Janet O'Steen was not having a good day. First a pipe had burst shortly after she'd gotten up and she'd had to make small talk with her neighbour while he fixed it. She knew that this was much cheaper than getting a plumber to do the work, and that she'd have had to make small talk with the plumber as well, but it still felt like an intrusion in her day. No sooner was the pipe bandaged up ("leave it like for six weeks," said her neighbour, "and then see if it's healed alright, so you do") than there'd been a kerfuffle outside and she looked out of the window to see two women in the street outside her front door throwing apples at each other. Apples that they were seizing from Janet's apple tree. So, of course, she'd picked up a convenient broom and run out to chase them off, but the excitement of that, and from nearly twisting her ankle stepping on a crushed apple, meant that she couldn't do any writing at all until that evening.
Now, she had four pages in front of her in which her main character's father gave his shoes away to the orphans, forced his housekeeper to take a cold shower until her skin was blue, told two of his daughters that they were adopted and the other two that they were born biologically male, and hired a bagpiper to pipe at all meals. She sighed heavily and dropped them in the bin. It was her own fault, she knew she shouldn't have watched the X-Factor before starting to write, but the alternative was Songs of Praise, and that was no more helpful to the writing process.
She picked up her pen again, deciding that she'd get four pages written before she went to bed, pages that she wouldn't have to immediately drop into the bin. Her pen hovered over a fresh page of her notebook as she wondered what her main character and her family would really do at this point of the novel.
Another problem, she thought to herself, not really aware that she was procrastinating again, was that this wasn't the novel she wanted to be writing. Her agent, a normally very pliable woman called Arthuria, had completely rejected the concept of a novel called On death and dying: rebellion in a Chinese room. "It just won't sell, dearie," she'd said over and over again. "You have to look at your target audience; they want pastoral scenes of family life. Something with so little tension that they can sleep easily at night, but not so interesting that they wish they were there, or that their lives were different."
"You mean people read my books to feel like their miserable little lives are better than nothing?" Janet had been incredulous, but Arthuria had nodded solemnly and made her feel slightly bad about getting upset.
Back to the writing, she thought. Her main character was trying to resolve her father's decision to move to another town in the context of her own life. He was proposing to move to a grand house that she worried they wouldn't have enough money for if there were to be any accidents, and her mother and her three sisters were all thrilled about it and constantly talking about how their prospects would be improved. Her main character, called Jane, conceded that there would be fewer cows and other obviously rural things about, but was not at all convinced that her prospects would improve just because she was walking muddy streets instead of muddy cart-tracks. Finally inspiration struck.
"Daddy," said Jane, trying hard to sound like a strong, modern woman and forgetting completely that Daddy loathed people who had opinions other than his, "Daddy, may I speak with you a moment?"
Her father laid his Bible aside, smiling at her like he smiled at his Sunday congregation: all teeth and no good humour. "Of course, sweetie," he said, struggling to remember her name. Why had he been cursed with only daughters? "What bothers you?"
"If we should move to Bath–" she began, and he cut her off, placing his palm firmly across her mouth.
"When," he said. "When we move to Bath. It is God's will."
She waited for him to let go of her face, and continued bravely on. "When we move to Bath," she said, "what will become of us if something becomes of you?"
"Do you mean, if I die?"
"Well yes, Daddy. Or if you run off with a common street-slattern, or take up with a Chineseman and spend your evenings and your money in an Opium den, or if you are run down by a carriage and the doctors announce that you must spend your days in legless solitude, or–"
He stopped her again by placing his hand over her mouth. "Do you spend all of your time thinking up ways for me to be injured or killed?"
Janet stopped writing and re-read it. No, those last few lines would have to change; perhaps tomorrow would be a better day for writing after all. Bedtime. Ah, thinking of which, there was a little more she could write, though she'd have to find a proper home for it in the novel.
"Bedtime!" shouted Theresa-May excitedly, and everyone scampered off to bed. "Goodnight Mother," called Antoinette, and her mother good-naturedly shouted "Goodnight!" back from her room. "Goodnight Annie," called Florence, "goodnight Theresa, goodnight father!"
More cries of goodnight echoed throughout the house, and though Jane buried her head under the cold, lumpy, mildew-smelling pillow she could still hear them, until finally she sat up in bed and shouted, "Oh shut up all of you! I'm trying to sleep!"