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Living with a writer

Okay, Charlie's flight to Seattle has departed Amsterdam, he's somewhere over the North Sea and out of touch with the world for the next 10 hours. Time, I think, to spill the beans about the fantastic and glamorous life of a writer's spouse.

Charlie has recently finished writing a novel, which means for the past few weeks he has been in Write Mode. Write Mode comes with its annoyances:

  • Every moment of the day will be spent writing, except when he needs to eat, make a mug of tea, take a bath or attend to the cats' needs.

  • Yes, he even writes there - he takes a laptop in with him.
  • As implied above, the only acceptable interruptions are those from felines.
  • No, I can't practice guitar - even with the wireless headphones, he can hear the strings. Nor mess with the synths, as the imperceptible sound of my fingers on the keys is like a machine gun to his ears.
  • Ditto watching telly. Especially Mythbusters, when they're playing with explosives.
  • Not only is the sewing machine too loud, but I suspect he'd take exception to hand embroidery - I occasionally have need to say ouch, you see.
  • Technical problems are my problem, and probably my fault (the latter is true).
  • When he's not writing, eating, tea-making, bathing or attending to Their Hairy Majesties, he's either sleeping or about to go to bed due to knackeredness from serious brain work.
  • He is too busy to answer the question What would you like for tea?, and it's hard to guess how hungry he's feeling, and what sorts of things appeal to him today.
  • Buggering off on holiday is Not Allowed. I am not his muse, but he still claims he needs me around to write.
  • Buggering off to the pub with friends is okay, but I don't think my liver will be happy with a fifth consecutive night's boozing.
  • When he can be persuaded to go to the pub, in those rare moments between finishing writing for the day and going to bed, he will talk about nothing other than the work-in-progress and plans for future novels.
  • In those romantic moments in bed before nodding off, he will talk about nothing other than the work-in-progress and plans for future novels.
  • If I were to try and chat to him in the bath, he would talk about nothing other than the work-in-progress and plans for future novels.
  • I suspect when he's talking to the cats, he's telling them about the work-in-progress and his plans for future novels, with specific reference to the feline characters in them.
  • Even when there's a bloody great Vulcan bomber taxying past at high speed, he will mention how it fits into the Laundryverse. Fortunately this cannot be heard easily.
  • He was in Write Mode in the run up to my driving test. How much do you think he discussed my driving when he was supervising my driving practice? What do you think he mostly talked about?
  • Forget grocery shopping. You learn a lot about how detailed his world-building can get when doing utterly mundane things together.
  • He is, of course, completely unaware of his monomania.
  • Despite the cats being allowed to distract him, he will not provide them with the attention they think they deserve, and so spend time in my study meowing for some of my attention. It's not as good as Charlie's attention, but it will do.



If only I could get away with a tenth of those annoyances in my marriage....


But tell us how you really feel, Feorag. It's bad for you to bottle things up, you know :)


Yvonne (quietly) cross-stitched a Writer At Work sign for me. It adorns my study door. The "beware" is implicit, I guess.

Recent phone conversation between her and ISP salesperson: "No, you can't just talk to John for a minute. I told you he's a writer. YOU NEVER INTERRUPT A WRITER WHEN HE'S WORKING."


I have always said a lack of monomania in artistic endeavours makes one very hungry.

Does Charlie have gaps in between Write Mode? You need to make the most of them, and work on ways to extend them by encouraging visits to the pub:-)


Too Much Information*--but interesting.

Enjoy your Me Time, or rather Me & Catz Time.

*I'd have said TMI, but that always makes me think of Three Mile Island.


And when he is not in Write Mode, is everything worse?

Especially Mythbusters, when they're playing with explosives.

Wait, when are the Mythbusters not playing with explosives?


I sympathize but also must confess jealousy of his level of focus, been a long time since I had anything resembling powers of concentration.

I blame the internet, of course. It's good to have something to blame for one's shortcomings.


