Don's diary: Mystery of the missing filofax

February 6, 2004

I am three hours into the first draft of a new crime novel. My literary historian and sleuth, Cassandra James, is in trouble. She is stuck in a traffic jam in pouring rain, and she's late collecting her daughter from nursery. I suddenly realise that the same fate is about to befall me.

I dash off to collect Anna.

After lunch, my husband, Peter, works in his study, Anna sleeps in her cot and I leave to teach a module on art and gender on the MA in 19th-century studies. I come out into torrential rain, just like Cassandra.

If life goes on imitating art, it won't be long before I find a body in the library.

Back to the novel, Footfall . Once I've begun a draft it's important to keep going. I'm aiming for 4,000 words a week, spread over four mornings.

After lunch, I answer emails and do paperwork. Today I've got queries from MA students writing essays on the governess in Victorian art and literature. My current research project is on the step-family in Victorian and Edwardian fiction, so I dredge my memory for governesses in some of the lesser-known novels. When I'm writing fiction, nothing seems more alluring than my research project - and vice versa. I promise myself that I'll get back to the step-family when I've finished the first draft of Footfall .

This morning nothing goes right. I type a sentence. I delete it and try again. I delete that and reinstate the first sentence. It's still no good. I seem to have forgotten how to do this. By 1pm, I've written less than 300 words.

A friend comes for lunch. Whether it's the conversation or the glass of wine I don't know, but when Anna falls asleep I write 700 words.

Peter leaves for Germany to give a conference paper. He won't be back until late tomorrow, when I need to be in London.

Grandma steps into the breach, and I'm on the 12.37pm train to St. Pancras. The fictional library in which my novel is set is based partly on the London Library, and I spend a happy hour there. When I get to the issue desk at closing time, I find my Filofax is missing. I dash round the stacks as the lights are turned off behind me, but I fail to find it.

Disconsolate, I leave to meet a friend at the Below Stairs exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. There is only one governess picture, but it's a good one, with a haughty mama and pouting children.

After staying overnight at a friend's, I catch the tube to Hammersmith to chair a meeting of the William Morris Society committee.

In the afternoon, I return to the London Library. My Filofax has been found in Biography N-P. Funny, I don't remember going there. I feel a plot coming on. What if this were to happen to Cass-andra?

I nearly miss the train, but once I am safely on the 3.25pm to Chesterfield, I write the first draft of a sinister encounter among the stacks.

Back home there is nothing like the rapturous welcome of a two-year-old, and Peter has cooked supper. Bliss.

Christine Poulson is a research fellow in the department of English at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of Dead Letters and Stage Fright .

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