I like my days carefully planned. I remember as a child making a list before I went to bed of the things I would do the next day, like pick the laden gooseberry bushes in my mother’s garden and sell them to a greengrocer down the town. I wasn’t given pocket-money, but my parents approved of entrepreneurship and the gooseberry trade came under this heading. My mother played golf for Ireland. I borrowed her golf gloves to avoid getting scratched during the picking.
For five years in a boarding school run by Benedictine monks in a rambling castle in the remote hills of County Limerick we were awoken each morning at seven-ten in order to be at Mass by seven-thirty. Ever since, I have never managed to sleep late. In fact, other than when I’m sleeping or making love, I try to avoid bed. Breakfast in bed annoys me; too many crumbs. The Ancient Romans ate sprawled on settees or lying face down and look what happened to them.
The first person I meet when I come downstairs at six-thirty is Charlie, our terrier. I say person because that’s what he thinks he is. I let him out and put the kettle on. Lucy the cat then goes out—she and Charlie sleep together. It’s a Platonic relationship. I pour boiling water into a mug into which I’ve already squeezed a good lemon chunk. Then I go into my desk and turn on my pc.
At this point, I want to do almost anything but write. Email, Facebook, the Internet are all there masquerading as work-related tasks; to get stuck into any one of them will tie me up for over an hour. I generally succeed in resisting such diversions and get stuck into the novel.
The day before I’ve left myself a little portion of unfinished writing to make it easier for me to resume, like a little slice of cake left as a reward for a diligent student who shows up on time. But once I’m in—and I mean, within a few minutes—my sense of time vanishes. I love this part of writing, the total immersion, the absolute engagement with the text and the story.
Suddenly it’s 8.15. I stop at this point and make my way back upstairs and begin my work-out. This takes between ten and twenty minutes, depending on my level of commitment. I take a bath or shower and try to be downstairs for breakfast no later than nine o’clock.
Since I lead such a solitary existence, whether or not I have breakfast at 9.00 or 11.30 will affect no one. But it affects me. Without my routine, I flounder.
Charlie and I take a stroll outside after breakfast, then I’m back at my desk around 9.30. Carol, my wife, a Jungian analyst, has her own career and interests; but we’re up to date with one another’s schedules.
I’m finished writing by 11.30. Six or seven hundred words of passable quality please me. I’ve advanced. It may not seem much, but even five hundred words a day amounts over a year to a lot of words. This is the coal face of writing.
Most days, Carol, Charlie and I go for a long, brisk walk together. This part of Kildare has lovely wooded ways and we make the best of them. I have a light lunch at 12.30, usually followed by a fifteen minutes nap. On many afternoons I get a call from a newspaper or a magazine for a piece of writing, or a call from my editor, or from someone involved in the books industry. Ebooks have added an entirely new layer of business activity to publishing. Ebook publishing has given writers a whole new way of life.
Sometimes I have a meeting, which usually means going to Dublin. Or I’m doing a reading somewhere, or going to a book festival, or promoting my books in places like the US, France or England.
Carol and I meet for a drink around six and have our supper together. Afterwards, we read—we both have Kindles—or play Scrabble or watch TV. We often talk to the kids by Skype. We’ve become big into box sets and spent most of last winter watching Mad Men. Sometime between 10.00 and 10.30, it’s time for bed. Charlie and Lucy go first. We don’t have a TV in our bedroom. I try to read a little every night, but when I turn out the light, I’m asleep in two minutes.
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Genre – Historical Fiction/Historical Romance
Rating – G