Yikes! For heaven's sake, get a bigger apartment with a soundproofed room where you can practice your instruments without disturbing him. That's just crazy! A partition wall with Green Glue will sort you:

And yes, I wish I could focus like that.


Hahaha this post made my day! Utterly hilarious.


Also married to a "writer" and completely agree with everything you said! (but he does not pay attention to the cat, nor dogs).


I use a white noise machine (or running fan) for just this sort of thing.


I think this may be the main difference between a writer and a journalist; a journalist has, perforce, to be able to write while people are talking, singing, shouting, arguing, setting things on fire, talking to the journalist, shouting at the journalist, arguing with the journalist, setting the journalist's things on fire, singing rude songs about the journalist, high-spiritedly throwing heavy, pointed, inflammable or explosive things at the journalist, or releasing strange and inexplicable odours of cumin in the journalist's immediate vicinity.


As a writer living with a writer, I can only add two things: one, it's a good thing we have learned never to write at the same time. And two, we have inordinately self-reliant children. I wonder why.


Maybe Charlie can invest in the special noise-canceling headphones.


I'm the writer. We have a dog. I just started my first've got me worried now. Our house is very small.

Cute post, though!


I'm finishing my first novel right now, so I've sent this to my husband as a Guide to Good Behavior. Not that he needs it. If it weren't for him, I'd be living on peanut butter. Out of the jar. Great post. =)


Hi Feorag, My heart goes out to you. You've just explained - in more detail than I like to face - why I never remarried. My ex once said that being in a room with me in work-mode was like being stranded in a permanent production of Sarte's 'No Exit'. Wonderful post. Martha


Hmm, My husband, (who pointed me to his post) is a part-time digital artist. There are many interesting similarities. Especially about the cats...


Possibly the only thing here which is surprising is the extent to which he will tolerate feline attention-seeking behaviour.


This sort of behaviour should also be expected of academics...


I suspect that the cats are his muse(s).


I think you forgot to add "But really, I do love him." to the end of that litany of woe.

Look on the bright side, if you lived in the United States you'd have to add something about being forced to work full time at a job you hate to provide health insurance for the writer.


My family knows when I'm doing software debugging as opposed to technical translation - they say it's the only time I seem truly angry.

My wife, now, goes into Deep Physics mode in the same way. You interrupt at peril of your life because she's Hungarian and will cheerfully eviscerate you if you fail to understand the importance of her concentration.


" That's just crazy! A partition wall with Green Glue will sort you: "

Really? See here...

and also here ...

And bear in mind that our Gracious Host and his Lady Wife live in a conservation area ..they hardly dare to knock a nail in a wall unless it is an authentic Period Nail.

Google for " conservation areas in Edinburgh "


Wonderfully timed post. And wonderfully written. much laughing. And sympathy. can't wait for the rebuttal...


Thank you! I don't feel nearly so unusual now.


Now I want to know MUCH more about the Laundryverse Vulcan bombers!


Ah, I guess I see my mistake now. I should really try to forget about my own monomania ...


Doesn't it suck when we reward addictive/obsessive behavior with money? And then reinforce it by noting that lack of said behavior will result in an unpaid mortgage?

All I can say is, he'll live longer if he gets distracted on a regular basis. And that's a good thing, I think.


Someone linked this post on Twitter claiming it was male behaviour. No, it's writer behaviour. I lived with a writer who did this and I currently live with an artist and musician who does this.

(I have been a journalist so usually write under fire, but only in note form.)


Time to start thinking about an annexe to the house or a large serviced 'shed' at the bottom of the garden which one of you can retreat too.


The other thing that Feòrag doesn't mention is that it can be deadly boring having to accompany a writer to publishers' parties and other such functions where one doesn't oneself have any connection to all the other people around you.

(We rescued her from one such occasion in Melbourne last year, and wandered down to St Kilda on a pub crawl instead. I think. Well, there was beer consumed.)


