Writers who leave their wives lost for words

Ian Rankin's wife has confirmed that at times novelists are more interested in their creations than the people living with them

Writer's blockade: Ian Rankin's family stay out of his way when he is at work on his novels
Writer's blockade: Ian Rankin's family stay out of his way when he is at work on his novels Photo: Chris Watt
The novelist Ian Rankin’s wife, talking in a television documentary, has revealed some of the working habits of the busy professional novelist, and some of us will have recognised the phenomena she describes. Some of our spouses, too, because these disasters and pieces of bad and neglectful behaviour affect our families indirectly.
Mrs Rankin said, very perceptively, that there is a danger of writer’s block hitting Rankin once he has used up all his initial ideas and vision, prepared before the book was started. She says this happens, almost always, on page 65. That’s absolutely true: the map and ideas and scribbled notions, prepared before anything starts, initially look like enough to get you through to the end, or to the halfway stage. And then you’ve run through your stock of imaginative capital like a Lottery winner on a drunken spree, and the blank page stares at you.
Still more recognisable is what Mrs Rankin said about the 52-year-old novelist, when in full spate – “he’s like a teenage student”. She knows, since Rankin writes a novel every year, what the rhythm is, and when there is no point talking to him. “The role of his family, chiefly, during this period, is trying to get out from under his feet… it’s sort of staying out of his way while he gets on with it.”
Every novelist and every member of a novelist’s family will recognise this period. The only difference, perhaps, is between the sort of writer who is able to pack his family off, and the sort that devotes energy to secreting his work away from them. Jane Austen used to keep the door of the room where she worked unoiled, so as to be able to conceal her work. Others, like Dickens, would retreat to a study where he could not be disturbed. What is apparent is that, for almost every novelist, the relationship between them and their creation is, for the time being, much more important than the relationship with real people.
This can lead to some interesting domestic disputes, and some still more interesting unspoken thoughts.
Full story at The Telegraph