|Ruth Quibell and the man who makes her tea|
Following on from our Island magazine feature on writers' lives, Ruth Quibell and I have a conversation on the blog of novelist Kate Forsyth.
We talk about the books we've read together, and what they mean in our relationship. You can read the full conversation here. Here's a sample:
Ruth: The Bloomsbury group have often been helpful for us. I read Edel's Bloomsbury Lions after you, when Sophia (our second child) was around 10 months. I'd just finished up the final hectic year of a Research Fellowship, with a toddler and new baby, and was wondering what to do next. This is when I started reading biographies, partly out of curiosity, partly because I wanted to see a whole narrative. I was so much in the chaotic midst of my own! Reading Edel reminded me that no one really knows how it will all play out, but that keeping on working, making, doing - in various forms - is crucial, rather than drifting.
Damon: That book was impressive: great storytelling about the Bloomsbury mob. It took me out of the suburbs, out of kindergarten pickup and chit-chat, and kept up a connection with literary and intellectual ambition. It was also a testament to their devotion to work.
This is something I've discovered in so many biographies: Henry James, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Voltaire, Colette. They just bloody laboured, day after day. After all the anguish and grief and illness and hunger, the work remains.
Having said this, so many had no children (or were very distant parents): their days and psyches were freer. You and I have few well-known precedents!
Ruth: I'm always surprised at the absence of children. But it's hard not to envy the amount of undivided work time that Virginia and Leonard had at their disposal. And servants to clean and bring meals too. This surely justifies having a dishwasher.
Damon: Mrs. Dalloway said she would wash the dishes herself...
Ruth: There are also reassuring surprises for anyone trying to make ends meet while working creatively. For instance, it was years before Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell made any decent money from writing or art!
Damon: I agree, but I'm also wary of this. It can be consoling to believe that, some day, real money will arrive. But these writers are remembered partly for their unusual success. Even Henry James, who was always worried about money, drove his pen to a handsome bourgeois lifestyle. We, on the other hand, might publish many good books and essays, and be living like students forever.
Ruth: I think I'm resigned to that. Mostly...