The Keats' house caretaker pales as I say, "If only poor Keats had shagged Fanny Brawne before he died . . ."

So, it's over at last. It's cost me my health, my sanity, my friends. Four words of advice - never write a novel. Six words of advice - never, ever write a comic novel. For one thing (and this is a frightening idea) you may be the only person who finds it funny. And I would just like to say - for the record and in answer to all those many people who say, "Writing a novel is like giving birth really, isn't it?" - that no, it is absolutely nothing like giving birth. What it is like is . . . well, like writing a novel.

I started pretending to myself that it was nearly finished at the 300-page mark, although the last words weren't actually written until page 470 - that's 170 pages of purgatory when all you can think about is the promised end. That's 170 pages of neither cooking nor cleaning, of never leaving the house and of dressing like a bag-lady, of eating the same food every day (soup, since you ask) and wearing the same clothes - disgusting M&S tracksuit bottoms and an ancient Blue Jays sweatshirt like the one worn by Big Jim McDonald on Coronation Street. No wonder people have started treating me like trailer trash recently (but that's another story). I even stopped brushing my hair, and if it had been left up to me (which it wasn't, because I live with normal people, ie, grown-up children) I would probably have stopped washing as well. But it's gone, posted off with the urgency of ridding oneself of a plague carrier, although it's a doomed manuscript, I fear - it took half an hour to post in the sweet-shop-that-likes-to- pretend-it's-a-post-office at the top of the street. And it still hasn't arrived.

Will I get my health back now? It seems unlikely. My thyroxin levels are through the roof, my back is in spasm, my neck is in spasm, even my jaw is in spasm (why? I haven't talked to anyone for months). Perhaps soon I will be just one big spasm. I have repetitive strain injury, too, and I've even had to endure root-canal treatment. The only person I have spoken to for weeks on end is my osteopath. I am prone and helpless in her hands, and she has so far persuaded me to buy a Balsan hydrotherapy thingy for the bath (as advertised by old people for old people on the cable quiz channel); a "Cat and Dog" vacuum cleaner (which states explicitly that it is not to be used on cats or dogs); and a Polti steam cleaner (ditto). If my back doesn't come out of spasm soon, she'll have me buying into a Spanish timeshare or a Kirby cleaner. She's wasted as an osteopath - she should be on QVC. Writing the novel has affected me so much that when I dropped into the new sheltered-housing complex up the road to look at a flat for my mother, the receptionist asked, "Is it for yourself?"

Now I crave new adventures, startling experiences, daring escapades. Jousting - that must be the answer. Don't ask why. It's a long story and involves a daughter working for Historic Scotland. Jousting must take place in the environs of a castle (it's a Historic rule). In the front garden of the castle, men on horseback called Sir Gervaise and Sir Rodney must thunder around on their noble chargers, which have been draped in big, checked tablecloths. Disappointingly, no one gets knocked off. "They did yesterday," my daughter says in an effort to raise the spirits (it is pouring with rain, naturally). And in the background of a jousting tournament, there must be men re-enacting battles - estate agents by weekday, bleeding wi' Wallace on a weekend. (And always that one token woman shivering in a shawl in the background, wondering why she doesn't ever have any lines to say.)

"So did you enjoy that?" my daughter asked. I did, but in a strange way.

London. Or EastEnderland, as we think of it. It is pouring with rain there, too, but, alas, there is no jousting in Piccadilly. The only way to get to the streets of London is on the increasingly airless shuttle, which is always packed with unattractive men in suits. I believe the aliens walk among us and they have mobile phones on which at every possible moment when they are not actually in the air they speak to women called Sandra and Alison back in the office ("Barnsley, Sandra, what about Barnsley?"). I expect that on a Sunday they're all at their local castle, pretending it's the killing fields of Bannockburn.

My agent chivvies me into a semblance of activity, although I am half-dead from exhaustion. Being provincial trailer trash, I have never visited the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy. An art gallery is not a good place for someone half-dead from exhaustion. Even at the best of times, I have only to walk into a gallery or a museum and I want to curl up right there and then on the floor and fall asleep for ever. Death or boredom: which will be the first to claim me?

We wander through gallery after gallery full of art that speaks not to me. And what is it with all those paintings of spider plants and greenhouses and sheds at the bottom of the garden?

"This is like walking through your slush pile," I say, rather loudly, to my agent.

I must adopt a more subtle (less trashy) approach to criticism - the caretaker at Keats' house the next day looks quite faint when I say, too loudly, "If only poor Keats had shagged Fanny Brawne before he died."

The very next day I find myself in the eye clinic's A&E department for the first time. If only I had room to tell you about it. Because it was a very funny experience. At least, I thought so.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Were chimps the first socialists?