Cinderella, an awkward encounter with a roofing company and the constraints of necessity.
Delighted by this. I will not fight you on the greatest writer in the last 500 years point – I have a letter dispatching in exactly 20 minutes to chime in with you and entreat everyone to read Wolf Hall.
Cromwell was also a lawyer. He compares making law to magic (it only works if you believe in it). But that's another story.
I am fortunate (unfortunate?) that my writing pays (some) of the bills, alongside my partner's job. Although a jobbing writer doesn't always get to write what they want to write – so sometimes I feel in limbo between two worlds.
I should have taken up law.
Enjoy A Place of Greater Safety. It is magnificence itself.
I love the perspective you brought to this piece of writing, Jill. It's appropriate that you quoted me here because I feel like this theme is one that has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. I always admired/abhorred artists like the celebrated Texas songwriter Townes Van Sandt who left his young family to go out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. I understood the motivation better than most, but I could not accept prioritizing myself, my art over the lives of my wife and kids.
I think you being the sole provider as a woman is a radical act and I think you're right that you may never be a "great" writer without the luxury of time. But it would be a crime for you to stop trying. The act of doing the work, whether it's in 15 minute increments during a break between meetings or five years isolated in a cabin, transforms us, makes us more whole or maybe less empty. Thanks for the kindness of the mention. Having you and a handful of other writers I truly admire here read my work keeps me going.
The biggest mystery here is- why are people not throwing money at you to write a book!
As a fan of your work, I get the sense that being a lawyer is fitting vocation given your strong (like giant burning laser strong) sense of justice. To me, it seems like this sense of justice juxtaposed with your affability gets you into all of the delightfully awkward situations. Ha! I dunno, just a thought.
My wife is an amazing painter, but has essentially been taken out of the workforce and away from much of her time or capacity to make art for the past several years due to you know...having to deal with 3 small kids. This was an easy decision because childcare is so expensive here and you'd have make a decent salary to break even- and I had a job. But, being the sole breadwinner is hard, especially when you need more "bread". It's all difficult because she would rather be painting, but also has to make money and...the kids are still here. It is also clear that people with money, trust funds, nepo babies, etc are the people who are the most "freedom" to create at their will. But also, they don't have as much to say, IMO. Anyways, loved it per usual and God bless America.
I've been retired for ten years (no bread job for me). I'm surprised that I am busier now than when I worked! What I have learned that you suddenly need to find meaning late in life. If you already know that meaning for you is in writing, you have to do make adjustments. Don't leave it until it is too late.
Maybe a side point, but doesn’t having real worldly concerns like having a job (letters or agricultural), children, making dinner, taking out the trash - needing to balance all that make you more connected to the real world which provides fodder for you writing? You strike me as someone that needs those inputs as part of your creative process.
One more year at my day job and then I can retire and write full time in the house I bought and paid for myself. It's been 20 years since the novel I got a Phd to write came out, and while there were other extenuating circumstances, what's been missing is immersion. I have not had the time to simply live in my work. I have a lot of pieces. I have a lot of stuff written. I can see 2 full books like cars on blocks all around me. So one more year of essays, and Substack, and then I can dive back in for good.
Shall we burn down the roofing company as an act of rebellion? It is Guy Fawkes night tomorrow…🔥
I’m left feeling awfully pensive after this. Realizing that a) I don’t consider myself ‘a writer’, but maybe I could change that, and b) even if I was able to write full time, I don’t know if I would. I think I’d probably just spend more time reading, walking and existential crisis-ing
Great piece. I was the main wage earner for the whole of our married life and was always 'wifey' to others when it came to spending money. Sigh. A Place of Greater Safety is my favourite Mantel novel. It's worth every single page.
Ah you might have (re)convinced me to start into A Place of Greater Safety asap...
Wow, what an epic piece! This has given me so much to think about and is so full of wisdom.
English teacher here and oh, that hits hard. But I've discovered I'm my most productive as a writer when I have stability and my job gives me stability so I just have to work writing in when I can. But damn, that's hard.
Your writing always makes me want to say something ... mm, at least partially clever, borderline interesting. This is another excellent piece. A dance around some amazing knowledge ... a ‘makes me very angry that companies do that’ bit ... some, ‘wow, I didn’t think of that’ stuff ... and a lot of ‘what can I add’ thinking. I’m still thinking. I’ll reply soon. Also, Wolf Hall, I’m in!
Oh that story about the company needing a man present made me fume! I just went through a similar sexist experience myself moving from London to Hove. I’ve moved into a huge house on my own for selfish reasons (my London flat was a tiny box) and the estate agent (a lady) had the cheek to ask me when my husband will be moving in 😂
Love this post - and Hilary wrote A Place of Greater Safety while working in Lewis’s in Manchester. By coincidence we later discovered that she would write and research in the same library where I learned to read.