Not an Odalisque

Trams and Trains and Libraries

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Last week I went to the launch of The Palace of Curiosities. I kind of hate the author for her fabulousness. I first came across Rosie Garland on the front desk at a first fetish club, where she was beautiful and terrifying. I got to know her better as Rosie Lugosi, the compere who outshines every performer on the burlesque circuit. Then I discovered she’s an established poet. And the singer in the March Violets. I get the impression she has a day job, too. To make it worse, Rosie is lovely. She makes you feel like a truly fascinating creature while her gaze is upon you. I try not to talk to her too much, because I don’t want the self-loathing that happens after the come-down. I thought I’d probably be safe as long as I didn’t sit too near the front while she read from her book. It turned out that wasn’t difficult to achieve, there was quite a crowd.


Rosie answered questions from the floor. How does she find time to write? I’d love to know. I don’t seem to find enough, and that’s with a boyfriend who does all the cooking, a social life that mostly involves overhearing other strangers’ conversations while I type, and a job so part time it doesn’t cover the rent. I’ve even decided that daily hair washing isn’t worth the temporal investment. Rosie told us that she loves writing, it’s what she gets up for in the morning, which didn’t seem like the answer. It doesn’t matter how much I love writing, or skiing, or baking cakes, if what’s actually necessary is eating breakfast so I don’t fall over, showering so that I’m socially acceptable, and going to work where they expect me to do things other than writing, skiing or baking for money. If you don’t have work, then you’d better spend the morning finding some, rather than doing what you enjoy and hoping the rest will sort itself out. So I’m still in the dark. Some writers say they solve the problem by getting up an hour earlier, but since that inevitably leads to going to sleep an hour earlier, too, that just means the laundry won’t get hung up and I won’t read any books at all. It doesn’t sound awfully practical.

People asked the usual questions about who you’d want to play your characters in a film of your book, and what it’s like to win a big prize (rather nice, apparently). I sat hoping that someone would ask about her office. She mentioned, like most writers do, that she scribbles on trains. I love the idea of writing on trains. I pack my laptop or my fountain pen with the intention that I’ll be pen beautiful prose while countryside whips by. Then the train jerks wildly and my pen scrapes across the page. Or there’s a man sitting in my pre-booked seat, refusing to give up the power point, and my laptop dies. Or other travellers’ conversations are riveting. Why does the man in front speak only in English while his partner replies consistently in French? Is there a clue in the half of the conversation I can understand? Why is that loud girl so proud to share her knowledge that Old Trafford football ground is, “the oldest football stadium ever to be bombed in World War II.” Did the bombing of football stadiums have a significant impact on the war? Is there a hidden history of football stadium bombings, ignorance of which is like ignorance of the incendiaries on the roof of St Paul’s? What’s going to happen now that the woman behind me has told the man she’s with, “You’ve said things like that before, and if you say them again. I will not listen. I will walk away. Do you understand?”

When I’m determined to write, passengers go to much greater lengths to prevent it. They organise stag parties going from dull city to dull city, carrying alcohol, noise and harassment. Should I write, rather than keep an eye on the scared looking girls up the carriage, knowing how glad I’ve been for support when groping men won’t let me past to go to the toilet? I’m going to need the toilet, for that matter. It would be nice if a girl could write and pee in a public place without the need for a battle plan.

I have to conclude that trains don’t work for me, even though, if I was a proper writer, I’d be so obsessed with the words that I’d be able to block everything else out. Home doesn’t work, either. Depending on my energy levels, I get either distracted or depressed by the washing up. Coffee shops are good, but costly in coffees, and they start giving you looks after three or four hours. They don’t do that at the university library, but by the time I’ve travelled to the nearest station, walked up Oxford Road, found a power point away from chattering students and settled down, I get about half an hour’s work done before I’m starving. Packing up, going finding lunch, coming back and doing another hour takes up the rest of the day. And all this is assuming I don’t get distracted by the books. And it’s a costly option, if you factor in the inevitable library fines.


So last year, I did something crazy. I joined a private library. It’s not my fault. I was seduced. The library has a domed roof letting the light fall on Victorian books. It has a members only reading room, lined with leather bound books and glass fronted cases. There are armchairs by the fire. Elizabeth Gaskell’s husband borrowed books for her from here. There’s a gallery under the stained glass dome, with changing displays, for when I just hate this paragraph so much that I just have to walk away. The collection of books is interesting enough to merit browsing, but small enough that I can’t be carried away by research into every new idea. Lovely staff serve lunch, jammy toast and (although I haven’t yet had a day bad enough that I’ve needed to order it) wine. On free days, I can sit, in absolute comfort, and write all day.

I’ve been here three and a half hours, and I’ve written 4,000 words, if you count this post. I worry, though, that if I was a real writer, I’d be able to write anywhere. The words are pushing to get out, and surely even in a cold, mouldy outhouse, on a stag-infested train, on a rattling tram next to a talkative drunk, I’d be able to put them on paper. If I wasn’t spending my time going to author events and blogging about them, and instead getting some writing done.


Written by Not an Odalisque

April 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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