If you want me, I’ll be in my ‘boffice’
I like to sleep a lot. I’m sometimes in bed before 10.30pm; and I don’t rise till 9-ish. And often I take a long afternoon nap after a good lunch. Yes, I’m pretty lazy; yes, I don’t have a “proper” job. And, yes, it drives my wife absolutely crazy. But, I contend, that that is NOT why I do it.
I sleep so much because it helps me work. That liminal space, that witching hour between sleeping and waking, that liquid half-dreaming state before full consciousness kicks in is very valuable to me. I’ve built a career on it. Time and again I have solved a plot problem in one of my novels in that half-wake/half-sleep space. My brain, it seems, is still chugging away while I am snoring like a pair of pigs copulating in a bath full of Rice Krispies – an image that came to me in this exact state.
My work-rate is pretty good, I think. Two novels a year, every year. I’ve written seventeen of them now. Some with fairly good and original ideas, too, I would say: Robin Hood as a Mafia-style gangster; a 17th-century autistic action hero; and a Viking series that is all about the Saxon Wars against Charlemagne. My latest novel is all about a talking bear and the half-mad warrior who imagines him living inside his own heart. And I couldn’t come up with any of this stuff without my own idiosyncratic sleep patterns.
So why are people so down on sleep – why does getting a good eight or nine hours make you “lazy”? I’m not unproductive – at least, I don’t think so. I’m not “wasting my life”. Or snoozing it away. And I suspect that I’m not alone in this opinion. I think that there is a sea-change in air about this sort of behaviour. People talk about the working from home (WFH) revolution; post-Covid, I read in The Times today, that one fifth of workers don’t want to go back into the office at all. I certainly don’t – even if I could get a real job somewhere. I hated commuting; I was always exhausted. I’m not now. I’m firing on all brain-cells most days. And if I’m not, I can always have a nice long nap.
I read somewhere recently – I’m too lazy to look it up – that in medieval times people had two sleeps a night. First sleep, when the sun went down – a few hours after a tough day ploughing the fields or whatever. Then awake again at midnight or so, when they would engage in sex with their (also hopefully awake) partners, or do small household chores, or engage in some minor economic activity – spinning yarn perhaps or, I don’t know, carving wooden toys by firelight.
Then they would have their second sleep, from, say, 3AM till dawn – which was much later of course, in winter. This medieval pattern has always appealed to me. I’ve always felt that people should sleep when they feel tired, and work when they don’t. Somewhere along the line, we 21st-century citizens have lost this idea. I have a mobile phone that gets my emails. I have to stop myself from reading them in down-time – otherwise I get all angsty, and want to rush to my computer and reply. People expect this. People with “real” jobs, I gather, have to do this all the time. Even on holiday. What a fucking nightmare!
Nowadays, you have to sleep between set hours – and work between others – and woe betide you if that is not convenient. I often wake in the middle of the night, and think about my current novel for an hour or two. Come up with ideas, or fix problems. Or just read the paper on my phone. Then I sleep again. And when I wake up, I go off to my “shoffice” – my shed in the garden – and write up all the things I have dreamt or thought about during the long night.
So, citizens arise! Cast off the shackles of time and work and other people’s cruel expectations.
Or don’t. Whatever. I’m off for a nap. But before I go, I would like to coin a nifty neologism for you. Since I do such a lot of work in bed, it has become a kind of office for me. A bed-office, if you will. So, if you want me in the next hour or two, I’ll be in my “boffice”. But don’t call or text me – I’ll be busy.
Angus Donald’s latest novel The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2) is out now, and available here.