The problem is, if you’re a woman writer, that the work occupies the domestic space. The actual writing is one thing, but elbowing everybody out of the way in order to get to your desk is quite another. Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman writer needs is A Room of One’s Own – what she didn’t talk about is the climbing over the piles of laundry, dirty crockery and unfed children just to get there.

‘Oh good, you’re not working,’ someone will say, as they put their head round the door to find you staring out of the window. The novelist Penelope Lively used to confess that she’d start typing nonsense very loudly as she heard people approach, just to convince people that yes, she was working.

Or there are diary conversations – can I visit an elderly relative, take the cat to the vet… ‘But I’m working,’ I say, trying to sound convincing when work means sitting in my pyjamas gazing into space.

And so, over the years I’ve learnt to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, I’m at work.’ And that word, ‘at,’ implies a workplace, a serious, separate location, where serious, separate work gets done. It’s amazing the difference one small word (and a steely determination) can make.

Alison Joseph’s most recent book is Death in Disguise, number 3 in the Agatha Christie Investigates series.


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