Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I hadn't realised until today how much I slip into writer mode when I leave the house in the morning, whether I'm writing or not. This morning I said good-bye to my husband and son, walked out the door and entered the novel world. It didn't, as I had always thought, start when I got to the office and turned the computer on. It started as soon as my feet touched the footpath outside my house. I didn't go very far. I had a casual appointment with a research subject whose business is not far from home, just near my bus stop. He let me sit with him for an hour or so while he worked and I asked lots of stupid questions, examined his workspace and just sort of hung out. When I decided I'd seen enough for one day, I left and popped into the cafe next door for a take-away coffee while I waited for my bus. There, I chatted to the cafe owner about the research I had just been doing.

As I was leaving, my husband walked in, wheeling my son in his pushchair. I was of course delighted to see them, but after a quick cuddle and play with my son, I found I would not be deviated from my path and left to catch that bus, much to the confusion and annoyance of my 18-month-old, who had to say good-bye to me twice in one day.

Once on the bus, I questioned myself about why I hadn't stopped and had lunch with them - after all, a girl's gotta eat. I even called husband to check on son, but after a few tears when I walked out the door, son had quickly recovered when his fluffy arrived. So I didn't have to feel guilty anymore, but I wondered why it hadn't even occurred to me to linger for a while.

But then it became clear to me. I wasn't in mummy mode; I was in writing mode. Despite not actually being at my desk, I had just spent an intense hour immersed in one of the subjects of my novel and I was still ticking over everything I had seen and learned. I was free to chat to near-strangers, but seeing my family unexpectedly like that threw me a little bit. It meant a sudden shift of gears, which I didn't handle particularly well. It was fine, nobody was traumatised, but it just brought home to me how absorbed I am in my work as soon as I leave the house, not just when I get to work, and how I leave it at the door when I return home each night. And rarely shall the twain meet.

It's different when I know it's going to happen - after all, I look after my son on Thursday mornings and only after I've dropped him off at creche in the afternoon does the writer's mantle descend. I guess I have proved to myself that I have finally learned to switch it on and off - although only if scheduled in advance - something that only comes with the luxury of near-fulltime writing, and a skill I hope I can carry over when I am back to part-time writing.


Anonymous said...

I have a sort of savings account to pay for those times I've naughtily refused the mummy mantle and headed off to a desk, far away, where I have time to chew the fat with the woman in Starbucks or to browse bookshop shelves. My family will tolerate the takeaways, the absences of body and mind (just so long as I make up for it with baking), the closed door--up to a point. Then all hell breaks loose...make the most of it, Rachael, while your littlun is only 18 months. Wait til speaking starts--my husband's hang dog expressions and silently placed cups of tea are nothing in comparison to my 3 year old's manipulations and my older daughter's blackmail ;-)

Rachael King said...

Aha! Yes, I will definitely make the most of it. At least I'm past the point where my writing is my hobby to be indulged, and both my family and I can treat it like a legitimate job.

Mary McCallum said...

It's a bit like Vanda Symon in her Vanda suit. She must be getting the singlemindedness thing right as her second novel is due out soon!

Wasn't it Marilyn Duckworth who wrote in a house next door to where the family lived? The kids were only told to disturb her if it was life or death. I might have got the author wrong but I met one of the offspring of whoever it was.... I won't quote how she said she found the arrangement.

Vanda Symon said...

I have my Vanda Suit, but have been known to cry when I've had a big day, well planned out with writing and research and have had to toss it aside and don the Super-mummy outfir because of bugs and sick kiddies. We love them to bits, but it is a hard juggle being mummy and writer.

Don't some writer's have a physical 'writing hat' they don to make the transition into writer-mode? (Thinking Little Women here. Does Margaret Mahy wear her zany hats to write or just to entertain the fans?) Some writers have an office where they can physically walk out of the house and across the back yard to work.

When the work space is the dining room table, that transition can be challenging. Although picking up a takeaway coffee on the way home from the school drop of helps.

It must be a great head-space modifier to have an office to go to, Rachael.

Rachael King said...

Yes, having an office is all important to me. Our house in Wellington also has a separate office though, which is why we bought it. It's far above the house (our section is on a hill) with spectacular views. I miss it! It also means I can "go to work" and my son has no idea I'm still around.

Anonymous said...

And just to make you all feel inadequate... the talented, modest and terrifically successful Patricia Grace who raised I think seven children... wrote at the kitchen table with the family around her... Yesterday, with a group of women who have less opportunities than most to read good literature, we read her amazing short story "Between earth and sky" and then "Bliss" by KM and golly how interesting to read the two stories, one after the other, both about a mother and both evoking so tightly, a time, a place, social and cultural morays - amazing what can be conveyed in a few pages and linger for longer.