Moving house is distracting. I’m not writing at the moment, which is more or less all right because the next project is still in the research phase, but I’m not reading as much or as attentively as usual either. It’s not that I need absolute peace and hours of seclusion to read and write; any writer who also has a serious job and a family is used to having to make time and to prioritize a creative practice over other, apparently more urgent, activities. I am more than capable of writing instead of cooking, or attending school sports day, or sending Christmas cards. I am not worried by overdue filing or the insistent demands of bureaucracy, and find it often more efficient to let work e-mails build up for a day or two and then answer them all at once when I’ve finished some research or writing.
But there’s something about relocation that’s taking over my mind. I can’t stop myself checking property websites more than once a day, in case the perfect house comes up, and then when it doesn’t, checking for neighbouring towns where we’ve already decided we don’t want to be as well, just in case a house so spectacular as to overcome our objections to the location has appeared since I last looked. When I’m trying to read, I find myself staring at the wall thinking, well, if we put the sofa in that room, where would the children sit to read while I’m cooking? Would my yarn collection start to smell of onions if it lived in an open-plan kitchen/living room? Could we be happy with a very small garden if it faced south and we had lots of indoor plants? I doubt any of it matters all that much; if our family’s happiness really depends on the dimensions of the lawn, we have problems unlikely to be solved by real estate. But I do know, from experience, that domestic architecture makes a huge difference to family life and that some houses make it hard to share or divide everyone’s time and space.
There’s something rather novelistic about all this, the need to call into being parallel lives in different places, to imagine the family future taking shape within new walls, and that’s one of my excuses: relocation is so much like writing a novel that I can’t do both at once. I’ve said to several estate agents that it’s no wonder people tend to behave badly, irrationally, when all of their money and their homes are at stake. I’m sure we could be happy – or unhappy – in most of the houses we’ve considered, and I know we’re lucky to have a choice. My attention, my compulsive attention, to the matter of relocation, is partly a superstitious offering of my creative energies to a time of disruption. If I stop writing, maybe the new house won’t have rising damp, won’t be dazzled nightly by the floodlights on a playing field behind the garden, won’t turn out to have a barking dog next door or – please God deliver us – a midnight television enthusiast on the other side of the party wall. If I stop writing, maybe we’ll find a house where the children’s teenage years will go smoothly, where new friends will become old friends and sickness will pass us by. Writing can be a form of prayer, but sometimes not writing is also a kind of supplication, an offering to other gods.