More Daisy than Jessica -- Ruth Leigh

When I was a little girl, the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was always the same. “I’m going to be a writer.” As I’ve written about elsewhere, life got in the way and it’s only now, in my mid-fifties, that I am a proper author, with a book or two what I wrote.

 I took the plunge and at the end of last year, we did our last catering function and hung up our aprons forever. “What joy!”, thought I to myself. “No more distractions like quotes for weddings, working out how many champagne flutes a client needs, planning a menu which will suit a party which contains two coeliacs, five vegans, two dairy-frees and a person who can’t abide peppers. Surely, I will be as light-hearted as a swallow, swooping ‘ere closer to the earth.” 

Sitting at my laptop, with all the time in the world, the words didn’t flow. Not even a bit. I wrote several paragraphs then edited them heavily, sighing as I did so. Where had my creative spark gone? Why wasn’t I racing along, creating characters and writing scenes like a good ‘un? 

Reading other AE blogs, it seems I’m not alone. Maybe it’s something to do with January, traditionally a long and dreary month which stretches into the future like a length of lumpy grey cloth contrasting with the glitter and sparkle of December. 

Who remembers “Murder, She Wrote”? With the unlikely premise of an insanely successful writer living in a picture-perfect seaside town and stumbling over corpses wherever she goes, it was a huge hit and still gets shown today. Back in 2003 when I had my first baby, they used to run it at lunchtime, just in time for the 1.00 feed. My fellow newbie mums and I dubbed it “BFTV” (breast feeding TV) along with other corkers like “Diagnosis Murder” and “The Father Dowling Mysteries.” 

You knew that Jessica Fletcher, the writer in question, did actually write as the opening credits showed her toiling away at a typewriter, covering sheet after sheet with deathless prose. Everyone knew her books. Everyone. She must have spent years knocking out a huge back catalogue as she always had time to poke her nose into every mystery and murder on the Eastern Seaboard. 

I’d love to be as productive as her. Imagine sitting down at your Olivetti and knocking out six chapters before lunchtime, leaving plenty of time to solve a murder or two and cycle around town in pastel leisurewear waving randomly at strangers. 

Like most of us, I suspect, I am more of a Daisy Steiner than a Jessica Fletcher. I loved Spaced, a two series sitcom following the adventures of two slacker flat mates in North London. Daisy called herself a writer, but spent far more time procrastinating than  putting pen to paper. She talked about writing, she gazed at her typewriter, she complained that she couldn’t find inspiration but it was rare to see her actually knuckling down to any work. She was the total opposite of Jessica. 

In one episode, she finally gets her mojo back and types furiously while the theme from “Murder, She Wrote” plays in the background. It’s very funny. Check it out on YouTube when you get a second. 

As writers, we probably all dream of being divinely inspired, spending hours at our laptops and producing award-winning, life-changing books. Imagine being recognised at the Co-op. “Why, Mrs Fletcher, I thought it was you!” Shredding personal papers instead of hurling them into the recycling bin because your obsessive fans go through them in search of memorabilia as you sleep. Having an entourage everywhere you go. 

For now, though, I’ll content myself with carrying on with my book, learning how to do Tik Tok and finding out as much as I can about the art of writing. 

I may be more Daisy than Jessica, but at least I don’t have solve murders on the side.

Small mercies.

Ruth is a novelist and freelance writer. She is married with three children, one husband, assorted poultry and a kitten. She is the author of “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, “The Trials of Isabella M Smugge” and is currently writing “The Continued Times of Isabella M Smugge”. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities, reviews books for Reading Between the Lines and blogs at ruthleighwrites.co.uk. Ruth has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok at @ruthleighwrites and at her website, www.ruthleighwrites.co.uk.

 

Comments

Reb MacRath said…
Ah, memories of Jessica Fletcher. Yes, half the delight of that show was watching that unflappable, consummate professional, prolific writer AND a great P.I. with equal, weekly panache.

Ruth Leigh said…
Reading this back, Reb, it occurs to me, where is Mr Fletcher? And who was he? That might make quite a good spinoff series.
Fran Hill said…
A very enjoyable read! Heavens, the thought that anyone would want to forage through my bin. Some things just put you off the pursuit of fame. It seems a high price to pay! Happy writing :)
Jan Needle said…
Thanks for that, Ruth – good fun. Incidentally, I am that missing husband. I am also Spartacus.
Peter Leyland said…
Very entertaining Ruth and it's interesting to read how you got started after a career in catering. For some reason I haven't got the January blues yet and have already bashed out my next AE piece. It's not when we have 'all the time in the world' that makes us creative but some sort of spark that sets us off - in my case it's often a memory of something from a past life. Good luck with the book.
Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks Fran. Mine contains cat litter (soiled), bursting bags of household waste and other revolting things. Even the most guttery of gutter press wouldn't bother going through that! One day, maybe. A girl can dream.
Ruth Leigh said…
Jan! Finally, Mr Fletcher has emerged. I hope to see your series very soon. The Fletcher Diaries? Jessica and Me? A rich seam
Ruth Leigh said…
Cor, well done Peter! That's impressive. While I was doing two full time jobs last year, I really didn't like it at all, but it did mean I had no time for gazing into space and/or procrastinating. It is going better now and I'm so relieved that's another AE blog delivered on time. Maybe I should be a girly swot and write February's while I'm at it
SC Skillman said…
Yes January can be so dispiriting can't it? I'm struggling just to write a 950 word piece for a website about my new novel. I spent the last hour making an insurance claim on my car. Why do insurance claim telephone people always sound so happy about it?
Ruth Leigh said…
Oh dear me, even by January standards that's pretty bad. I think they live in underground bunkers and get fed caffeine and sugar every morning before they're released out into the world
Jenny Sanders said…
Great stuff, Ruth. Bin rifling seems very over-rated to me. Hope you've got your writing mojo back and are knocking out chapters with aplomb and maybe a cuppa or two. Looking forward to Ms Smugge III #cantwait #stilltrending
Ruth Leigh said…
My aplomb is coming back, I'm glad to say! Now halfway through Chapter 2 which is good. I can't imagine anyone will ever go through my bins, but you've got to aspire!
Joy Margetts said…
Brilliant blog Mrs Leigh! Who wants to be a Jessica anyway? Although at least with all those murders she always had something to write about... erm. Now there's a thought...
Veronica Bright said…
Love this blog! Glad you've won your techie badge!
Ruth Leigh said…
Exactly! Poking your nose in everywhere, creeping about on millionaires' yachts at night and doing the police's jobs for them. She had a constant stream of content before it was even invented. Imagine her on Insta @therealjessicafletcher #anothermurder #notimetowrite #alwayscheerful
Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks Veronica! We are ridiculously pleased with ourselves.
Amanda Bedzrah said…
I can relate to the drudgery and procrastination is some unwelcome gift for well meaning writers
But I’m pretty sure the words will come and you’d knock it out in time
Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks Amanda - I know you've shared about writing your book of late and it's often hard. I feel quite inspired reading all these comments. Just about to knuckle down to some serious writing

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