Annex? Garden?

They'd have to move.

Charlie having a small office elsewhere in the area to which he went as a workspace would be possible.


As one of those who benefits from your hardship by getting to enjoy the novels Charlie writes, thank you.


I'm the writer in the house, but I live with a gamer who--in my opinion--takes gaming too seriously. This kind of sucks for me because nothing can pry him from his computer sometimes, leaving me to balance writing and reality. I'd love to have that kind of single-mindedness and ability to shut out the world as your husband, but I'm pretty sure our dogs would starve to death because my husband has, on more than one occasion, ignored our barking dogs because he 'was in the middle of a dungeon.' And forget me finishing a chapter if the dogs need to go out when his cleric is an hour from leveling up. My writing has to wait because his 'battle buddies' won't.


Hear, hear!

Thank you, Feòrag.


If the women in my life (plural intentional; it's kind of postmodern) were even half as tolerant and patient as you must be I would consider myself a lucky man indeed.


Lovely to hear from you here. Can I put in a shamelss plug for your own blog? It is visible in the sidebar to the un-initiated, under "Pagan Prattle" - I think you deserve more attention.

As for the flea-lines, as most of you know we have two as well - both extremely fluffy, and attention-seeking. As for domestic life, for me, recently-retired, it's the other way around. Rhona asks, and I usually have to do, as she is still in (fairly) well-ish paid employment.....

I'll be sending you some feline master/mistress photos, as compensation. Cheers!


Thse who talk glibly of moving don't realise.

Charlie lives in the centre of one of the most civilised cities on the planet, in a "World Heritage Site" no less. Such a thing has its conveniences - including the pubs.

Similarly, we live on the edge of a tudor/mediaval "village" subsumed into London - Rhona, as she says, commutes from "the Tudor village to the Mediaval City" evry day. That also is SO CONVENIENT, that moving isn't really on. Admittedly we have the advantage of a small garden, and a "conservatory (lean-t greenhouse, actually) which the cats LURVE."


I can understand about Their Hairy Majesties not getting the attention they think they deserve, having once lived with one for whom one-handed stroking was not enough - it had to be two hands at once or nothing.

The pubs definitely make Edinburgh's annoyances worthwhile - I have happy memories of my time as a student based in a department a stone's throw from Bannermans, living in a flat barely a stone's throw from the (lamented) Tav.


Even when there's a bloody great Vulcan bomber taxying past at high speed,

Is this a common feature of life in Edinburgh?


I managed to prise Charlie away from his writing and took him to Leuchars on the grounds that the Vulcan would be there and that such a rarity was worth disrupting the sanctity of Write Mode. In the end, the weather was foul and most of the flying displays were cancelled, but the Vulcan did everything that was possible in the conditions.

The loss of the Leuchars airshow is a matter of some distress to me. Still, there's East Fortune tomorrow...


OP Bullet 5 - Somehow I'd not envisioned you as a "blowing things up" fan Feorag; sometimes you're just wrong about peoples' interests I guess.

28 - I think the Laundryverse Vulcans were retired about the same time as the "real life" ones, being replaced by Concbombers (Imagine Concorde, with a black nose, no passenger windows, RAF markings and 3x Blue Steel underslung). 43 Para 2 - That's what happens when you do "desperate cost cutting" disguised as a "strategic defence review".

paws4thot Actually it's called TREASON ....


Does that still carry a mandatory death penalty? (he asks hopefully)


To commenters citing gender, definitely not a male thing, I can attest.

I can be like this. I just never used to think of myself as being like this until hearing it described in someone else.

My spouse is much less bad about it when in Project Mode (programmer).

Although honestly we couldn't have cats, because I would be irritated by them when in that mode. Hmm. Useful to know. Perhaps yet another reason not to spawn as well.

I will keep an eye on this thread for methods of soundproofing that do not involve construction as we are renters.


yeah, but you're living with a living legend. must be so cool to be around such an advanced mind . . .


