living in Westport, Connecticut, and you find someone who grew up five minutes away in the old country, it is hugely exciting.
When we were introduced, he narrowed his eyes in a semi-good-natured way before accusing me of writing about him in all my novels. Apparently I give him different names every time, but I have, at various times, got his school right, his University right, and even his coat of choice (Barbour. What else?).
It is a funny thing, writing novels. When you do use someone for inspiration, within a handful of pages, they inevitably develop a character of their own, quite unlike whoever you had in mind.
Interestingly, you are only ever accused of writing about people when they have never crossed your mind. I once heard a woman in this town – Valerie – was “furious” with me, because I had written about her. I couldn’t recall anything, I barely knew her, so I grabbed a copy of Spellbound off the shelves, and found, on page 42, and 43, a brief mention of a seductive French mistress called Valerie. Oh dear.
I have also apparently written about a local obstetrician, at least one hairdresser, and many, many of the housewives.
With the exception of Valerie (who clearly wasn’t the Valerie in the book, and I’m quite sure she wasn’t furious either), all the people I haven’t written about are delighted! Enormously flattered! They dine out on it for years!
And so the man from Belsize Park I have not ever written about is coming for dinner tonight. I am making my most impressive Asian Steamed Bass, and I will quiz him for details of his life, because I now feel obliged to have a touch of Belsize Park man in every future novel.
It clearly wouldn’t be the same without him.
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