So what does a girl do after finishing the draft of a novel? My garden needed weeding, my house needed hovering and my office need sorting. So I painted the outside of my house.
This is not quite a daunting as it sounds. I live in a stone cottage that has only one upstairs room, which is a tiny ‘crog’ loft under the eaves where I do my writing, so most of it can be reached without even the help of my little stepladder. But I’m still a woman in my mid-fifties, who’s not supposed to embark on such a thing.
The thing about writers is that we are creative, used to thinking outside the box, forever coming up with solutions, and as bone-headedly, do-or-die stubborn as they come, or we’d have given up years ago. Besides, there was a cheap offer of masonary paint in a local store, and the existing colour was too dark and doing my head in. Anyhow, it wouldn’t look good in publicity photos, so it was really to do with writing. Unlike cleaning the bathroom and tackling the filing, of course.
The paint was delivered, mixed with a darker colour to give it a bit more warmth, and I began. A bit at a time, pausing for dog walks and lots of cups of tea and the odd piece of cake, naturally. I brushed down the walls but didn’t do masses of preparation. I was aiming for the overall effect, not perfection. You see, my cottage doesn’t do perfection. As the brush swept over the rendering, I thought quite a bit about the people who built my cottage in the 1840s or so. It was originally a row of quarrymen’s houses. Six of them in all, along a slate-paved little street. One has been knocked down, and of the five remaining, three have made one house, and my cottage is two knocked into one. My living room (large but not huge) is one entire cottage. As late as the 1960s, there were no bathrooms, not even running water, but a standpipe for each cottage and a toilet at the bottom of the garden. The gardens were long strips, not for pleasure but to grow as much as the families could on the thin soil to supplement their earnings. True subsistence.
The thick walls of my cottage are built of stone because it was the material at hand. And free. The fact that I could reach to the eaves from the ground is down to that being just enough height for a room. No scaffolding. So in the same spirit, when it came to the one bit I couldn’t reach, I tied two brooms together with a paintbrush on the end. Not perfect, but it worked.
I had a whale of a time painting my house. I proved to myself I could do it and the colour sets off my beloved garden to perfection. My house will never be picture-postcard pretty, but I like it like that. The best thing about it was seeing the transformation in front of my eyes. It’s so hard to see the finished product when writing a book. You go over it again and again, and then again, trying to achieve something that you are never quite sure is there, and your readers are going to see in quite a different light in any case. By the time you finish the edits and the copy edits you never want to see the wretched again, and are already thinking of the next book. Of course you fall in love with it all over again when it appears gleaming and new in your hot little hands. But if you are like me, the first thought is – blimey, did I do that? Can I ever do it again? Supposing they all hate it? Can I run away now?
When I’d finished painting my house, I just sat and looked at it. It wasn’t perfect, there are still bits to be done, but it looked wonderful. All ready for garden parties. And that huge boost of satisfaction sent me back with renewed enthusiasm to the next lot of edits.
So here’s to everyone who built and lived in my little cottage over the past 150 years or so, creatively making the most of what little they had. You’ve given me my mojo back, my friends.
Mind you, if you don’t mind, Wisteria might be a bit grand, but I am considering planting Virginia Creeper any time now…. 🙂