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The Dustshoveller's Gazette: The Work-Write Balance

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Work-Write Balance

The last ten days have been further practice for me in how to squeeze research and writing time around work and home life; something which people often me ask about.  I'm getting quite used to it now.  The main thing is to get straight down to writing whenever you have a slot available, and to identify and schedule those slots in advance.  I agree with what Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator of Royal Palaces, says in this video: if you have a full time job to do which doesn't include working on your book, then you simply don't suffer from writer's block.  In fact, you're bursting to write down things as soon as you have a free minute.  Here's how it went.

With Mr D away last weekend on a minibreak of his own, I had a couple of days free at home to start the final edits on the book and  to deal with other elements required - plans, front matter, bibliography.  I spent the time drawing up two maps by hand, armed with six 0.2mm pens and a pile of tracing paper. In some respects this was tedious; in others fascinating, as drawing everything out several times over really enabled me to get to grips with the maze of streets in the slum west of Westminster Abbey known as The Devil's Acre. I have also drawn a map of London from Chelsea in the west to Rotherhithe in the east, showing the principal buildings and streets mentioned in the text. I used various maps to do these from City of Westminster Archives service (Greenwood of 1827); the Horwood/Faden map of 1813 from The A-Z of Regency London; plus the Stanford 1862 map of Westminster (only for the position of Westminster hospital, built 1834) from the web; and after much searching - also on the web - I located Paris Street in Lambeth (from a really useful list of online historic London maps), which I needed for an eyewitness's location. Once submitted, the OUP typesetter will take my plans and make them look beautiful and clear.  I hope.

After the weekend I turned to editing the text on Monday (when I unexpectedly ended up at home due to train cancellations completely knocking out the rural line which I use to commute to London).  This was an amazing bonus. The two anonymous readers from OUP had sent in some suggestions for changes and I began working through those. They mainly comprised difficulties with the digressions in the book and a few comments on continuity. I've dealt with most of those (a few I disagree with) but there was one narrative lurch I continued to find a problem to resolve.  I got through about 50 pages of 253.

No more action until Wednesday, when I was due to travel to Cardiff by train to give a lecture on the 1834 fire for work.  I had planned to do at least two hours on the train, there and back, continuing the edits, but this was derailed by train cancellations which left me hanging around at Bristol Parkway and not in a suitable mood to concentrate.  I made it to my own talk only a few minutes late, but a bit frazzled. The lecture at Glamorgan Archives went well, though.  I was particularly pleased as the presentation I used, rejigged from a talk to the Westminster village and then made suitable for an external audience, now feels right to use with local history groups when the book is launched.

Then yesterday, Saturday, Mr D was giving a concert in Worcestershire.  Having dropped him off to rehearse in the morning, I went into the city to find a quiet spot to continue the revisions.  I finally found it in the Worcestershire History Centre which was a real haven of peace and quiet.  I got to page 77 and found what I thought was a nifty resolution to the worst narrative lurch.  Still more to do, though.  Tomorrow is the bank holiday (another lovely whole day), and then I will have another weekend free in a few weeks' time when Mr D is away at a conference to get down to some solid work.  Why don't you work on your commute, some people ask.  The answer is, I'm either doing work for work, as it were, or I'm sleeping because I'm so tired...and the house is a tip, too.

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