I have always viewed myself not as an artist, but a craftsman.
I take an enormous amount of care over my work, and yes, pride in it. I’m constantly striving to improve and hone what I do, but the word ‘artist’ always conjures up images of ego and eccentricity. I just can’t take myself that seriously.
I can never forget that I am asking people to buy into a myth, a dream, a jumble of thoughts and ideas that have been tumbling around inside my head, and have finally made it out in some semblance of order onto the page.
The fact that anyone wants to read them often frankly astounds me.
And yet, I had an email from someone recently who told me that she cried while reading the ending of FOURTH DAY. Having that happen at all is pretty humbling for a writer, to be honest. But the fact she cried while reading the book in the airport is even more so.
The power of words on a page, in a public place with all the distraction that entails, actually reduced someone to tears.
Other people’s books make me cry, I admit. And soppy movies, and heroic rescues, and onions. But writing doesn’t.
Having said that, to write dark emotional scenes, I need a dark and emotional atmosphere. I find it much easier, for some reason, to write in the winter, with just a desk lamp providing a pool of light around my keyboard and screen, and moody broody music playing in the background. The volume has to be right, though. If it’s too loud I just listen to the music. What I want is for it to manipulate my feelings on an almost subconscious level.
I’ve written on planes, ferries and automobiles. Not so much on trains, but that’s only because I do find it off-putting having the stranger sitting next to me reading over my shoulder. Same goes for planes. I’m fine if Andy’s next to me, but I struggle if I’m in the centre of a row. Of course, I don’t have that problem at all if I’m in the comfy seats up front, which sounds like a damn good reason to upgrade right there!
I write in the car – a LOT. Maybe this is because we spend a lot of time on the road, but making notes on sheets of scrap paper on a clipboard while we’re motoring along is often my most productive time. I once wrote an entire short story on a car journey to a bookstore event. And while I can hear some lip-curling comments being muttered about the quality of something dashed off in such a fashion, can I just say that story was long listed for a prestigious award and turned into a short film?
I write in doctor’s waiting rooms, even in hospital, in hotel rooms, in friends’ kitchens while everyone else is sleeping during a weekend visit. If I have a pencil, and paper, and enough light to see one joining the other, and I’m awake, I write.
I write at my desk both early in the morning and late at night, often on the same day, which can be a bit of a problem, even though I’ve known for years that sleep is very overrated. Sometimes I write until I start producing utter gibberish because I’m nodding off at my computer. Often when I open the file up the following day, the final paragraph from the day before needs a lot of tweaking because of this. In fact, on Tuesday I found I’d managed to insert half a dozen completely extraneous words into a sentence – correctly typed but utterly meaningless. Thank goodness for the delete key…
But, the long and the short of it is, I don’t care where I write. The writing is the thing. If I had to wait for the perfect moment, I’d still be working on my first novel.
The perfect moment, like tomorrow, never comes.
I was at the Bodies in the Bookshop event at Heffers bookstore in Cambridge last week – with fellow ‘Rati, JT Ellison, as it happened – and found myself buttonholed by a successful writer for whom the perfect moment was something of a necessity.
He could only write, he told me, in a cabin in the wilds, miles from anywhere, with no phones or anything else to take away from the prose.
And I know there are going to be those who would wholeheartedly agree with him. To create, they require a level of tranquillity and isolation not available in their normal surroundings. So, they borrow friend’s beach houses, or go on writers’ retreats.
Equally, there are others who regularly go and sit in noisy, crowded cafés and quite happily lose themselves among the places and people they’re creating. And, in some ways, I can’t help thinking that if the story is strong enough to suck you in to the exclusion of all else while you’re writing it, then surely it will suck you in while you’re reading it, too?
I know it’s a constant refrain of mine that there are as many different methods of writing as there are writers. There is no wrong way to do it, providing you get the words on the page. You can do it one word at a time while bungee jumping from the landing if it gets the job done. But which method do you favour?
And are you one of these readers who gets emotionally invested in the book you’re reading? Have you ever cried in an airport at the ending of a book?
This week’s Phrase of the Week is having your leg pulled meaning to be on the receiving end of a deception or joke. It’s thought to originate from a Scottish rhyme of the 1860s, in which old Aunt Meg was hanged and the preacher pulled on her legs to ensure she died quickly and without too much pain. Aunt Meg was probably innocent of the crime for which she was hanged, but was known to have been the victim of much deception and trickery, for which having her leg pulled was the result.
I’m off to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate today, so please excuse erratic response to comments, but I’ll get there eventually!