Saturday, July 30, 2016

My writing day / AL Kennedy / ‘As payments plummet, I’m back on the road as much as I was when I started out’

AL Kennedy by Alan Vest

AL Kennedy: ‘As payments plummet, I’m back on the road as much as I was when I started out’

The Man Booker longlisted author on working in the chaos of a new house, making ends meet and the rare joy of writing in a first-class carriage

AL Kennedy

Saturday 30 July 2016 10.00 BST

fter a while, there is no typical day. There are very few days even close to being typical or useful. The busyness and business of being a writer fight for space with anything like writing. And then there is the resting and recharging, which are necessary and which I only remember when I get ill and am reminded – again – that I have to take a break. But let’s take one day last week as an example – as it turned out, the hottest day this year so far.

I wake in my new house, which is still in new house chaos. Planning non‑emergency building works cuts into time for writing. I look out of the window at the little river, which is winking bluely and suggesting I should sod everything and walk along it. In fact, I get myself suited, booted and packed. I then make a Lemsip and coffee combo in a kitchen that currently has a water-collapsed ceiling and is dominated by a vast dehumidifier. The dehumidifier means I could bake bread in there without an oven. Which is handy, because I can’t use the oven.
I drink. There is some bread. Then a railway station.
I spend much of my life on railway stations and in trains. Readings, festivals, conferences – travel sells books. As payment for everything plummets, I find I am back on the road as much as I was when I started out. The percentage of my income that comes from UK book publication is now the same as it was when I started out. But things could be worse. Like many UK authors, I am supported by income from abroad, especially Germany.
My first train can’t even reach London. It gets as far as Colchester – two stops – and despairs. But train two arrives in London only slightly late. Being only slightly late is always an achievement. I emerge at Liverpool Street into the super-heated greeny‑brown air of the capital. A quiet cab driver (either too hot to curse remainers, or too hot to curse Boris) batters manfully through the gridlock and I’m at King's Cross with enough time to eat cheap warm sushi out of a bag. It’s the healthy option. If you mainly eat at railway stations you try to aim for the healthy option.
Train three grumbles out of King's Cross and I start reading. Today is a reading day – three translated novels, two French, one German. It is fantastically easy to write on trains if you can get a first class ticket – power, quiet, tea, air-con, perfect – but I’m in steerage this time and close to tennis elbow again from too much typing, so today it’s sleazy, philosophical French murders and gritty city German prostitutes with added ironic deconstructions of capitalism.
The French body count distracts slightly from the complete failure of the carriage’s air conditioning. Free water is issued, an unscheduled stop does not result in access to a technician who is battling with other mishaps elsewhere. Paintwork threatens to bubble. We simmer on to Edinburgh, 40 minutes late, and I get to eat out of a bag on Waverley station, this time with two and half hours to idle away. I’ve missed my connection. I drink a lot of fruit juices – healthy option. I ponder the German prostitutes and capitalism as the pimp of us all – it seems a useful metaphor.
I trundle myself on to train five, which is the slow train, but which will get me to Nairn instead of rushing me straight to Inverness, where I’ll have to be uplifted and taken back to Nairn. I am grateful for mobile phones, internet access and wheeled bags. They make today much easier than it would have been 20 years ago.
I finish the last, trippy, deathy French roman policier and reach sunset as we curve round the bay at Montrose. I text my gentleman of choice, attaching a photo of the sunset. We exchange good nights from our endless roads. It is cool, finally. And at 00.30, or so, I am being hugged by people I love and given tea and food and we are talking, talking. Writing tomorrow, but now the comfort of kind voices. It’s what they call inspiration.

 AL Kennedy's latest book Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape) has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

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