A Writer’s Day
8.00 am: Wash breakfast dishes, make bed while mentally plotting out new novel. Wonder if J K Rowling still does own housework.
8.15 am: Must get down to revising ghost story for comp. Deadline looming. Head for office (smidgling portion of spare bedroom). Sidetracked by meowing cat. Cat thinks underfed. Meow alerts dogs. Dogs think cat overfed, set off in panting pursuit. Scream at dogs to leave cat alone. Constant scream. Neighbours think breeding ‘catalones’ – mutant animal species. Cat streaks to kitchen. Dogs follow, lose footing on polished flooring, pile up in doorway like freeway horror smash.
8.20. am: Switch on computer. Where did I file Ghost Story? Can’t remember. Original selection done by inspirational logic. Discover story filed under ‘article’. Story began as article on Satanism.
8.25 am: Stare at keyboard. Notice biscuit crumbs lodged beneath shift key. Dust keyboard, screen and then begin on bookshelves. Come upon book of ghost stories. Put duster aside and flip open book at page marked by dog-eared envelope. Envelope covered in barely legible scribbled notations, something re using dental floss for strangling murder victim. Would minty odour be detectable? File envelope under miscellaneous. Read ghost story.
8.45 am: Return to computer. Dejectedly conclude my story not up to standard of those in book. Notice have used ‘terror’ twice in same paragraph. Consult thesaurus. Reject alarm, awe, anxiety, dread, fear. Type in ‘horror’. Discover have used ‘horror’ in following paragraph.
9.00 am: Dog No 1 scratching on door to go out. Let dog out.
9.03 am: Dog No 1 whining to come back in. Let dog No 1 in. Dog No 2 slips out.
9.05 am: Have brill idea for hilarious piece of dialogue for humorous short story. Chuckle all the way to office. Save ghost story, call up humorous story. Type in dialogue. Read through. Doesn’t sound a bit funny.
9.10 am: Dog No 2 yapping to come back in. Intermittent yap. Like waiting for tap to drip. Sets neighbour’s dogs off. Raise voice to dog. Dog raises voice in reply.
9.12 am: Angrily let in dog No. 2. Dog No 1 wants to go out again. Refuse permission – in strong terms. Dog No 1 original for adage, ‘whichever side of the door dog is on, it’s the wrong side’. Disgruntled dog pees on plant box.
9.20 am: Agent phones. Still not happy with ending of children’s book. Wants further changes. Now sick to death of ruddy Thembu and his wobbly bloody bike. Tempted to have him career downhill, hit rock, land in river, drown. Dig in heels and refuse to murder darlings in second to last paragraph. Agree (grudgingly) to change final paragraph.
9.30 am: Dogs barking. Could be postman. Waiting for cheque from Amazon. Peer through window. Two elderly ladies lurking at gate clutching what looks like bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses? Shrink behind curtain. Run through list of plausible excuses for getting rid of: on the phone, bathing baby, stirring rapidly thickening custard? Peep through curtains – gone. Postbox has glass door (tip picked up from fellow writer). Postbox empty.
Notice grubby marks on curtains where cat perches on windowsill. Decide to wash curtains. Change mind on recalling mammoth task involved in unhooking them.
9.40 am: Return to computer. Add two more atmospheric adjectives to ghost story. Read through. Decide overdone it. Take one adjective out. Can’t bear to part with it. Look for somewhere else to put it.
10.00 am: Glance at clock. Reward hard work with coffee and biscuits.
10.15 am: Contemplate prodding editor of overseas mag re short story submitted months ago. Would correspondence jolt a ‘maybe’ into a rejection? Decide to wait two more weeks.
10.45 am: Consider more profitable ways of earning money. Second-hand bookshop perhaps. Could even write during slow periods. Reject idea. Would probably spend entire day reading.
11.15 am: Wonder if Woman’s World on radio saying something sensible. Might be interview with famous author. Could pick up useful tips. Kind of Listen While You Work. Switch on radio. Someone rabbiting on about calcium and osteoporosis. Guiltily aware of slouching over keyboard. Hurry to medicine cabinet. Swallow two calcium, a B6 and a Vit C. Offer dog No 3 a chewable Vit C. Heard that it is best thing you can do for dog. Dog No 3 eats anything. Dogs 1, 2 and 4 spit theirs out with mournful betrayed looks. Return to office. Sit stiffly upright to delay onset of dowager’s hump.
11.30 am: Friend phones to say picking me up for committee meeting at 18h30. Thought meeting was next week. Frantically scan minutes in case supposed to have actioned something.
11.38 am: Return to ghost story. Grammar grappler. Should ‘owing to’ rather be ‘due to’? Alter it to ‘because of”.
11.40 am: Dogs bark. Postman? Glance through window. Not sure if that is buff envelope nestling against brown brickwork at bottom of postbox. Must get round to painting base contrasting orange. Consider possibility of getting to postbox and back in curlers without being seen. Return, panting, with dead-boring leaflet for pool cleaning service.
11.45 am: Re-read ghost story. Change comma to semi-colon. Remember advice about exotic punctuation. Replace comma. Something lacking in story. Stare out of window. Pool shimmering in morning sunlight, but pool cleaner on go slow.
11.48 am: Pace around house looking for inspiration. Decide postman’s late.
11.50 am: Wander into bedroom. Re-check postbox. Worry that something untoward has happened to postman. Fling self down on bed. Hang head over edge. Sudden rush of blood to brain known to have worked inspirational wonders. Dogs think playing game. Dogs bound on bed. Dog No 4, (the shrieker) enthusiastically licks ear. Suddenly spots postman. Maniacal barking nearly bursts eardrum.
Airmail letter (small, thin) nestling in postbox. Could be from relatives – but could be from …? Notice publisher’s logo in top left-hand corner. Rip open envelope. “We have received your manuscript and will be replying in due course.”
12 noon: Watch Dr Phil. Usually plenty of conflict, ideas for plots, and I do the crossword while watching. All worthwhile literary pursuits. Besides, eat lunch at same time.
1.00 pm: News.
1.30 pm: Wash dishes. Glance out of kitchen window at drooping plant cuttings donated previous week by sister-in-law.
1.45 pm: Guiltily pot cuttings.
2.30 pm: Brisk walk to shop for bread and milk. Resolve to get on with writing on return.
2.45 pm: Hardly worth starting writing now. Decide to have half and hour with Jilly Cooper novel (reading is legitimate work – isn’t it?). Settee occupied by snoring dogs. Jostle dogs aside. Exhume several bones from beneath cushions.
3.30 pm: Reluctantly set book aside. Bring washing in before it gets damp. Do ironing while thinking up new ending for children’s book.
4. 00 pm: Now what should I make for supper?
It’s all go being a writer, isn’t it.
Jan Hurst-Nicholson has been writing for about 25 years. Her articles, humorous articles and short stories have appeared in South African and overseas magazines and these were compiled into a book: ‘Something to Read on the Plane’ a bit of light literature, short stories & other fun stuff.
Her first children’s book was ‘Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs’ published by Gecko Books, and was one of Bookchat’s 1993 South African Books of the Year. This was followed by ‘Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the kidnapped mouse’ (both now available as e-books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble). These are humorous, animal, detective stories set in a nature reserve.
Born in the UK, Jan emigrated from Liverpool to South Africa in the 1970s. Her experiences moving to a new continent were the inspiration for her humorous novel ‘But Can You Drink The Water?’ which was a semi-finalist (top 50 out of 5000) in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
She now lives in Durban with her husband, two dogs that are forever on the wrong side of the door, three elderly cats, and the occasional visiting troop of boisterous vervet monkeys.