Time Out article ‘How I write’

Usually I do it in the shed.  With strong coffee.  The shed, a simple wooden hut I bought in Suffolk, and the coffee, from my local Portuguese deli.  
In winter I wear thick boots and fingerless gloves, and shine a lamp over my hands to keep them warm.  I stoke an old Dutch wood-burner by my desk, burning branches I’ve cut through the summer, and occasionally dropping unwanted drafts in, too.  The proximity of fire to my writing paper tends to sharpen the mind, and the quality of the heat, sound and smell of the wood-burner is unbeatable.  So far, laptops haven’t managed to reproduce an imitation wood-burner USB plug-in. 
Summer is much more comfortable.  Occasionally bees fly in with suspicious motives, spiders abseil onto my desk, I see the flash of a fox tail pass the window.  He thinks he’s sly – but I know he lives underneath.

On a good day, my shed-commute is an eight second walk down a curving brick path, allowing for a stop-off to pick a raspberry or two.  As with most writers, the awfulness of the blank page can appear like a fog you don’t want to step into - DOUBT seems the only word you can write – and the amount of sheer trickery to overcome it is amusing.  I’m wary of over-planning, because I feel writing needs to be a discovery, so often I begin by working on yesterday’s passages.  Failing that, the 10:48am coffee can kick-start the day.  But what I aim for is the rush of bliss when the writing begins to reel out.  I enter a trance, quite often, where words and scenes mingle in a kind of vivid hallucinatory layering.  I lose track of time.  It’s incredibly addictive.

I have noticed, after overrunning my lunchtime, that my characters never do.  Nearly always, as I get hungrier, they decide to break the scene plan to cook something up or sit down and eat.  They fry up fresh caught mackerel, scoff greasy hamburgers in hotel rooms, suddenly find truckstops by the road with dizzying arrays of doughnuts, while I watch on jealously.

I often eat lunch with my wife.  If I look deranged, and am unable to talk, it means the word count is high.  Inspiration is key, and I try to find it wherever I can.  Currently, in the shed, I’m looking at radish seedlings emerge from the soil.  I witnessed each of their births, and their open-armed leaves have such simple can-do self-belief, that it’s impossible to ignore.  Vegetables are optimists.  Of course, they don’t yet know I will eat them.  

But today’s inspiration is tomorrow’s distraction – I find it a daily renewal of challenges to make it work.  The laptop’s kaleidoscope of diversions and its worlds within worlds are certainly to be mistrusted.  Although I’m a fast typer, my best writing is by hand.  My latest novel, The Wake, was mostly handwritten – I prefer the emotional quality to working with handwriting, rather than see a passionless font emerge.  My pen is always a brown inked Pilot G-Tec C4, written on narrow ruled paper.  

I keep the shed uncluttered, my desk bare and free from distraction.  You can recognise it in my new novel, as it shape-shifts into the cabin of a Dutch barge, a Mississippi shack and a wooden Norwegian hytte.  It’s an imaginative space, somewhere to lose yourself, but my favourite parts of the day are still the regular interruptions from my curious two-year-old, coming into the shed with an amused ‘whad-u-doin-daddy?’ It’s a charmingly unanswerable question.  And for a writer, those precious moments are perfect punctuation.