On Holidays

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“Although I will point out that I am currently On Holiday, rather than Working, being On Holiday is something that I am very bad at and rarely try. As far as I can tell, it involves not really knowing anyone, paying your own hotel bill and lying in bed in the evening, typing, just as you would at Work.”

  • AL Kennedy

This week I am on holidays. I’ve turned my out of office on and am resolutely trying to ignore the very many, increasingly urgent, emails piling up in my inbox. I am swimming. I am reading books I actually want to read rather than the usual stack of less-than-appealing things I’m meant to be reading for interviews and research. I am eating ice cream, drinking cocktails, turning a furious shade of sausage pink and hoping to progress towards freckled by the week’s end. I am sleeping more than I usually sleep. I am even napping a little through the day. In short, I am resting. But, I am still writing. Two hours per day. One thousand words per sitting. On the balcony, in the coffee island of a Spanish mall, at the departure gate in Aldergrove. Any moment where I can find the time and enough battery life on the laptop, I’ll be ploughing away at the next novel.

 

In one sense, I’m addicted. I’m writing because I’ve just hit the 40,000 word mark which, for me, is the point where a set of characters, a setting and a nebulous idea of how the two relate, begins to consume my every minute of thinking. Right now, the fictional people who inhabit the fictional village of Ballylack in the not-so-fictional summer of 1993 are just about as real to me as the people who actually live next door and pass me every day in the street. To ignore them for a whole week would be a kind of estrangement. Or extreme rudeness. I thought about taking a holiday from this book and then I realised how pointless and needlessly distressing this would be. I’d only think about the stupid thing even more. I’d feel constipated with ideas and scenarios. I’d spend the whole week with separation anxiety. So, I decided to keep writing even though I’m meant to be on holiday.

 

Now, I know those of you who know me well are pulling your hair out at this point. I’m far too busy. I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s early August and I’ve already purchased my 2019 desk diary and it’s beginning to fill up at an anxiety-inducing rate. When I said I was off to Spain for a week, lots of you said, “good woman. Lie by the pool. Sleep. Turn your email off and DO NOT be writing anything.” Your concern is noted and appreciated but, in all honesty, I can’t think of anything worse than a whole week of not writing. It wouldn’t feel like a holiday at all; more, a form of penance.

 

I’ve just finished reading AL Kennedy’s, On Writing.It’s still a little soggy round the edges from where I’ve been dipping in and out between swims. It is a marvellous little book, funny and full of heartening honesty about what it’s really like to be a grafting writer. Kennedy’s open about the highs and lows of the writing life, “my work is lovely,” she writes. “So, I do it too much and sometimes get ill.” Amen. Me too. Kennedy writes with searing honesty about the incessant grind of traveling alone from one highly social reading experience, via solitary trains, planes and automobiles, to another incredibly social experience, fuelled only by service station coffee and biscuits. She is, more often than not, ill, or at best recovering from an illness, and admits that, even in the slower times, “even if you’re entirely well- putting one word in after another is impossibly tiring.” Amen again. I can never understand how sitting in a chair for two hours per day, working little more than my mind and five fingers total, (I’ve just counted how many digits I actually use when typing), can be so incredibly draining, I often begin to drift off while sitting at my keyboard.

 

Still, again and again, AL Kennedy returns to the positive aspects of writing. The sheer good fortune of making a living from something you actually enjoy doing. The impact, (sometimes even positive), which your writing can have on those people who chance to read it. The power you wield when you employ strong words, correctly ordered. She summarises it like this, “I know that in my life the truth is that I have been allowed to do something that I love. Doing this allows me to love better and more, to know what makes me happy and to be alive in more and better ways.”

 

After fifteen years of consistently tapping out stories for two hours per day, I know what makes me happy too. Writing makes me happy. Writing feels like resting for me, or breathing deeply, or relaxing, or having a little down time. Whatever way you choose to phrase it, it wouldn’t be a holiday for me if I didn’t get to write. Even after a decade and a half in this business making up stories still does not feel like a job. It continues, (most days), to feel like a treat. And, while the admin can gladly take a back seat this week, I wouldn’t even consider depriving myself of the one activity which consistently makes me feel most like myself. So, dear concerned friends, thank you for your concern. It is appreciated. It may not look like rest to you, but I am feeling a little less weary with every hour spent scribbling away in the sun.

 

I have also recently re-read Stephen King’s book On Writing, (it may appear as if I am reading an exorbitant amount of “how to be a writer” type books at the minute but I am currently teaching an awful lot of creative writing workshops and I want to make sure I’m not feeding my students a bunch of half-baked nonsense). King’s book is equally challenging, and reassuring, though slightly intimidating. The man must be churning out 5,000 words a day to produce that many books. There’s a very heartening section in On Writing where King says, (and I paraphrase here, for my copy is back in East Belfast), “I tell people who ask, that I write every single day except Christmas and my Birthday. I am lying. I always write on my birthday as well.” Me too, Mr King. I can’t help myself. I usually manage to sneak in a wee post-turkey session too. Not that I’m trying to be competitive or anything.

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