my husband is a writer

by haywardhelen

When the fact that my husband is a writer comes up socially I often get an keen response. ‘Oh really’, they’ll say, ‘you must have such interesting conversations. You must get to talk about all kinds of things’. And they’ll give me a vaguely envious look.

‘Hah’, I’ll think to myself, not wanting to disappoint. I feel reluctant to tell them that being a writer’s wife is not the same as being a writer’s girlfriend. I am not my husband’s muse, thanked on the dedication page of his every book. Tormenter, perhaps. Companion, at times. But muse, definitely not.

Right now, as I write this, my husband is playing tennis against my daughter – who has begged me to stay and watch. Within the frame of the court my husband looks entirely convincing. His line calls are melodic, his encouragement of our daughter is gracious. None of it hints at the turmoil of his morning, largely spent looking, not at a blank screen, but for his next move on Internet chess.

You might think that, after a few successful titles, you’d relax into a demanding but not overly taxing subject for your next book. Rather than – the subject my husband has decided to tackle – the meaning of existence.

If my husband and I get around to talking freely, it’s lying in bed on Sunday morning. It’s only then that we really open up, as opposed to sharing notes about our day or making plans or generally keeping family life afloat. But not right now. Not when he’s struggling in the middle of a book that he doesn’t feel in control of. Right now he’s out of bed in a winkle, leaving just a warm crease in the sheets.

In my mind my husband is writing his Nietzsche book. This is my shorthand way of conveying to myself that although I don’t exactly know what his current book is about, it’s clearly something that he is committed to and, in an ultimate sense, has to write.

If I went down to the bottom of our garden now – where my husband has his study – and asked how his writing is going, he might fob me off with ‘Fine’. But then, if I made the mistake of making a follow up question, he’d start groaning and shrugging, as if couldn’t possibly understand, even if he trusted me enough to tell me – and wishing me away with his eyes.

And so I don’t go down to the bottom of the garden when my husband is working. I’ve learnt not to. I’ve learnt that when he is in this state – through which he goes for every book he’s written – there’s nothing that I can do to help. Except, perhaps, to take him food on a tray. He likes that at any time. Discouraging the children from riding their bikes up and down the garden, he also appreciates. Christmas doesn’t seem to help. Asking him to make a decision on anything other than his own work is also futile.

My husband’s ideal day is to rise at 6, start writing before the rest of us rouse, make coffee at 7, and then work through uninterrupted until midday. Then a break for lunch, followed by a game of tennis and more work until supper. And to do exactly the same for five days in a row.

As I say, I don’t know what my husband’s current book is about – although, since he’s a philosopher, it’s unlikely to be a thriller. I just accept that as his wife of fifteen years I’ll never be its ideal reader. Thankfully my husband has plenty of ideal readers – many of whom go to the trouble of writing to thank him. I find this consoling. This, I tell myself, is what good writing is for. It’s to touch people in ways that didn’t know they wanted to be touched, and to introduce them to ideas they didn’t realise were on their minds.

Last night we had drinks with a friend of mine whose husband she wanted us to meet. My husband was pleased at the invitation, not least because we live in a small city with only a handful of full-time writers. Besides, I told my husband, my friend’s husband works in a caravan in the bottom of the garden – when he’s not at the family shack further down the coast.

Two days ago my friend’s husband completed the draft of his current book – which immediately made my husband’s ears prick up. But it was the subject of his new book that really made my husband distinctly envious – the history of the doctrine of Original Sin.

Whereas I rolled my eyes inside my head at the thought of writing a book on such a thorny subject, my husband took it in his stride. ‘It would be so easy’, my husband said to me before bed last night. ‘All you’d have to do is take seven concepts, all rooted in history. And then, by the time you’d finished describing these, the book would be almost written’. Perhaps, I thought to myself, rolling on to my side, the two of them should collaborate.