Earlier this week I contributed to a blog discussion on the She Writes website about where I write. I said, I write anywhere, because I have to. In a crowded life, competing with the demands of family, work and writing, with no room of my own, I have no choice. And generally, I think it works for me.
Yesterday, this theory was tested to the utmost, by a request from the Guardian to contribute an opinion piece to their Comment is Free blog. I’d submitted a response to their Question of the Week back in May on behalf of my good friends at Peace News and the editor had remembered me. I wasn’t going to turn down a request from the Guardian, but the request came at 4 o’clock and the deadline was 6. I had tea to cook, washing up to do, a washing machine to empty, a work phone call to make, and my husband and I were going out at 6.30. I swallowed hard, said yes, and the clock started ticking.
Luckily, the subject was something that I feel passionately about – the death penalty, specifically focussing on the case of the John Allen Muhammed, the Washington Sniper who was executed at 2am this morning. The Guardian editor said he’d send me some links to the background, so I thought I’d do the washing up, while I waited, and start putting together some arguments in my mind. Ten minutes later, I checked my email, no message yet, and my son wanted the computer. That’s OK, I said, I’ll use the laptop in the back room. No problem, except, having to work with no mouse, an unfamiliar keyboard and Disney Channel blaring in the background. I began to type, intermittently flitting between googling websites about the case, death penalty laws in Virginia and Maryland, and murder rates around the world. Then a quick break to peel potatoes, put on the sausages, and back to it.
The piece began to take some shape, the Guardian emailed some useful links, then suddenly it was quarter to 5, and I hadn’t made my work phone call. I jumped up, ran to the phone, was pretty relieved no-one was there and left a message. Passing the kitchen, I peeled some veg and went back to work. At quarter past five, my husband returned. Aha, he said, I’ve caught you. Ah, I replied cannily, But I am not frivolously wasting time on the net, I am earning us money by writing for a national newspaper. Besides, I have been super efficient and dinner is nearly done. He was suitably impressed, and left me to it. At half 5, I was beginning to sweat. I couldn’t work out my conclusion and some of my thoughts still felt thin. I took a break to put tea on the table, which my beloved wonderfully supervised, and returned to the laptop. The disappearance of Hannah Montana at this point was greatly welcome, but by the time tea was over, at 5 to 6, I still hadn’t got a last paragraph. My husband popped his head over my shoulder, It’s very good, but you’ve quoted Tolkien? (he’s no Lord of the Rings fan).
Still, I was in to the final strait. Slightly breathless and a bit sweaty, competing with the TV switched back on, and trying not to worry as the minutes ticked past 6, I finally reached the last word. It was 100 words over, but it would have to do. My husband did his last chivalrous task of the evening by saving it on the laptop’s version of word, and the deed was done. Only quarter of an hour late as well. I gobbled down to tea and off we went for our night out. Later that evening, when we were able to look at the post, we were stunned to discover 93 comments had been left. They weren’t all pleasant, but, what a reaction. The debate has raged all day, and finally closed after 400 comments. That’s not bad for my first ever opinion piece.
I didn’t speak to the children for two hours, and I never got the washing machine emptied, but something had to give. I was quite pleased with the final article,and amazed at the furore it provoked. With a bit more time, I’d have couched things slightly differently, had something to say about the victims, and been more careful with my use of statistics. I’m also acutely conscious, that whilst I was writing about some of my core beliefs and enjoying the experience, a man was being put to death, and thirteen families were still grieving for the people he killed. Nonetheless, I think it’s important that those views are expressed and debated and it was wonderful to be given the chance to state my case.
I feel I gained my spurs as a writer today. And I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity.