IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Supported My Husband While He Spent 10 Years Writing a Novel

I didn't want to be a mother, but my husband wanted to be an author. So I agreed to support his dream.

Mar 31, 2014 at 11:05am | Leave a comment

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Chris, Margi and their dog Mabel. (Photo - Circe Hamilton)

It's a busy weekday in April when my office phone rings. It's my husband Chris.

"Hi honey, what's up?" His voice is full of emotion. It breaks when he replies. "I have some news."

My chest tightens. "What is it?" I ask, cautiously. When he tells me, I scream. My colleague, Mary, rushes into my office. She says, "Did someone have a baby?" "No," I answer, with the biggest grin on my face. "It's even better than that."

I met Chris when we were both 26. I was an American living in London, working as a features editor at a weekly magazine. He was the puzzle editor at the same publication. He used to tease me with silly emails, and we soon started to take our flirtation offline, meeting in pubs to talk about our lives and favorite books. Chris was honest and impulsive about his feelings. One day, he told me -- unprovoked and without embarrassment -- that I was beautiful.

At the time, I was dating a future CEO who stood to make millions in his family business. Chris was an Oxford graduate, who'd gone on to train as a barrister before realizing his dream was to be a writer. Frankly, his desire to be a novelist was partly what attracted me to him in the first place. It seemed a lot more romantic than dating a CEO. I love the English language, and writing a book seemed a noble pursuit.

Eventually, I moved on to another magazine and parted (mutually) from my boyfriend, and Chris and I started dating. One night, on the way home from the pub, I told him that I loved him, but I didn't want children. I thought he should know before things got serious. He looked shocked, then chuckled. "Whatever you want," he said. "I just want to be with you."

We moved in together soon after and, three years into our relationship, Chris said he wanted to quit full-time work to write his novel. "Do it," I told him. I made enough money to support us both. In the way that some couples get ready for a baby, we made plans to have a book.

Chris quit and started spending his mornings hunched over his Mac. I'd work a full day, come home and find dinner ready, made by Chris, an excellent cook. Our friends sometimes teased us about our reversed roles. On a trip to Yorkshire, our friend Jon exclaimed, "I want Chris's job -- having your girlfriend do all the work!"

I found it funny then. Chris still made money as a freelance puzzle editor so he wasn't totally sponging off me. Yet not long after, we decided to buy a flat together. I went to the mortgage lender to find out what we could borrow. A man in a suit looked over my finances and whistled. "So," he said. "You make £50,000 a year and your boyfriend brings in a lot less." "Yes," I replied. "What do you suggest?" He shrugged, looking at my file. "I think you should leave him."

It didn't stop me from buying a flat in London with Chris, and I kept hauling myself off to work, while he kept tapping away at his keyboard. Then, in 2006, when I was 34, I was offered the chance to work at a magazine in New York and Chris agreed that we should move. Most of our London friends were having children by then and our usual whirl of pubs and parties was slowing down. We wanted a new adventure.

At the same time, though, Chris lost an important work contract. Suddenly, he was without paid work, living in a strange city without any close friends, while I worked even longer, tougher hours. Once I asked him if he'd consider finding work in a bar, but he said in a hurt voice, "I'm a law graduate, I can't take work in a bar." And I was OK with that. I didn't want anything to distract him from his dream and fill him with self-doubt or sadness.

One year passed, then two. Chris wrote another book, aborted it, then started another. His latest book, he told me, would definitely get published. In the meantime, he and I would go to parties, where people asked what he did. Neither of us knew how to answer. He was no longer a puzzle editor, but he wasn't a writer yet either. Who was he?

While I worked like crazy, Chris tinkered at his computer, cooked and looked after the house. Sometimes, he'd go to the pool hall in the middle of the day. I started to resent his free time and bohemian tendencies.

Still, Chris knew how to surprise me. One Saturday morning, he woke me up and told me we were getting on a train. We arrived at a place called Bear Mountain, about an hour out of New York City. We hiked to the top and, and as we sat down, Chris pulled two glasses and a bottle of champagne from his rucksack. He handed me an envelope. Inside was a card with the words, "For Margi because, without you, nothing."

"It's the dedication for my book," Chris explained. "I wanted to propose when I got published, but it didn't happen in time. So here it is now... Will you marry me?"

We married soon after, and two years later, Chris finished his book, "Black Chalk." To my pride and amazement, an agent signed him within a week. Chris immediately started fantasizing about book deals and writing tours. Yet he still needed to find a publisher to start making money. I'd supported him for so many years, how much longer could this go on?

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They had a book instead of a baby; Christopher J. Yates' debut novel "Black Chalk" hits the US this week.

I worried what my parents thought. I knew they loved Chris, but were they secretly disappointed in me? They probably wished we'd just have children, instead of chasing after vapors.

Chris' book went to publishers, and 20 rejections came back. Two years passed and Chris became more and more depressed. Between 2010 and 2012, the crisis reached its peak.

On a holiday in Mexico, Chris strode up and down the beach staring off into the horizon for hours. Over dinner, we were talking about a writer who'd recently killed himself and he said, "Suicide is a logical choice. If you're unhappy, if you can't do what you want to in life, why wouldn't you kill yourself?"

Back home, I started watching him closely, counting the beer bottles in the recycling bin. As the months wore on, he seemed to be drinking more. One night we had a huge row. Chris had drunk even more than usual, and was in a terrible mood, making what I perceived to be vicious, ungrateful comments. I went to bed but he followed me, holding a large glass of whiskey and spouting angry thoughts. Finally, he snapped and hurled his glass at the bedroom door. It was the most violent thing I'd ever seen him do. I buried myself under the covers and curled into a ball until daybreak. He muttered for a bit, then -- realizing I wasn't going to engage -- passed out.

The next day, Chris was mortified. He agreed to see a therapist -- something I was already doing to help work out my issues of resentment and worries over our future. Talking to strangers helped us both. It enabled me to re-evaluate the choices I had made and realize I wasn't just supporting my husband; I was supporting an artist. And finding success as an artist is maddeningly out of your control. It's like trying to conceive when you're infertile. There might be a miracle IVF treatment around the corner, but it's just as likely you'll never hold that baby in your arms. Still, couples who can't conceive can adopt. But what do couples do who are desperately trying for a book?

Eventually, I realized it didn't matter what anyone else thought. I had a happy marriage. And then, in spring 2012, Chris got the call that would change his life. He would be published in the UK and US, as well as Russia, Taiwan and beyond. After almost 11 years, he finally had a contract, an offer. More importantly, he had an identity.

Chis will keep writing more books, and I hope we have a life full of them. Unfortunately, even published writers don't make a lot of money, so I can't put my feet up just yet. Still, I'm currently the managing editor of features at the New York Post, so we're doing okay financially. I'm now 41 and feel we've been through so much that we can probably weather the worst life has to throw at us.

As always, Chris shows me his gratitude as often as possible. He comes up with the most wonderful ideas for my birthday and Christmas, and writes a personalized note on every gift that is so beautiful and touching. He even bought me a Cartier watch for my birthday last year, with the money from his first advance. But it was the words engraved inside that I treasured most: "Because without you, nothing."

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"Black Chalk," $17.95 (Harvill Secker/Random House) is out this week. To read the opening chapter click here: http://www.christopherjyates.com/book/ or click here to download: http://amzn.to/1hZQ4h4

This story was originally published in Red magazine: http://www.redonline.co.uk/