Hazel McHaffie

Finishing touches

Writing in Mslexia (the magazine for women who write), author Meg Clothier says ‘books finish themselves in their own bittersweet time.‘ Yes, indeed. And to rush the process is to sacrifice security and satisfaction with the end result. I’ve just completed yet another (you may well groan!) revision of my current novel Killing me Gently, and I believe/think/hope it’s almost complete. But even once it’s prepared for publication, I’ll be checking it one more time – for anomalies that may be introduced by the person formatting it, as well as infelicities that show up at this point in the process.

Even at this stage, though, once the actual text of the story has been submitted, my work is far from over. There’s the small matter of strap line/pithy saying for the front cover, blurb for the back cover, relevant information for the cover designer, questions for bookclubs, acknowledgements, reviews/endorsements … each piece of the jigsaw has to be slotted in seamlessly.

Which brings me to a matter that’s been exercising my mind rather a lot this week. I’ve been reading surveys and articles and opinion columns about women writers, and it’s clear the odds are stacked against us. We are under-represented at most levels and in most areas. It’s notoriously difficult for us to find the time and emotional energy to write, and to prioritise our writing, when our lives are already split between day job and caring responsibilities. It took me years to accept that my writing was important enough to be allocated dedicated uninterrupted time, to respect it as a real job, not something that would always play second fiddle to the demands of others. Thankfully I’m at an age and stage now when it’s much more do-able. The older generation within our family have died; the younger ones are standing on their own two feet; my responsibilities for other people are more circumscribed. I’m also fortunate enough to have a partner who shoulders his share of the domestic tasks and supports me in my career (well, most of the time anyway!). But my heart goes out to all those talented people who’re weighed down by the burdens of life, and who feel they have no choice but to let their talents and dreams fall off the edge of their days. If you know any, please do your best to cherish and support and encourage them.

Oh, and by the way, while we’re talking home truths, writing as a career is not the dream job, the leisurely activity, the doddle, many people seem to think it is. The potential health hazards lying in weight for the serious writer are legion: stress, depression, weight gain, anxiety, sleep problems, eye strain, back strain, repetitive strain injury, digestive problems, back troubles, headaches, loneliness, insecurity, disappointment, despair, self-doubt  … to name but a few. So how come I’m still obsessed with doing it long after normal retirement age? Because I feel bereft when I’m not writing, that’s why!

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