I’ve Finished Writing A Book

Today, I finished proofing a novel that I finished last week. I’ve been writing it alongside my Chief Idea Generator and Plot Coordinator Ashleigh since about April last year. It might be good, it might be bad, but I think it is probably somewhere in the middle. Wonky, funny, odd – too much explaining and not enough dialogue, too much swearing, not enough character development, too many terrible side jokes about hair. In reality, I think it is probably about six months away from anyone objective (read: anyone who might want to publish it, heaven forbid) saying The Thing Is Done. But for now, I signed it off with The End and it feels like it is, indeed, The End, for now.

And so today for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can have a lunch break. Since that delicious baby was born, every weekday 12-3pm slot has been taken up with magazine work or the novel. The magazine work died a staggered, sad death in January last year and the novel is, as you know, pretty much done, so now I am my own lady. With free time. After I’ve put the baby to bed and scrambled some eggs and drunk tea, I am free to tentatively wade into the Twitter waters now that Facebook is not my go-to time waster. (Though word on the street is that I am still on the bloody thing…getting off it properly has defeated me.)

Today someone said something mean to me in reply on Twitter – I had said I felt silenced by the morality surrounding Covid and a man told me to “Just Be Quiet Then” and I replied “Ouch” and then I thought Twitter is actually pretty horrible and arguing with strangers is a bit stupid. All in all I think I am better off not saying my piece out loud because I am not very good at dealing with people saying unkind things to me or even disagreeing with me, even if they are mean men I will never meet in real life.

And then I thought OH NO I HAVE TRIED TO WRITE A NOVEL AND SOMEONE WILL SAY SOMETHING CRITICAL AND I WILL JUST WITHER AND DIE

And I will wither and die because I am a big spineless baby.

So. I wonder what job I should have pursued which might have allowed me to avoid criticism at any cost? Certainly not parenting and we all know what a defensive paranoid I am about that. WHAT? Did that lady in the frozen aisle give me and the kids the side eye just then? Did that innocent bystander sitting at the bus stop reading the Evening Standard just look at me briefly because she thinks I’m a terrible mother? HOW DARE SHE, etc, etc. This is me and my thoughts, all of the time.

I didn’t think that one through enough. Parenting is, as even the non paranoid-defensives among us know, a tricky job for those who seek to remain untouched and unrattled by other people’s opinions. Admittedly there are a lot of panicky parents around these parts who see my rather free-range approach to mothering as dangerous and irresponsible and there does seem to be quite a number of older ladies in Waitrose who like to hiss things about my ‘revolting children’ (ok that happened twice and it was the same woman) but still, I could try to let that stuff go a little.

It’s just that I have always sought approval and I wish only to garner praise and likes. That is all. These are my daily motivations. Not to improve the world or raise kids who will be good at vaccine-making or to volunteer at a soup kitchen. I am driven to be a good girl, not to disappoint, and to never, ever do anything that causes someone to be mad at me or say I am not…excelling. Nothing illustrates this more than when I went to law school after having a lovely, blissful time doing my BA in English and Art History. It was all just fun and games and paintings and novels and essays and time spent poring over faded books in the old University library. Then law school happened and I remember lots of stout confident people from Canterbury who wore primary-coloured rugby shirts and who drank a lot of beer. Those same wankers had dads who owned law firms and they got summer internships and I just….couldn’t quite get my head around Land Law or Jurisprudence and I did quite…exceedingly….averagely. And what did those years of being very average at law make me want to do?

TO GIVE UP! To never try to be a lawyer because I thought I would be too shitly average at it. Who wants to prove these things – these fears of being utterly average in real life? Far better to run around avoiding things that you aren’t top-o’-the-class-at. And keep having babies because I am definitely very good at turning them out regularly. No one can accuse me of not doing that part properly.

So anyway, Dear Reader, it turns out I have issues around avoiding difficult things and around criticism. My poor husband has occasionally given me some constructive criticism about, say…an eyebrow tint or a new recipe and I do not take it well. Snippy and biting off his head is more my default response. And now, every night after I have cooked dinner, I have all six children and one husband sitting around the table and I ask – nay, I demand – that they all praise me for it. I know I am doing something needy and annoying but I can’t help myself. And if any one of them has even one thing to say that isn’t glowing, I get defensive, mad or sulky. Chicken too dry for you, is it? You dare posit that the broccoli was left boiling for slightly too long? Falafel not good enough for you and your finely tuned palate, hmmmm?

