Anne Enright’s story of a Christmas Eve shopping frenzy in Ennis, as described in her 2015 novel, The Green Road, is considered one of the most famous carnival scenes in literature. Modern Ireland.
The description of Constance Madigan, a mother of young children, racing around the aisles of the local supermarket picking up everything from Cheerios to mangoes, fresh mints to wrapping paper, before forgetting the sprouts, is a picture. perfect and seems to capture something special about being an Irish woman at this time of year, shouldering the burden of the whole family’s expectations of a perfect Christmas.
Except, as Enright admitted, the truth is – as always – a little more complicated. Speaking on stage at the recent Irish Book Awards at the Dublin Convention Center, where she is accepting the lifetime achievement award, Enright thanked her husband, Martin Murphy, saying that without him, nothing will be written.
“He was actually the person – I will tell you this now – who opened the Christmas store. Martin Murphy silenced the kids while I typed in on the kids to shut up and take all the credit.
It was a brilliant moment on a night when there seemed to be quite a bit of glass ceiling breaking going on (many of the night’s winners were women).
Martin was not the only husband to be scolded; Writer after writer stepped onto the stage and echoed Enright’s sentiments.
Ellen Ryan, winner of Children’s Book of the Year (Premium) for her first book, Monster Slayer Girls, thanked “my husband Rob for his unwavering support and amazing cooking. his greatness – without those I would starve!”
She was followed by Martina Dalton, winner of Wedding Dress Poem of the Year, who thanked “John – for giving me the space and support all writers need.”
Then there’s Marian Keyes – author Again, Rachel, winner of Popular Fiction of the Year – giving “a special thanks to my lovely husband, who has always been by my side.”
Alice Ryan, Newcomer of the Year winner with There’s Been a Little Incident, described how she wasn’t so confident she would win that she was in the toilet when her category was announced. announced, meaning her husband had to pursue her – he was “in the ladies room and having a nervous breakdown”.
It all sounds very familiar. I have dedicated two of my novels to my husband, in recognition of the tremendous work he has put into making sure I have time to write (perhaps he wants me to go to the supermarket every now and then, or cook some dinners – but hey, book dedication is what he got!).
And while it may seem outdated to assume that a woman writer’s success – or indeed that of a woman in any field – can depend on their partner, it is still true for For many women (or many, absolutely!) who want to forge a creative path, having someone to share the burden in the country can make all the difference.
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Caitlin Moran, feminist author, writes: “Without exception, at 45 years of age, women my age that I know are soaring in their careers have partners who are very careful about equanimity. degree in housework and child care. Without exception, those who are struggling are those whose partners, for example, find doing laundry ‘too confusing’. Usually, women marry their glass ceilings. And then, finally, divorce them.”
“Being a writer is a lot of work,” agreed Ellen Ryan when I struck up a conversation with her a few days after the awards ceremony. “You become obsessed. And there’s a lot of self-doubt – especially if you’re unpublished. You need someone there. That’s me, working remotely, don’t know if my work is understood or not. You need a lot of emotional support and I got it from Rob.
So she said, “I recently told my husband that if I had married someone else this book would not have been written.”
Now, I should point out, this isn’t something specifically for ‘husbands’ or ‘men’ – it’s a support thing. Having practical support frees up time – as Ellen says of Rob, “he has a full-time job, he shares the responsibility of taking care of Martha, our four-year-old daughter, and the housework. ” – but also emotional support.
He made me feel seen and authentic. I had an important job in PR, and I went back to that job to write. Before being published, you might feel like an imposter, saying you’re a writer. You feel silly, somehow. It’s nice to have someone in my corner.
Sometimes, it is also financial. “I joked that he was a patron of the arts,” said Ellen with a laugh. Really though, that’s no joke.
Along with the books, Ellen works as a freelance writer and freelance PR consultant. “There were times when I couldn’t keep working, because I was busy with a book, and he was getting ready for us to hit our joint income. I used to be a high earner – the life of an author is not that high.”
