Night Writers: authors and parenthood


PG Wodehouse dedicated his short story collection The Heart of a Goof to “my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”

Ninety years later, novelist Mohsin Hamid wrote in the New York Times Book Review (here): “The banging on my door with which my daughter announces her return from school marks the end of my writing day.”

Some time between Wodehouse and Hamid, Toni Morrison – a single mother – began rising at 4:00 a.m. to start work on her early novels (early being the right word). She’d then get her children ready for school before doing a day’s work in her ‘other’ job.

Unlike Morrison, playwright and father of four Kwame Kwei-Armah doesn’t begin writing at 4:00 a.m.; he finishes at 4, having written through the night (see here).

Kwame Kwei-Armah
Kwame Kwei-Armah

Any author with small children will recognise the situation. We love ’em, but boy do they get in the way of writing a good book. Cyril Connolly’s famous line – “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – retains a kernel of truth.

I’ve been there. My son, now 6, does a wicked imitation of my most overused phrase: “Hang on! I’ll be one minute.” He thinks I’m playing on the computer. (Sometimes he’s correct.) There’s a riot of language, plot and character going on in your head, and one small, cute child at the door. How to switch between them? Well, you do it by living a double life. One minute you’re getting down & dirty in a pile of Lego blocks; the next, you’re back in the world of your fiction.

Gratuitous picture of chief disturbance to harried author
Chief disturbance to harried author

The double life is, of course, the same for all workers who are also parents. I know miners and professional rugby players who are as gentle as lambs at home. And I know one ruthless New Yorker who holds court at board meetings by day and spends her evenings doing animal impressions and wiping up baby drool.

By one of those quirks of life, I did the lion’s share of the childcare when my son was a toddler. As a result, I got used to writing either late at night or early in the morning or both. The morning is supposed to be better for creative writing: you’re closer in time to the dreamworld. But pragmatism rules. If I get six hours’ sleep, that’s good enough. Caffeine does the rest.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. ashokbhatia says:

    So very well put. Oh, the lovely and often enticing distractions we face!


    1. JJ Wilson says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Ashokbhatia!


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