Biohazard by Barbara Nadel

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Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Lord Lucan and the racehorse Shergar. What do these four have in common? Well, two things, firstly they are either dead (Elvis and Marilyn) presumed possibly alive by some people, or missing and maybe living (Lord Lucan and Shergar) but very probably dead. The second thing they all have in common however is that all or any of them could be either living or dead inside my house.

One of the little known facts about mid-list authors who write two books a year (plus short stories, plus journalism, blogs, etc., etc) is that this level of work has serious knock on effects in the domestic arena. Also in this brave new world of sexual equality we’re all supposed to inhabit now this is still more pertinent to female than male authors. What am I talking about?

Dirty houses.

I’ve just caught sight of the stair carpet and have decided that anything that looks like that has to be a biohazard. I should really put a sign on the front door and get a load of unattractive white jumpsuits for people to wear when they visit me. I expect you could catch something that would probably require major surgery off that. You could, I couldn’t because I live here and therefore I am in all likelihood immune. Ditto my husband. But I don’t fancy anyone else’s chances.

Mid-list and female – it’s the ultimate betwixt and between and although I am so, so, SO grateful that I am working, mid-list is an odd terrain to negotiate. Were I a best selling author, I could afford to employ a woman who ‘does’ (cleaner in the UK) to keep my home civilised and pathogen free. I could even ask my husband – who wouldn’t have to go to work under such circumstances – to do it. But he works twelve hour days and we both work most weekends and so where’s the time? At the other end of the scale, if my books hardly sold at all, I’d have to go out and get a full time regular job just to survive and so the carpet would still get neglected.

Basically, apart from the obvious solution of getting onto the best seller lists, what I need is a ‘wife’. I need someone who loves me who would come and ‘do’ for me without any kind of fiscal reward involved. He or she would come in, clean my filthy carpets, remove the swathes of cobwebs from my ceilings, unearth the bathroom and go where no man (or woman) has gone for over a year, into the oven. I’d be very grateful and would dedicate lots of books to this person. They could eat any of my food that they liked (cleaning out the cupboards first of course) and could drink all my booze with pleasure provided they left me alone to get on with my work. That would be marvellous. But of course it would be totally impossible too because what I’ve just described is not so much a wife, as a saint. And there aren’t many of those roaming the streets of Britain.

To describe the writing life as a ‘calling’ is a bit pretentious and I tend to avoid people who use terms like that. But there is some truth in the central idea of certain professions having sacrifices of various sorts attached to them. At the extreme end of the spectrum some writers risk their own lives or liberty to get their voices heard which is of course heroic and very important. On the mid list, things tend not to get so serious. However, if you do have this urge to write, and make it your life, then small sacrifices usually have to be made. A dirty house (unless you have a wealthy partner who can pay someone to ‘do’) is just one of them. I’d like the occasional two day weekend too or even a holiday that doesn’t involve some sort of research or business based element to it. I’d like not to have to sit in the middle of a vast pile of receipts every April and try to corral my income and expenditure into a form that my accountant can understand. But it’s all part of what I do and there’s no getting away from it. Just as I absolutely love ‘working’ with characters and plots and feel privileged that I am allowed to do it every day, so I have to do, or not do, the crap stuff too.

That said, if you’re not a writer, but want to be one, be careful what you wish for. If you’re female and at all house proud (or just plain fearful of disease) think carefully about where your writing may be taking you. It could be straight to my filthy stair carpet and a possible encounter with Elvis Presley – in the cellar – with Shergar.

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