Today is the first Monday in… well, a lot of years, that I’m not being paid anything. Most of those Mondays I’ve been at work, and of course there’s something nice about being on holiday and being paid for doing whatever we find ourselves doing. I do, of course, know that in so many ways that experience of close to two decades is unusual. I’ve never had to deal with being involuntarily out of work and have been blessed with good employers.
Today is different, however, because I’ve chosen to work (paid) one day a week less from now, solely to carve out some dedicated writing time. There are other benefits, of course, such as being able to take the girls to their dancing lessons after school, and being able to cook dinner for everyone. And today – wouldn’t you know it, it’s a school holiday – I get to play badminton outside at lunchtime with LoLo.
Now, of course, I have come face to face with the usual other issues. Distractions, phone calls (really?… these people call during the day?), need to get a drink… and another… hmm, feeling a bit peckish now… and so on.
I’ve known for a while now that I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t spending more time writing. And a few months later, here I am, sitting at a rickety old desk (it sways a lot from side to side, I’m not sure it’s meant to do that), on a French stool my sister brought back with her from France many years ago when she was living there. I’m still not sure how she got it back, it’s not exactly hand luggage sized. And this is my new home:
I’ve been writing this novel on and off (mostly off) for a few years. I have a few scenes, a few paragraphs, sometimes just a few sentences. Last week I was writing a section about one of the characters who came back to Germany after living in exile in the Soviet Union during the Nazi period. I was making it all up (that’s one of the fun parts) and realised that I probably should find out more about what that experience had actually been like. Questions like where the Germans lived, went to school, were they segregated, how were they organised. But I got no further than think I should look into that.
And then on Thursday, I stopped off at Waitrose on the way home from work to grab a few things we needed. I never do this. Never. And because I had a Waitrose card in my wallet (never before used) I picked up a newspaper as it was free. In reality I got it for Camille, who promptly started reading it. And then she showed me the obituary – a full half page. It was the pictures that got my attention immediately. Nikita Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht, with another picture of the Berlin Reichstag immediately after the War. Suddenly I was in my world. But I had never heard of Wolfgang Leonhard, whose obituary this was. It turns out he was the youngest of the small group sent back to Germany to build the first socialist republic there. He had experienced Stalinism first hand, including the purges which had caught his mother. And he had grown up and gone to school in the Soviet Union in the period I was writing about. Leonhard soon recognised that the state being proposed in the East of Germany was not a Marxist-Leninist state at all, but a Stalinist one. He had experienced some of what that would mean and escaped to the West. He wrote an autobiography in 1955 which, fortunately, has now been re-published a few years ago. It arrives tomorrow.
You can perhaps see why I have trouble believing in coincidences sometimes. And I am reminded of something Paulo Coelho wrote: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Thanks, universe, for that chain of events.
So, back to the novel now. Although I am getting a bit hungry, and it must be time for badminton soon, isn’t it?