I was speaking to the poet David Morley yesterday at Warwick University; his wife recently gave birth, and he was telling me how he had been writing furiously ever since the event, poems shooting out of him.
I was reminded by his story of my own experience back in 2002 in North Cornwall when, having just given birth to twin boys, I found myself writing a novel some 100,000 words long. I wrote at night largely, in an annex of the renovated barn we were renting, with one ear open for any squeaks from the baby monitor.
This system worked well for about five or six weeks postnatally. The boys slept in Moses baskets in the living room and I tapped away most of the night. It was the summer holidays and my husband, a teacher, was not at work, so he was able to look after the babies during the daytime while I caught up on my sleep - though breastfeeding meant having to be at least vaguely awake some of the time - and I would take the night shift.
The oddest thing was how little sleep I seemed to require. I've always been able to survive on five or six hours a night for long periods of time without too much trouble, but during those six weeks after the birth of my twin boys, I was almost electric. I would plug myself into a couple of hours' nap to recharge, and then stay awake for the next twenty-two, not only functioning normally, but super-normally, writing thousands upon thousands of words as they just flew out of me.
That novel was never published; it remains one of those bottom drawer efforts that I still wonder about. But I do wonder now, far less electrically charged these days, what it was about the post-birth period - traditionally held to be so exhausting, particularly with twins! - that suddenly lit me up creatively in that bizarre, almost painful fashion, forcing me to write and write as though I were running out of time to do so.
It occurs to me that some kind of adrenalin must kick in at times following a birth - not for every birth, not for every person - that leaves you in that super-charged state. A natural reaction, perhaps, designed to allow you to cope with a three month period of such profound lack of sleep that it would knock most people sideways.
For creative people, it may also result in a period of the most astonishing fecundity.
At the time, I assumed it was because I had been dragging around for nine months with this double burden, this sense of gravity and vulnerability that can occasionally kick in when pregnant. I was certainly vast with the boys, and carried them full term, so wide towards the end that I had to shuffle sideways through doors. So when their birth finally released me, I was filled with such restless energy that I felt I could do anything. Super-human ...
So how to recapture that state of being super-charged, of being creatively electric and lit up from within - without having to produce twins beforehand?