Friday, September 7, 2018

Vicky Grut : My (small press) writing day

My day usually begins at 7am when my husband Bill’s alarm goes off. He has a 50 minute cycle to work so he leaves around 8am, or earlier if he has meetings. In term-time I get up too, do ten minutes of yoga, then have breakfast with our 14-year-old before he goes off to school at 8.15am. There’s a minute or so before the poor boy leaves our apartment when I follow him around with a comb, haranguing him about his appearance and saying things like: ‘Take an umbrella!’ ‘Wear your coat, for god’s sakes or you’ll get sick!!’ I put a lot of feeling into this although I know it’s useless. His school is only around the corner so I let it go, but reciting the mantra makes me feel I’ve done my duty. He pretends to be annoyed but will complain if I forget the ritual. He wrote on my birthday card recently: ‘Thank you for worrying about me’. It’s part of my job.

After this, my day can go in all kinds of directions depending on my ‘To Do’ list. From late September, I’m teaching a daytime class at an adult education institute once a week and from November there’ll be another block of teaching at a university. On those days I’ll leave the house at 10.30 or 11am and much of the previous day will have been spent on lesson preparation. I also read for a critiquing agency and if I have a manuscript to look at, I’ll usually settle on the sofa with the file and a notebook. The morning of reading or teaching prep will be punctuated by breaks to do laundry, make cups of tea and check email and social media on my phone.

I do have a tiny office, but I don’t really like to use it for creative work. It’s better suited to worldly activities like tax returns, power-point presentations and Google Classroom.  So when I have a writing day – a pure, clear day, uncluttered by any other commitments – I’ll go back to bed with an old laptop that no longer connects to the internet. I’ll prop myself up with pillows and plunge into writing.

By around 2.30pm I’m generally worn out so I stop. I might do a half-hour meditation at this point. I have a tape that I’ve been listening to for twenty years that puts me in a deep trance; it’s like speed-resting. Alternatively, if the fridge is looking empty, I’ll walk down to the supermarket with my rucksack on my back. I have lived all my adult life in London where public transport is brilliant so I’ve never felt the urge to learn to drive.

At 3.30pm the thunderous crash of the front door signals the return of the offspring from school. I make myself available for a while in case he has the urge to chat, which he usually doesn’t. He’ll have a snack, then dive off into playing x-box with all the people he’s just said goodbye to. If I have a deadline I’ll go back to work, otherwise I might do some reading or attend to emails until about 6pm when I start cooking. I call my 84-year-old mother almost every night. She talks as I cook, with the phone wedged between my ear and shoulder.

At 7pm Bill gets home and all three of us will eat together. At 8pm, Bill and I watch the news on Channel Four and clear up. By 9.30 or 10pm, Bill and the offspring are usually in their beds, reading. The offspring likes to munch two green apples every night. This is a good time for talking. I sit at the end of his bed and we chat about our cats or things that have happened at school or the latest idiocies from Donald Trump.

When I’m deep into a piece of writing I’ll go back to my laptop once everyone else is asleep. I used to do late nights all the time when I was younger. These days I have to ration myself otherwise I get sick, but it’s an incredibly productive way of working for me. My brain lights up after dark. In an ideal world I’d be nocturnal. But then, I’d miss out on my family. I’ll write until my computer starts to say: ‘You are waking up in seven hours’ or ‘six hours’. Then I switch off and fall into bed and – if I’m lucky – topple into oblivion. 

Vicky Grut’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies published by Picador, Granta, Duckworths, Serpent’s Tail and Bloomsbury. Her book Live Show, Drink Included: Collected Stories is published on October 5 by Holland Park Press. Visit her website or find her on Twitter @VickyGrut.


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