Melissa Todd: Two writers vying for household tasks

Hard at work....

My husband has ended a 30 year stint as a postman to become a full-time playwright.

By and large, I’m bursting with happiness, pride and a whole heap of smug. If you have a tremendous, life-altering talent, then surely you have a moral obligation to make use of it, rather than spend your days toiling as a service sector wage slave. His plays have made lives better, richer, more fulfilled; woken minds, stirred feelings: he needs to write more, and have his words heard.

And I need to bask in his reflected glory.

However, it does mean there are now two writers in the house. I’ve got a (non-life-altering) novel and dissertation on the go: he’s working on two plays. And writers are selfish, egotistical monomaniacs, with a wonderful capacity for procrastination. Before he resigned, when I was home alone, writing, or pretending to, I had time-wasting down to a fine art, and most of it consisted of housework. Meditative, useful, calorie consuming, is there anything more splendid in the known universe?

And until last week, it was entirely my domain. How could I possibly tackle that chapter when the shower looked so scuzzy? Verily the doctorate must wait until the grill pan gleams! But now, with both of us trying to avoid work, the house is permanently spotless.

It was funny at first, and rather charming. “Is there anything I can do?” he kept calling, dolefully, as I rushed from laundry-folding to pie-making. “Anything at all?”

“No, not a thing, dear heart!” I trilled back, revelling in my entirely legitimate busyness. “Don’t mind me. You bump up that word count!”

But then he stopped asking and started just doing. The bins are forever emptied, the grates swept, the dogs walked, the mushrooms stuffed. I’m reduced to producing words, which I flipping hate doing, taking occasional pause to race through the house and scream at him.

“You selfish beast! You’ve ironed all the sheets, haven’t you?”

“Well I heard you tidying the shed, so now we’re quits. I’ve made dinner too, so don’t even think about any shopping or chopping. Now, now, pour all that passion into your work!”

“Oh, you are the most – the most – aaargggh, you know I can’t do dialogue! Haven’t you some lines of your own to scribble?”

We both prize ourselves on the quality of our insults, so if it does escalate to a full-blown screaming match, it makes for some excellent material. But who can claim ownership? We have a rule that the first to record it to paper can claim any conversation for their own creative endeavours, which shortens rows considerably.

He argues this is unfair as he needs vastly more dialogue than I do – I’m all about the description, me – but I counter that he’s much more talented. Usually he wins, the rat. His deadline is nearer.

It’ll all be worthwhile when I hear Diana Rigg recite my own scurrilous filth at the Royal Court.

Meanwhile, my own word count grows at a rate to rival only my wifely pride.