A Day in the Life of a Romantic Novelist
CHARLOTTE LAMB: A DAY IN THE LIFEBack in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, writing at full tilt, my mother spent nearly every hour possible at the typewriter, in between looking after her five children and husband. On becoming an established author, she moved in 1977 from the outskirts of London to the Isle of Man - an independently governed tax haven in the Irish Sea - and bought a hilltop property above the quiet fishing village of Port St Mary, where her writing routine became - over time - more predictable.
There, she had her 'study' area installed in her bedroom, which afforded wonderful views of Port St Mary Bay with all its yachts and fishing boats - though she sat several feet back from the window, as though to prevent herself from being distracted by this glorious view. A heavy smoker at that time, she used the cigarettes to fuel and sustain her writing stamina, often not leaving her desk for hours on end. She also knocked back strong coffee while she wrote, making a flask early in the day and keeping it by her desk, habitually drinking it with Coffeemate, which kept it hot for longer and meant she didn't have to go downstairs to the kitchen for milk.
During the nineties, the last decade of her life, she gave up smoking, turned to decaffeinated coffee, and her writing pace slowed somewhat! The family moved to Crogga in 1989, another hilltop property, this time a white turreted mansion with extensive grounds and distant views of the sea, near the town of Douglas, the busy hub of the Island. Since it was a much larger house, about eighteen rooms, my mother had one of the smaller bedrooms converted to a personal office. The wages of romance had allowed her a room of her own, at last ...
Her new study was on a mezzanine level, just off the imposing main staircase and near the front door, which suited my mother, as she liked to see people coming and going while she worked, often leaving her study door open as though to encourage her children - and now grandchildren! - to drop by and 'disturb' her. Her window was heavily curtained with nets, which let the light in but did not distract her with the attractive view over fields towards the sea.
At Crogga, she generally worked a set number of hours per day, unlike her earlier more punishing routine of writing and writing until the book was finished. She rose at about 8am most days and was at her desk within half an hour, rarely bothering with any breakfast, just a coffee to get the blood pumping!
She would write steadily on her computer until noon or half past, pausing only to exchange the odd fax with an editor, agent or an old friend like Jay (fellow author Anne Weale), then would clock off for the rest of the day. As I recall, she usually aimed for a thousand words per session; once that figure was reached, she stopped work.
Lunch was either something simple at home like a salad or a more elaborate meal out at one of her favourite Island restaurants. In the afternoons, she either went out for a long drive or to the shops - garden centres were among her frequent haunts during the summer months. During these long drives - with my mother in the passenger seat, never having managed to pass her driving test! - she would often be turning over in her mind the plot of her most recent novel or working on some new idea not yet fully formed. Sometimes, if the weather was bad, she would stay home and recline on the sofa with her two obsequious spaniels, Rosie and Pippa, watching daytime television, often drama repeats on UK Gold.
The Bill was one of her favourite programmes, closely followed by television detective shows like Morse, Miss Marple and Poirot. A keen amateur cook, especially of the armchair variety, she loved cookery shows, programmes about food and was always amused by the more outrageous celebrity chefs. She was also keenly interested in shows like Oprah, finding them not only fun to watch but a useful source of psychological insights into how modern women view men.
In the evenings, she regularly went to bed early, around ten o'clock, but would spend several hours reading or watching a film in her bedroom before turning out the light. A voracious reader since her childhood, every week she would devour dozens of library books and secondhand paperbacks from charity shops, not to mention a handful of the latest bestsellers.
On holiday - usually in France, one of her favourite destinations - that number rose steeply. My mother knew all the English bookshops on the Riviera, buying copious supplies of novels in the first few days of each holiday. Once she had read them, she either took them back or left piles of paperbacks behind in holiday villas and hotels to save on the weight of her luggage. She nearly always managed to write on holiday too, often taking a typewriter with her - in later years a laptop - when she travelled by car.
Self-educated, she had read most of the classics over the years, her shelves packed with books and novels of every description. In terms of contemporary writing, she loved thrillers, crime novels in particular, romances and family sagas. Cookery books, especially historical or regional ones, or those with glossy and exotic photographs of beautifully prepared dishes, were everywhere in the house, even the downstairs toilet! She also regularly read biographies, most often those of her favourite writers; there was nearly always a biography or two 'on the go' next to her bed, with a little shred of paper sticking out to mark her place ...