In the middle of giving a talk, and steering the subject into that overcrowded street called No Time to Write, a man asked me, ‘When you do manage to do the dishes?’.
Later, I was having a conversation with another writer about how women writers seem to be asked about their home life in articles, whereas male writers are often not. I brought up this remembered remark and asked if she thought the man in the audience would have asked a male writer the dishes question.
‘I don’t know,’ the other writer said, ‘don’t dishes need to be done?’.
She was right, of course, though personally I can’t see a man bringing up the subject of dirty dishes to another man in a public forum. But, in fairness, I was talking about domestic life when his question arose, so I can’t be touchy. I had brought up the subject myself.
Certainly, home life is not something to be hidden away. Nor are the obstacles that writers face. Parents or carers – mostly women, though not exclusively – usually have that second shift of managing the home after they have completed their first shift, usually outside of the home. Though all our circumstances differ, the crux of the matter is the same: there is a lot to do outside of writing.
When I began to take writing seriously, I had four young children, the youngest was only a baby at the time, and the eldest was (and always will be) disabled. The circumstances were beyond tough but writing was my me-time and a little bit of escapism; my self-appointed post when I could no longer work outside of the home because there was no suitable childcare. So I did not want my professional life entangled in talk of dishes. But unavoidably it is.
As time has gone on and my children started school – three of them are teenagers at this point – the circumstances are no longer ‘beyond tough’. I do have time to write now, as long as it is during the school day. During the holidays I revert to writing in the evenings and remember what a struggle it was in the earlier years.
I empathise with people who have a lot on their plate and also want to write. I regularly have people tell me how hard it is for them. Some go on to tell me about the extra-curricular activities they do do: like watching loads of box sets, or hitting the gym, or taking on additional personal challenges. No one needs me to say that there is nothing wrong with doing any of these; they are me-time too, great for our mental health. But they have been prioritised, and that is fine too.
If writing comes third or fourth down our list that is also fine. I don’t believe we need to write every day. But when we do need to write every day, my saving grace has been in getting away from home.
After writing on my own for some time, I was encouraged by a tutor to apply for a bursary. I was convinced I couldn’t go on the residency because I didn’t have two weeks to up and leave everything, not knowing I could break that time up into more manageable chunks until someone told me. Getting the bursary and going on that residency changed everything. Only then did I see how vital that quiet space was to my writing. Since then I’ve been lucky to have been awarded a few more. Between Cill Rialaig, Annaghmakerrig and the River Mill, I’ve had some fantastic times away to immerse myself in a story and let it unfold during walks and through conversation with other writers and artists. It is also a little bit of respite.
A Lack of Disposable Income – another street well-lined with writers – hasn’t stopped me doing much. I have been well supported by my local council when applying for bursaries or grants. It can be a postcode lottery though, not every council offers the same level of support. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has also been fantastic.
If I have some teaching money I pay to go myself. None of them are overpriced. Quite the opposite. As a carer, it does take a bit of planning. Greywood Arts Writers’ Retreat offers a bursary for carers. Thankfully, more and more bursaries are being made available to low-income writers, it’s important to keep your ear to the ground. Or your eye on Twitter. Sign up to newsletters like the Irish Writers Centre or Community Arts Partnership and skim their opportunity lists.
The thought of having a trip coming up, even a weekend away, is enough to keep me focused. When you are working from home things crop up, the dog looks at you with those big eyes that let you know she wants to play, you have errands to run, admin to maintain, dare I say, dishes to wash. There is no getting away from that for any of us, except for physically getting away. If you can’t go far, some people stay a night in a local hotel, or write in a cafe, or in a quiet corner of the library and find that is enough for them.
(c) Kelly Creighton
About The Sleeping Season:
Someone going missing is not an event in their life but an indicator of a problem.
Detective Inspector Harriet Sloane is plagued by nightmares while someone from her past watches from a distance.
In East Belfast, local four-year-old River vanishes from his room.
Sloane must put her own demons to bed and find the boy. Before it’s too late.
‘This is a novel of style and verve, that explores the darkness within relationships and the choices we make to protect those we love. The Sleeping Season is unapologetically feminist.’ Sharon Dempsey
‘A breath of fresh air for the genre. The combination of a well conceived plot and clever characterisation coupled with Creighton’s obvious prowess as a wordsmith makes The Sleeping Season a chilling but compulsive read.’ James Murphy
Order your copy online here.