Work/Life Imbalance by Lara Fergus

Lara Fergus reflects on balancing work – writing – with life.

Debut Mondays author Lara Fergus

Debut Mondays author Lara Fergus

I wrote a book about 2 characters. An obsessive cartographer – organised to the point of insanity – and her artist sister, confined to, or hidden in, the small spaces of the house. And while I was writing these 2 characters I led a double life – my organised, ordered daily existence (mostly work) and my hidden life of writing.

I wrote the book in secret. I didn’t tell anyone who didn’t need to know. I wrote it in the early hours of the mornings with the keyboard cold and sticky under my fingers and the blinds closed against the rising light. I blasted baroque fugues through my headphones so that I wouldn’t be able to hear the noise of the coming work day, with all its detail and its urgency, with all its far, far away demands. I wrote because I was clutched by the cartographer, who couldn’t stop working, who pulled me along, who needed me to keep up. I wrote as if any moment I might have to stop, as if any moment I might get caught.

All my energy and thought was channeled into the simple act of writing. It was intense, almost shameful. I never dared think about what the writing might mean, as an artifact, if published.

Now here it is. The book. The story nobody knew about in the hands of whoever wants it. All these obsessions and delusions exposed for anyone to see. I feel outed. And thrilled. And relieved.

It’s the collision between two worlds that makes being a debut author such a schizophrenic experience. My imagined world crashing into my real world. Having to catch a taxi across town to a radio interview in the middle of the work day, ten minutes to shift out of the efficiency-driven whirr of work into a calmer space from which I might be able to answer a question about the book. And then to notch it all back up again in the ten minute return trip so that I can hit the ground running to make up for the time ‘lost’.

It was on a return trip last week that I realised I’m living the schism represented by my work-obsessed cartographer, and her artist sister, who has been given so little room to move. But for as long as I was writing them I had a way to negotiate the space between them. For as long as I was writing them I could move without friction from cartography to painting, from passion to rationality, from control to chaos. I could be inside, with both of them. I could be both of them.

I went in and talked to the cartographer the night before I had to hand over the final manuscript for typesetting. She refused to engage, of course, kept her head bowed over the draftboard as if indifferent to my presence. I said to her:

I need you to look up from your mapping just long enough to see me as your writer and one who can no longer follow you in infinite detail but who has come to shut you down.

She raised her head at that as if she could challenge me. But she didn’t have to. The light from her headlamp was blinding; her face disappeared from me. Completely.

Portrait of Lara Fergus

Lara Fergus has worked as a researcher and writer on issues of human rights and violence against

women for over a decade and My Sister Chaos is her first novel.

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