Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Right place to Write – Authors reveal all

I’m interested in where authors write. Do they spend time in coffee shops, trains, at the kitchen table? Elizabeth Haynes writes in a purpose-built shed, Will Self in his roof-top garret, Penelope Lively in her sitting room and Victoria Hislop in the London library, SW1 (more below).

I’ve just emerged from my study after having my head down for eight weeks writing (and finishing) the first draft of my latest novel. I’m fairly middle of the road - not literally - I retreat to my study at the back of the house which overlooks trees and a few houses. I need quiet and complete solitude and it's green and calming with plenty of sky. Just right. The blinds are there purely because, otherwise, the birds see the reflections of the trees in the glass and come batting into the windows!

I find that once I’m at the writing stage (after the plotting and planning), putting the story into scenes and sentences is like trying to record a dream when you've woken up. I have to get the narrative down as quickly as possible without too many breaks, or else it fizzles away and I lose it. Friends tell me my writing space is too tidy! But I can't cope with clutter - whatever I'm doing.

Will Self has written at the top of his family home in Stockwell, south London, for 18 years. He says it’s never been cleaned! There are the gaps where old post-it notes have been removed and coffee rings everywhere. He finds that because a computer belongs in the public domain, he needs to use a typewriter, as it's private.

Elizabeth Haynes has a purpose built shed. 
Elizabeth Haynes
'Lovely as my shed is,' she says in her Blog, 'it hasn’t been very good for productivity. It’s funny, I always thought that once I had a ‘room of one’s own’ (essential for women who write, according to Virginia Woolf) I would be super-productive and would be churning out novels like you wouldn’t believe – but I still seem to spend a shocking amount of time staring into space. I think it’s because I am accustomed to working in an office with lots of other people, with noise, and the shed is just too quiet...'

Penelope Lively is 80 and writes longhand in her sitting room, which has big, high windows and views of the square where she lives in north London. She has to sit in a comfy chair, because of back problems (her study is only used as an office). She does use an iPad, by the way, but not for writing!

Victoria Hislop writes in the 'backstacks' of the London Library. She says the wooden bookstands are a godsend and once you grab one you don’t let go of it. The balance of company and quiet is just right for her; she likes hearing people turn pages and cough. But everyone is working and she might share a few ideas if she bumps into someone, but then it’s back to work. She also likes to browse the books next to the ones she’s using for research for her current novel.

Do you need silence or a bit of background noise as a writer? A public or private space? Let me know where you write - and why.

You can hear the full Podcast on the BBC Radio 4 website.

 If you enjoyed this post, PLEASE SHARE it using the buttons below. Thank you!

AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.