The death penalty for the last three remaining capital offences (treason, arson in a royal dockyard, piracy IIRC) was abolished about 10 years ago.


(In Seattle ...)

Cats are a priority interrupt because if you don't stop what you're doing and pay attention to them they will eventually lose patience shit in your shoes.

Or, as happened to a friend of mine, shit in your motorcycle helmet.


helmet ... or dance on your keyboard (well maybe not your 2, but I'm used to cats that are entirely fit enough to do a floor - keyboard jump in one bound).


I'm reminded of a short story(by Spider Robinson, IIRC) where two hapless burglars break into a house they're sure, after careful checking, is empty- only to run into a very enraged writer who is in the middle of a Project.


Feorag & paws4thot IMNSHO the death penalty should be re-introduced for Treason and Piracy .......


Charlie @ 50

Then there's always the "let's drop a LIVE MOUSE in their bed" option .......

And, of course we have to be very careful with saucepans and casseroles with MEAT or FISH in them, since Ratatosk (The world's cutest Birman tom-kitten) has worked out how the class of objects with lids operates. You extend paw to edge, extend claws, to insert under lip, and PULL UP. Bingo! Kitty-treats!


With today's technology, something as simple as an iPod with ear beads works wonders.

I listen to music when I write, so I can focus. Music with power, but no obvious lyrics: Techno, New Age, etc.... In the past few years I've discovered Goth Metal; hot babes with killer lipstick, singing operatic songs to speed metal. HA! Otherwise noise from the neighborhood kids, traffic, people working in their yards, etc..., are like nails on chalkboard and drive me into rage.

Complex music helps break up the noise and makes it part of the music. I find that the complex music also helps power the writing by preventing fugues. With silence I find myself twiddling paragraphs that I will ultimately delete rather than generating new prose.

There is no excuse for either of you to be subject to the Writing Deamon's demand for total control of the immediate external environment. (HA! Say that ten times, fast.)


Charlie already has an iPod with Shure SE530 noise-isolating ear-buds. (I strongly recommend the ear-buds myself for coding in an open plan office: people basically have to wave in my field of view to get my attention.)

So if he ain't using them, that's because they aren't the answer for him.


She gets worried if she yells my name and I don't reply. Otherwise I'd be using earphones the whole time.


Or, what if They/ SHE is a Canine but Cat like Creature of the Keeshond Persuasion and SHE turns out to have had a FISHY based ..VERY GOOD FOR THE JOINTS ..lunch followed by a hasty command BY, HERSELF .... "DON'T give her an illegal Biscuit -I mean this!" ..after The Hound is transported to Home from Home/Den from Den, FOLLOWING which The - car sick - Keeshond of The Baskervilles proceeds to throw up Fishy Stuff into ones walking boots before The Walk Which according to HERSELF is ... ' Good For You Both ''.

Ever tried to clean fishy vomit out of ones walking boots?

Nothing that a Cat could do could be worse.


It suddenly occurs to me that anyone who likes Charlies Dark, Criminally FUN, books of the " Rule 34 " and ' Laundry Series ' kind really should seek out Robert van Guliks ' Judge Dee ' stories ...

In Dees time, in Ancient China, there were several degrees of Death Penalty, and if the District Judge got his decision wrong he could, theoretically, be subject to the same penalty ...Say, being torn apart by oxen.

Of course there were all sorts of degrees of British Death sentence once upon a time but the Judge was pretty well immune from Getting it Wrong as Investigating Officer/District Magistrate and thus being Hung Drawn and Quartered.


Speaking of romantic moments before nodding off - I've been guilty of Going Someplace Else, but fortunately my partner understands the muse's imperative when I start staring in the distance. The pillow talk is, er, not conventionally tender. "So if the first bit syncs with that one, then you apply this condition [...]"


Wasn't one of Philip K. Dick's divorces because she interrupted a novel?


