5.00am. I listen to the birds and the factory across the street as I undress and throw myself in the shower. House sparrows. Motorbike wheels. The running of water. As my mother stirs, I dress and head downstairs, my hair damp around my neck. Right now it is summer, so I open the backdoors as wide as they will go, creaking on Frankenstein hinges and taste the sweet cool air. The neighbour’s cat is waiting for me and demands her few minutes of ear-tickling. I put the kettle on, set up the mugs and get my toast under the grill. The toaster blew up years ago. Two slices of gluten-free brown bread with quark. I’ll peel a juicy orange. My phone will go on if I want the radio or Spotify, sometimes I’ll watch YouTube videos of author interviews or I’ll listen to audiobooks. I need a voice other than my own.
My tea must be a strong mug of English Breakfast with a teaspoon of honey, a habit picked up from my Welsh wartime-child grandmother. I nearly always bring a book with me, but I rarely get the chance to read it before Mum arrives and starts doing her breakfast. I go out into our garden and pick blackberries, blueberries and raspberries from her fruit bushes. Sometimes I’m followed by the cat. Honeybees. Morning song. The smell of cigarettes from someone else’s patio. Back in the kitchen, I wash the berries and leave them in a little dish for her to crown her porridge bowl.
We talk and take turns moaning about work. This hour is precious, we rarely get any mother-and-daughter time. In the evenings we are both tired and sick of talking to humans. Mum leaves for work and I go upstairs. I have an hour and fifteen minutes. This is now dedicated to emails, Twitter and the administrative aspects of running a small press (www.selcouthstation.com). After becoming a full-time public librarian, it took me a few months to figure out a routine I could stick to. This way, I take the pressure off myself before the day begins. I will also start texting my boyfriend and we will compare notes about the day ahead.
WHSmith Moderno Black A5 Notebooks [96 Pages] and Uni-ball Eye Micro pens in blue or black are my weapons of choice. The notebooks fuel my writing, I will dip in and out of them repeatedly while writing poetry or fiction. They are a vein of a precious metal that exists both inside and outside myself. After an hour and fifteen minutes, I will slip my in-progress notebook into my bag and get into my car. On good days, I listen to Max Richter and his haunting classical interpretations of Virginia Woolf’s novels, complete with typewriter tapping at the start of each section before the violins and piano take over. If I’m in a bad mood, it is Fall Out Boy or Metallica. If I’m indifferent, it is Chris Evans on Radio 2.
Work. Typically 9.00am-5.30am. Libraries hold a magnitude of oddities and surprises. I won’t talk about work in great detail. However if you know the book ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ you will understand. As a writer, it is possibly the best place you could possibly work for characterization aids. I have been asked for books containing ‘hardcore sex with big women’ and told by a suspiciously vacant gentleman that he is the Green Man. Both these encounters were many years ago. I have been blessed, cursed, flirted with, insulted and once, tickled by children while dressed as a werewolf. My notebook will be there during every tea-time and lunch break. I’ll try to write a few lines, note down details, or open whichever book I’m reviewing and lose myself. I yearn for the bubble and business of cafes, however a mix of healthy-eating and money-saving kills that buzz.
Home. If I am cooking, I’ll get straight to it, another cup of tea close by. I love cutting vegetables and preparing meat. This is something basic and primal. After a day of paper-shuffling and computer whispering, it feels good to have the smooth skin of onions or mushrooms, leeks, peppers against my fingertips. It satisfies me to dice and slice the fat off meat or sink spaghetti into a boiling pot. I prefer to cook alone. I want privacy, peace and time to let the day roll off into the oils or raspberry vinegars or teriyaki. If I’m not cooking, I’ll go upstairs and listen to music until dinner is ready.
After the eating, washing and drying have been taken care of, I will write. These few precious hours at the end of the day are my own. I don’t have to go anywhere, no one is waiting on me and I can enter my inner world knowing the outer world is stable. This is not a regular part of my day. If I am too tired, I’ll read and save the writing for my weekend, where I will dedicate a few hours to something more prolonged than lines of poetry or story scenes. It took a long time not to feel guilty about this and realize I wasn’t spitting on some ritual that should be upheld by all writers everywhere.
Weekends I stay in bed or sit at my clerk’s desk, with my notebook and a fresh mug of tea. There are postcards of Paul Feiler’s art whitetacked to my windowsill. I will usually scribble in a way that is precise, slow and intimate, as if I were writing over my body. I take too much pride in my handwriting, in how the words look on the page. I enjoy it when I free-write and everything is hurried, scrawling, as if I might be caught any minute in some erotic act. Typing is for weaving things together. Often I will need a purpose, like a submission window with a deadline, a review to write up, and an interview to translate from words to paper. On my noticeboard by my computer desk, I have two lists for my personal work: ‘Submitted 2018’ and ‘Publications 2013+’. These lists remind me to keep trying, because I have succeeded in the past and I must be able to pull the same trick twice. Or thrice. Or more.
Surrey-based writer Haley Jenkins founded Selcouth Station in 2017, a small press that publishes chapbooks of poetry and short fiction. She has been published in The Trouble with Parallel Universes (Fincham Press 2014), Screams & Silences (Fincham Press 2015), Guttural Magazine, Tears in the Fence, painted spoken and The Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry. Her work has also appeared in online zines such as datableedzine, epizootics, Rag Queen Periodical and ez.Pzine (Pyre Publishing). Haley's first poetry chapbook Nekorb was published by VeerBooks (August 2017).