On stage, Edel Coffey, winner of Breaking Point’s Crime Fiction Book of the Year, spoke of “my husband, who I love so much, and who is truly the breadwinner for me and my family”.
“I think there’s a reason it didn’t happen before,” she said when I asked about this, referring to her writing career. “There are many, but one big thing is that I have never had such a person before in my life. He really wants me to succeed with my dream.”
It was not an idle wish. It is a positive contribution of time and energy to the achievements of others. As such, it is generous and foresight. “David is a doctor; I look at what he does and think ‘that’s amazing’. And I believe he looks at what I do and thinks the same way,” Edel said.
“He is a very supportive husband – our lives are really intertwined, and I feel like I could not exist without him. He supports me in practical ways – studying, shopping – and he understands me too. When I’m thinking about an idea, my head goes somewhere else. At those times, he gets the scum of my personality. It couldn’t bring him much joy, but he endured. Without my husband, and the woman I call ‘wife’ – actually my babysitter – I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
She talked about watching a documentary about novelist Kazuo Ishiguro with David; “When writing his first novel, Ishiguro made an agreement with his wife that she would do all the housework for a month so that he would have time to write. Watching it, I looked at my husband and said, ‘that’s a good idea…'”, she laughed. A month is too much, but “we did it in a week. He had a week off from work, and he did everything. I had a big deadline for my second book, and I went to my room and just worked.”
That night, Louise Kennedy, winner of the Novel of the Year award for Intruders, said, “I want to thank my husband, Steven, who is down there, and my children at home, for accepting. let me turn my back on a cook who is pretty good at everything. inside the house, into some kind of buffer train running away from them with a laptop.”
A few days later, I asked her to tell me more. “Those words of thanks were completely genuine,” she said. “When I started writing, my husband and I had a restaurant. When I started writing, my head was no longer there. I literally ran away from him with my laptop, to hang out with people I knew. Then I went back to school, got my Masters and PhDs, and I was away from home a few nights a week. Our kids were young enough when I started – 11 and 13.”
Only the very privileged can take care of their families for free
She says the freedom of knowing her kids are well minded means everything. “You are only happy when your child is the least happy,” she points out – the truth of which is something most parents know – and can walk out the door and focus on their studies without being too preoccupied with thoughts about parents and children. Peace is a wonderful gift.
I asked Louise what she thought of that old chestnut Cyril Connolly now—“There is no better enemy of art than a stroller in the hallway.” Turns out not much. She points out that, “only the very privileged don’t have to take care of the family”. Which means that the trolley in the hall isn’t the only barrier to creative work. The need to earn a living is certainly a more fundamental obstacle for many people.
“That saying really only applies to men who have women around to clean things up.”
I asked Edel Coffey if he felt like men were finally giving back the support of generations of wives. “It has. And I note that all women acknowledge the help of husbands, mothers, babysitters – back in the day, men never did!”
It is true that many lauded male writers have been slow in owning the joint business of creative work. These female writers not only own it, they revel in it. And they do so with the belief that they are not ‘taking’ anything from the men in their lives, that this is not a zero-sum game.
What’s really lovely is that it’s no longer an ‘or’. These men are carrying the burden of the family, showing support, love, faith – but without sacrificing their own efforts the way women used to. Just by doing half, they are allowing more for everyone.
And now that men are returning support, it’s clear that women writers are up to the challenge posed by opportunity. As Virginia Woolf said in Her Own Room, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she wants to write a novel.” Not – you’ll note – genius, or ruthlessness, or some kind of hotline for the inspired gods; money, and a place to write.
Louise Kennedy highlights the work Anne Enright has done as an Irish Fiction Prize Winner, tallying press coverage of women’s books. “Reviews and other press influence sales,” says Louise.
Not rocket science – no mysterious alchemy. Just equal coverage. A fair crack. The condition for greatness is simpler than we think.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-news/why-a-great-husband-could-be-key-to-writing-a-great-book-42207993.html Why a great husband can be the key to writing a great book