Wow, I would love to have you as a spouse. I can't manage to convince my boyfriend that while I am writing is NOT the time tell me whatever nonsense he's just located on the internet.

It absolutely drives me nuts, but as I'm not a famous writer I can't justify acting like a surly b*tard because he's derailed my train of thought for the nth time that day.

I am seriously debating blocking myself into the area around my desk by moving & stacking furniture so that, not only can he not get to me, but he can't see me either.


As you give the cats the attention they crave from Charlie they are telepathically sending 'but you're not charlie' messages to you. It is just as well we aren't a telepathic species lest the cats drive us insane with their wants and opinions.


Ummm... as someone who has been on both sides of the argument, can I point out that as the person not being replied to, it is very difficult to distinguish "I am not listening to you because I am in the middle of something significant which is taking up most of my mental comms stack" from "I am not listening to you because I am not interested in what you are saying" from "I am not listening to you because I am dead". Particularly if the request is being made from the other side of the room/house/whatever.

As someone who has hearing difficulties, it can be difficult to figure out whether the garbled mess of vaguely dialogue-shaped noises you heard is something which requires a) a serious response, and therefore requires a request for clarification; b) a grunt, "yes, dear" or equivalent; or c) is capable of being ignored. Particularly if said garbled mess is coming from the other side of the room/house/whatever. This is complicated further if the garbled mess of vaguely dialogue-shaped noises interrupts something which is occupying a large chunk of your mental comms stack, forcing you to drop the whole plate of state.

My partner and I have had some rather interesting (for values of interesting which go all the way to "sub-thermonuclear, but only just") discussions about this dichotomy on occasion.


Writers aren't the only obsessives; before I retired, the last few months of a death march software project made me very poor company. And my wife, Eva, had little to say to my colleagues in social situations; she's an artist, and most of them are about as nerdy as I am. While we don't have cats, we do have two small dogs with somewhat quirky personalities (they were both rescues), and they can be pretty insistent (and, unfortunately, somewhat careless about where they relieve themselves if we don't pay enough attention). But times when deadlines aren't staring me in the face seem to make up for the bad ones for both of us ...


Second the recommendation for the Judge Dee stories, although I should point out that van Gulik adopted many of the conventions of the Chinese mystery stories he based his character on, including a mandatory scene of interrogation under torture. Also, one of the books was made into a movie in the US, Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders, with a (gasp!) completely Asian cast (how did they think of that in 1974?).


Third vote for Judge Dee. I first read those books as a teenager. Probably those and Arthur Upfield warped my taste in mysteries forever.


Clearly what's needed is a button $spousal_unit can press that causes a special light to come on over $obsessive's desk (or other site of focus). Then Charlie can wear headphones to cut out all the other distractions, but will respond when Feorag needs to check he's still breathing.


Ah, Yes ...Upfield ..The Book of the Bush and Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. Not all that well written as Literature goes is the common Lit Crit oppinion, BUT, they are terrific stories: my favourite is .." The Lake Frome Monster " .. Of course You know that the monster of the title is a Camel ..I have a library discard of great grubbiness of that book that calls me to recall another difference between US of American culture and that of the UK ..our Ex lib books are usually in APPALLING condition, whilst all the American X Lib, sold on the internet books that I have bought are usually practically pristine save for the public library marks.

This calls to mind a book that I returned to a local UK North Eastern public Library when I was a child, and which was given to the Cute library assistant along with the explanation that I hadn't bookmarked the Book with a bit of bacon rind!

The sweet smelling Library Lady - I was so young that my nose was barely over the libraries returns counter - told me not to worry, and her Equally fragrant college leaned over to inspect the book and remarked .." HA! T hats NOTHING! I once took in a book that had been bookmarked with a Kipper fillet!"

Those who aren't familiar with the series might like to look Here ...

Also, thanks to heteromles ..I've just come upon THIS ...

