I met actress, writer and radio presenter Madalyn Morgan at my first Swanwick in 2013. She was one of many people I met there who inspired me early on in my own writing journey and I’m thrilled that she has contributed to my blog.
Maddie has reminded me that it’s not just the cats and dogs which share our homes which we can consider pets. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens know that the great outdoors plays host to any number of wild creatures and they too can be an inspiration.
Which came first, a love of writing, or a love of animals?
Animals came before writing, but not before acting. Let me explain. My first cat adopted me just before I went to Drama College in London. I had a hairdressing salon in Rugby and the girls who worked for me insisted I took in a scruffy little stray. I said no, but by the time the girls had fed him for a couple of weeks, they had fallen in love with him and he had taken over my flat. Toby Two-Shoes ended up living with my parents at the pub I grew up in, when I went off to London in 1974.
My second cat, Susie Kit-Kat, was fifteen when she came to live with me. I was an out-of-work actress and she had been orphaned when her mum of ninety-three died. The lady was famous in South London after a court appearance for not paying her TV license. She told the magistrates that she had enough money to pay the TV license, or feed her cats, but not both. She chose to feed her cats. Susie travelled with me to several repertory theatres. She wasn’t much help when I was leaning lines though, she used to fall asleep.
Describe your pets.
My first cat, Toby, was jet black with white front paws – hence the name Toby Two-shoes. Susie was a tabby, very soft and very pretty with big eyes. Her lips were strange. Most of the time she looked as if she was smiling. A regular feline visitor to my garden is, Blanca. She disturbs my writing so much… She stalks the fish in my pond, so I run out and shoo her off. She is pure white with piercing blue eyes – and she is very cheeky. She knows I would never hurt her, so she sits and stares me out. Only when she decides to leave, does she slink off.
Take me through your writing day.
My day starts early. I wake as soon as it is light, which is not so bad in the winter but in the summer, it can be too early. However, it is as I’m waking up that I have my best ideas. I have to write them down immediately. Like dreams, they are very real at the time, but they quickly go out of your mind once you’re awake.
Sometimes I’m bombarded with ideas for my next book before I’ve finished writing the current one. I was line editing my second novel, Applause, for twelve hours a day. Stupid I know, sitting at the computer for that long is bad for your legs. However, two nights running I was kept awake by the plot of China Blue, the third book in the Dudley sisters saga, which I haven’t started writing yet.
In the spring and summer, I make a cup of tea and switch on the computer. While it warms up, I take my tea and walk round the garden. I fill the birdbaths from the water butt, put down seeds for the birds and look at the fish. One my garden creatures are happy I go back to the computer and, with a second cup of tea, check my emails, Facebook and Tweets, before opening my writing file. Once I start writing it’s a cup of tea and a chat to the fish and frogs every couple of hours.
How do your pets help or hinder the writing process, and/or inspire you?
That is a good question. They hinder and inspire in equal measure. I was prone to being stressed, but my pets calm me. Fish and frogs are fascinating to watch, which is relaxing. On the other hand, if the weather is good, I am in and out of the garden all day, which is a hindrance. In the summer, I eat my lunch outside so I can watch them. By then the frogs are used to my voice and will sit and watch me as I am watching them.
The fish too are used to my shape and come for food. But my favourite time is the end of my writing day. Around six o’clock I sit and relax by the pond with a dish of olives and a glass of wine. Perfect.
Summer is the best time for man and fish, except when you lose one. I was heartbroken when I returned from Swanwick in August 2012 and found a beautiful red, silver and black, Shubunkin and two red goldfish were missing. My neighbours saw a bird of prey in my garden and I guess it took them. However, the good news is, last year I saw two tiny baby ‘black’ goldfish. I can’t wait to see how much they have grown, if they survived the winter, which I’m sure they did.
In the winter, my workstation faces the garden and I spend far too much time gazing out the window at the birds. I hang suet balls, seed, and nut feeders in the trees for the tits and sparrows, throw seeds on the steps for the ground eaters like Robins and other small birds, and put currents and apples out for the blackbirds. Two beautiful little doves visit every day and what they don’t eat the pigeons see off. I love my garden, my birds and my fish and frogs. I never tire of watching them – and I never tire of writing.
Popping in and out several times, a day is good for a writer. I spent far too many hours at the computer without taking a break, while I edited Foxden Acres and then Applause, and had extremely painful legs as a consequence. Writers need to get up every hour or so and move about.