I am a monster. If someone doesn’t like everything about this book….well.

Never mind about that right now.

More importantly, that unbelievably excellent baby turned 2 on Saturday. He didn’t get presents because shopping for a baby online is soul-destroying and anyway he isn’t much bothered about presents if Christmas was anything to go by. He simply ripped things open and tossed the contents across the room as all babies have done since time immemorial. Instead of more things to open and discard, for his birthday he got a packet of hot chips from a stall in Portobello and some cakes from Ottolenghi that mostly I ate. See him expertly and wetly blow out his candles:

Note the excellent cardigan my mother knitted for…maybe our fourth kid? and handed on nicely to Remi. And here he is in a newborn baby bonnet (in the snow, the day after his birthday) that Mark’s grandmother knitted for her future great grandchildren before she died. Dressed generally quite like you’d imagine a late 30-ish-something City worker might dress when out at a gastropub in a posh village somewhere:

And the only family photograph I think we have, complete with support bubble Anna, gurning Noah and a deflating Baby Yoda:

Otis in Portobello complaining to me that his spicy chicken might make him die because Noah told him it might make him die:

My annual wedding photo reveal. On January 3rd we were married for exactly 100 years:

Casper’s carefully translated French Swear Word book, full of disgusting phrases collected and lying in wait for the next time his biggest brother and he has a spat:

Snow Day on Sunday:

The cutest Happy Birthday spitty delighted-grin few moments you might ever see in your whole life:

In Other News

  1. I am selling lots of clothes on eBay because my spending got a bit out of control there for a bit. The auctions were fun but how many Pierre Vandel coffee tables and nesting trios does one family need? More importantly, where can one family store all four glass-topped tables so that the baby doesn’t cut any more of his chin open on them? So there will be no more auctions and no more late night eBay ‘cheeky offers’ sent to people who unexpectedly accept, leaving you with wondering how to pay for your new Erdem dress as well as your Self Assessment Tax due in, like, six days.
  2. Home schooling has largely been resolved because two secondary kids and two primary kids were allowed to go back into school. This was based on the fact that we don’t have enough room or an adequate quiet space in our two bedroomed flat for eight of us all, as well as not having enough devices to work from home and do all day live learning. So I have only two kids at home with me all day – the nearly-16 year old and the baby – and the rest trot off to school in their uniforms to do remote learning supervised by someone else on the school site. This has been a blessing of unmeasurable proportions and I am aware that I am extremely privileged to have been given this ‘out’. I can not understand how anyone is coping with trying to work while also home schooling. It is an impossible, unreasonable task.

I shall provide updates as to the manuscript, if, indeed, there is anything to tell. Tomorrow I start looking for a job again. Wish me luck.

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8 Responses to I’ve Finished Writing A Book

  1. Petra Borner says:

    Lady! You are too excellent and funny, oh and that is NOT a criticism!
    Love you!
    xx Petra

  2. rose says:

    FABULOUSNESS!!!!!!!!! Thank you!
    Such a delight. Grand pictures and beautiful wedding happiness. Cannot believe 2 years old already! SO glad you have more children off to school regularly again. The difference must be very restoring. Congratulations re book.
    Any in-laws your sons bring home to meet you will be deeply grateful you taught your boys to appreciate and not complain about cooking and cleaning. This is a service to the world along with teaching your children to clean and cook for themselves as well as others. Applause.
    Hope there is a chance with book done and new job not yet in hand, that you can write here a bit more but as I do not write as you do I know I have no standing to ask.
    THANK YOU!!!!

    • theharridan says:

      I will try! Things look decidedly…empty right now and for the foreseeable future. Which is nice, though also, not quite right either.

  3. Cath O'Brien says:

    My thoughts generally on the criticism thing is that there will ALWAYS be people who judge. You need to learn to absolutly not care. They don’t care about you – why should you care about them? What matters is Mark and the kids and really beyond that, few others. You are a writer, a parent, a partner, and that is simply excellent. And that is all. Sending all love. xx

  4. Clare says:

    What a video- oh he’s just bristling with excitement, brought a little tear to my eye. I get the wanting to be liked thing, I do it myself, stew on anything negative etc. I think I’ve got better with age, and also who are these people who genuinely don’t care what people think of them?!? Are they sociopaths just marching around upsetting people? So we like a bit of approval, as faults go there are worse.
    (Looking forward to reading the book!)

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