" 3 Acts of Murder

Now available on DVD!

3 Acts of Murder premiered on ABC1, Sunday 8:30pm, 14 June - Information and preview.

"Crime writer Arthur Upfield (Robert Menzies) believed he was looking for the perfect plot. But when his friend, Snowy Rowles (Luke Ford), uses the same idea to murder three men, Upfield is forced to confront his own role in their deaths.

Set in the early years of the Great Depression, this is the true story of two men whose chance conversation takes their lives down very different paths. " - ABC Website "

Bloody Hell!Even when he is Abroad Charlies SITE is still earning its keep!

I just Have to get hold of "3 Acts of Murder "


Something like a doorbell for the deaf? They have flashing lights as well as chime, which could probably be disabled.


Dogs have been trained to assist the profoundly deaf. What's need is technique to train Cats to do the same thing for Artificial-ear bud induced - Deafness! One tap of Paw for Food ..Two taps for ....Food, and Three for ... Food Related Things?


Train cats? Far easier just to be trained by them. My own cat is quite patient with my various deep stints in math/coding/paper writing modes, but when she's had enough of it she gets her point (points, really, as in teeth) across without need for codes. Since this tends to occur when I'm missing mealtimes (mine) or bedtime (also mine), she's really taking care of me in her own way. But I know she's sure that she's the trainer, not the trainee.


Ear plugs. They don't silence everything, and they do tend to fill my head with the sound of my blood woshing around my veins, but they will effectively prevent the wearer from hearing the mouse-feet pitter-patter of fingers on a keyboard, or strings. Called out names though... well, try on various pairs and you'll find the right ones.

But that's my problem-solution oriented social male side talking.

My since 2004 happily-wedded emotional side says that we do not love our partners, for long, on the basis of the good they are, but because we can tolerate their flaws.

I do not write anything near as long, or well, as Charlie, but that is when my bad sides can come out. The only time I've ever raised my voice and snapped anything at my wife was when I was interrupted during a passionate passage of writing. Monomania sounds better.


Initially, She’d had to claw the panelled door and yowl, To drag him from those slack-jawed dogs She only wanted out. But he learnt fast.

In weeks, a month perhaps, She’d but to brush his leg, And – leaving pad and bell aside – He’d stand and fumble for the latch.

( "Pavlov's Cat" )


Hey, Feorag? Now you know what you have to do to get onto Charlie's list of things to pay attention to while writing!


Sean Eric Fagan @7 asked "Wait, when are the Mythbusters not playing with explosives?" Quite frequently, such as when they're reloading explosives, or making Tory do something dangerous and potentially painful.

Writers aren't the only people whose work styles depend on getting into Deep Flow for a while; it's pretty common for computer programmers and some kinds of artists. People vary considerably as to whether music helps or hinders the process - I've had times I've been on the computer for a long time with The Grateful Dead Hour on the radio, and noticing that I've wandered off into space during the last jam, but I know other people who want loud headbanger stuff to keep the monkey mind from wandering. For some programmers, turning the room light switch on and off may get their attention if sound doesn't, while for others, it's "oh, did it get dark? I suppose it probably did."


Para 1 - ... or "only" playing with deflagrants instead! (see under subheadings like "letting Kari fire a real sniper rifle", "hitting a compact car with a guilotine blade doing 2_000mph"...)


Para 2, sentence 3 - I'm one of them; yes really, I'm quite capable of working on programming and not noticing the lights going out, because the monitor hasn't!


As a programmer, I'm like this in 'project mode' (except that I don't make a special case for the cat).


I forwarded this post to my long-suffering companion. She actually left me alone to work on my thesis! Thank you!


You are a very, very forgiving spouse and Charlie is very, very lucky to have you.


Loved the read, made me lol several times. I wonder to what extent writers and their readers share personality traits ;)



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This page contains a single entry by Feòrag published on July 21, 2011 2:05 PM.

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