I’m Christine and we’ve been married for forty years. Malcolm Noble didn’t write his first book until 2003 which means I’ve only been married to a writer for thirteen years. It feels much longer!
My main role is to explain to Malcolm that some of his ideas are bad ideas. (He has a rude word for this which we needn’t mention.) When he gave up his proper job and began to write much more, I took charge of the address book. Not because I wanted to help. It was because Malcolm hasn’t a clue about keeping things in order so it was easier for me to have the address book than to help sort out the mess when it went wrong. This has led to me being more involved with press contacts and his regular readers.
Another way that I help is by working out the exact word he is looking for. This can be frustrating because his clues are often of little use. (You should try solving one of his crossword puzzles.) The example I always think of is – the word for walking slowly around a house. (I’ll give the answer later on.) There are a couple of words which we haven’t been able to sort out, so I’ll mention them here. First, how do you spell ‘pee-quoi’, which means keeping yourself busy with small tasks in a time wasting way? Another, the words hay-wire and awry are pretty much interchangeable in our popular press on this side of the Atlantic. When did those words first get confused in an acceptable way? We need to know if that usage goes back to the 1930s. The people in Oxford haven’t been able to help with either of these questions. The answer to my earlier question, by the way, was ‘pottering’.
O.K. That’s how I help, but what does a writer’s wife have to put up with. The main irritant is scraps of paper with scribble on them. At the worst, this is like having an infestation of mice. I find the litter everywhere. On different steps of the staircase (of course), under a soap dish (true!), in my handbag (he said, for safekeeping). I’ve yet to find any in the fridge, but I’ll let you know. You gradually begin to feel that your home is being taken over by an invisible sci-fi alien who deposits these examples of his presence when you aren’t looking. The thing about these scraps of paper is that nearly all of the writing is totally unreadable. But I promise I have never thrown any away.
Do other writers talk to themselves? I don’t mean muttering, but proper out loud conversations. A long time ago, I used to be amused when he made up stories about people we saw in shops and cafes — but sometimes, you just don’t want to hear it. Sometimes, you just want to know if there is any bread in the freezer. You know, pointless things like food and drink which really don’t matter to a genius. Malcolm writes murder stories, and I often catch him staring at strangers and listening to their conversations, as if he thinks that everyone, everywhere, all the time, is planning to do someone in. His excuse is that writing is a full time job, but I’m sure other writers don’t behave like this. Do they?
One thing I cannot stand. All I am doing is watching a film. But he has to interrupt with “It wouldn’t happen like that.” “The music is the wrong date.” “That car is totally wrong!” And: “Not before 1958, they wouldn’t.” With that last one, I knew I was supposed to ask ‘what’ or ‘why’ – but I didn’t. I mean, it’s not work, is it? It’s just, watching a film.
Some of the strange questions can be fun. Try this one. How close can someone creep up behind you before the sixth sense tells you they are there? Or, if someone was walking down the road, how far away could they be when you first recognise them. Here’s a good one: name two different meats that you could confuse by their smell when they are cooking. One answer fits most of these puzzles – “It depends” but they provide some fun in the middle of all the trouble being a writer’s wife.
Let’s finish on a good point. I like it when he’s reading one of his favourite classics (Addison, Hazlitt, and Dickens – I bet that’s not on his Goodreads page) and his face just beams over a particular page. He goes, “This is so good! So good!” (I can hear him saying it my head as I write this). I don’t join in. I just think to myself, “Keep trying. You’ll get there.”
Peggy Pinch-B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree