Today I'm joined by author Betsy Tobin whose latest book Things We Couldn't Explain was published this week.
An innocuous enough question, and one that usually translates into: what do you do? But for us authorial types, it tends to be a bit more literal. When I tell people at drinks parties that I write books for a living, they genuinely want to know physically where I work. I suppose they want an image of me hard at it: scrunched over a desk, closeted away in a garret, tucked up in a library carrel, etc. Over the years this question has probably vexed me more than any other, not because of who’s posed it, but of the difficulty in giving a satisfactory reply.
Where indeed? The answer has been as varied as the number of people who’ve asked it. Over the last fifteen years my office has been: at the kitchen table, up a ladder in a closet-sized loft, in a damp spidery barn, in bed with no heat in the dead of winter, in a well-lit closet, on the sitting room sofa cornered by pets desperate to be taken out, locked into the basement with my children screaming above, in the quiet study room of the local library surrounded by twitchy homeless people, or in a greasy café with builders leering at me.
With publishers’ advances shrinking to little more than the cost of a package holiday, few authors I know are prepared to dole out hard-earned cash to rent an office. Most work from home. Some use libraries or cafes if they can’t bear the idea of living and working in the same space, or don’t have a home set-up that is friendly. But writing at home can be fraught. Pre-school children can spell death to productivity, even if you’ve hired someone to mind them (And let’s face it? Who would take that job with a parent on site listening to every argument?!) Large children of the gap or post-university variety can be equally disruptive: stumbling forth at odd hours, bleating about the lack of food in the fridge. Pets can prove surprisingly needy and devious. Builders, deliverymen (most authors are sitting ducks who take in parcels for their entire road), Jehovah’s Witnesses, people canvasing for charities, the guy who reads the gas meter: these are all interruptions those who work from home must weather, often several times a day.
Three years ago I decided that a garden shed was the solution. A shed would remove me from the constant ringing of the phone and doorbell, not to mention unwelcome intrusions from my offspring and their associates. Even the pets would be happier frolicking in the garden, surely. Besides, didn’t all writers have sheds? Roald Dahl, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Miller, George Bernard Shaw. All wrote some of their best-known works in garden sheds (the latter even kept his shed on a massive turntable so he could swivel it round to face the sun – genius!)
But when I proposed the idea to my husband he nixed it at once. There wasn’t enough space in the garden, he complained, and besides, it would ruin the ‘lay’ of the flower beds. Fine, I said. Then I did what any sensible person would do. I waited until he went out of town, then I ordered, erected, decorated and furnished my new shed, presenting him with a fait accompli upon his return three days later. He was speechless.
But the shed hasn’t solved all my problems. It’s cold in the winter, has no lighting or power for my laptop, is festooned with cobwebs and has the odd hardy weed growing up through the floorboards. And if I forget to close it up at dusk, the foxes have a field day inside. (I woke up recently and looked out the window to see the sofa cushions strewn across the lawn like discarded dolls.) But it is quiet and peaceful. The birds twitter. The cat prowls. The dog keeps vigil. And I cannot hear the doorbell or the phone. If someone locks themselves out, they can bloody well wait. Lord knows my muse won’t.
Check out Betsy Tobin’s website at www.betsytobin.co.uk.
Some things just can’t be explained. It’s the summer of ’79 and the small town of Jericho, Ohio is awash with mysteries. Anne-Marie is beautiful, blind, virginal – and pregnant. Ethan is the boy next door who would do anything to win her heart. But when the Virgin Mary starts to appear in the sunset, the town is besieged by zealots, tourists and profiteers. Can love survive amidst the madness?
A comic tale of young love, thwarted desire and the slippery nature of faith…