This week’s guest is Claire McGowan, who’s second novel THE LOST is out this week If you don’t know Claire already, make sure you start following her on twitter – she’s very funny… not to mention talented, as Peter James has said ‘Claire McGowan will undoubtedly become a major name in crime fiction‘. Can’t argue with that! Today Claire tells us about the guilt she feels as a freelancer… spending all day in pyjamas. Just so you know, I prepared this post at 3pm on a Friday, from the comfort of my couch, in my pyjamas… 😉
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Today I opened the door to the postman, still in my dressing gown. It’s by no means an unusual occurrence, but I felt ashamed. It was 10.45 and I hadn’t got dressed yet. I’d been awake, thinking, writing in bed, mulling things over, but I hadn’t gotten up or had a shower or been a useful member of society, and so I experienced it: freelancer’s guilt.
I get freelancer’s guilt a lot. When you ring for a plumber or boiler repairman and they say ‘Sure, I’ll come at 8 tomorrow.’ I never say what I’m really thinking – ‘8 a.m.! Are you mad! I’ll be asleep for at least an hour after that.’ Cravenly, I always say 8 is fine, and then I don’t sleep because I’m awake thinking of plot ideas, and so I’m grumpy and I don’t make them a cup of tea as they fix my boiler, and no one is happy.
A few weeks ago I had some men in doing things with the gas supply in the house. I’m not sure what or why it was necessary, but I was trying to finish off a book and they had the front door open all day (in the snow), spent hours drilling and /or welding in the room I write in, and worst of all, they moved all my writing notes without asking and put them out of order (is this a crime? It should be). The noise was unbelievable – constant drilling all day long. I sulked a bit, but eventually I just had to ask when they’d stop, because I had work to do. ‘Oh, are you working?’ they said in surprise. Maybe imagining it can’t be work if you do it your kitchen, in a tracksuit, with a dog on your lap. Being a coward, I just slunk around muttering to myself and got nothing done for most of that week.
But you know what I should have said to them? Writing is WORK. It is HARD. It’s my job and how I pay the bills. And when you write for a living, it’s not 9 to 5. Our brains don’t switch on and off like those massive calculators with the built-in printers you keep on your desk in your actual office, where you’re required to be between certain hours and then you can go home. I’m thinking about my work all the time, even if it appears that I’m sitting in a café having a cake. I sleep badly, especially during periods of high creativity, and this often keeps me awake most of the night. So if I can, I will lie in bed to 10. Why shouldn’t I? I have nowhere to go and no dependent children or elderly relatives waiting on me for tea and scones. I have no one checking up on me and my deadlines are long, stretching across a year like fishing skeins, and only I decide when I do the work to meet them.
Even as I’m saying this, though, I feel defensive and judged. By people who phone before 10 and find you’re not at your desk (sometimes I’m cleaning, or putting on laundry, or, is it actually any of your business?) By funny looks from people who ring the bell before 11 and find me in PJs. By tradespeople telling me ‘I’ll come round at 8, OK?’ and throwing me into a panic.
I say let’s fight back against the tyranny of nine to five. The way people work is changing. In a world of energy and space shortages, it makes little sense to have your own house which is empty all day, while you travel two hours to sit in a different space which is empty at night. And our digital lives increasingly mean people don’t want to wait to office hours to get things done. We’ll all be working differently in future, I think. We freelancers are noble pioneers, hacking a new way of work out of the bush. It may look like we’re still in bed tweeting at 10.30, but trust me, we’re working VERY HARD INDEED. So no more freelancer’s guilt. In future I’m going to embrace my inner diva and make my own workspace in the house, and insist that no one talks to me while I’m working or comes into my workroom (aka the kitchen) and starts welding pipes. Either that or my next book is going to contain a particularly brutal drill-related death scene.
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Claire McGowan was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Kent. Her first novel The Fall was published in 2012 and The Lost in 2013, the start of a new crime series. She also teaches on the new Crime Writing MA at City University London. You can find out more at Claire’s website Pains, Trains and Inkstains and on Twitter @inkstainsclaire.
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THE LOST #minireview
This is Claire’s second book and immediately it has quite a different feel from her first. Set primarily in Ireland, in a fictionalised version of her own home town, it tells the story of forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who is sent from London on secondment to look into the disappearance of two teenage girls. It soon becomes clear that the case may be linked so some missing girls from years gone by, and it’s apparent that Paula has also ‘lost’ someone of her own.
This is more than a crime novel. It’s a story about Ireland, both politically and socially, over the last 40 years. It’s clear that this is something that the author really wanted to write, to not just tell a story about missing girls, but to paint a picture of life on an island steeped in history, full of quirky characters and very real troubles. The humour and the dialogue are particularly strong in this novel, and the main character Paula, is definitely someone I’d like to get to know better. The ending sets up the next book in the series just perfectly – plenty of threads left loose, just the right amount of ends tied up.
Recommended… and definitely not just for crime fans!