On Writing

I know it’s a basic question, but why do you write?

I love telling tales.
I must have been about eighteen months old. One of my earliest memories is of being in the garden in my pram – one of those lovely, old-fashioned ones with a big blue hood with a white lining. The day was warm but overcast and our daft yellow Labrador stood guard. Being an adventurous and agile little monster, I had been strapped in and, unable to escape the confinement, bored, and not in the least bit sleepy, I began to tell myself stories. I remember this clearly because – as a helicopter flew overhead – I found myself imagining what would happen if it were hunting me, and squidging back under the hood as far as I could go until it had passed. From then on I became aware of a story-world with which I entertained myself and which I now use to entertain others.

Where do your ideas for stories come from?

Ideas for storylines  come from nowhere, anywhere Рand at any time. Day or night, in the garden, chopping vegetables РI frequently reach for a notebook and pen to record a word, a phrase, an idea. Sometimes it begins with a title, sometimes the idea stems from a place.

Do you base your characters on people you know?

No – strictly not! But like many writers, I draw on a lifetime of experience and knowledge to form composite characters to populate the pages of my books.

Do you have a complete story when you begin to write, or do you make it up as you go along?

From the initial idea flows the story. At this stage it plays out in my imagination. Before a word is written down I plot all the major aspects – lead characters, places, names – until I am sure that I have a complete story to tell. This might take weeks or months. Finally I write down a brief description of each scene – longhand, in a big note book – checking, shuffling, amending. Things do change as the story develops and sometimes events take quite unexpected turns.

Do you like using paper and pen, or a computer?

I use a laptop. I’m not fussy about what it looks like or what other facilities it might offer (I’ve never played a computer game in my life), but it must be a work-horse, have decent software, and a great keyboard. Using a laptop frees working memory. I still struggle with aspects of spelling, organisation, and processing of language, and computers have revolutionised the way I work.

How do you like to work? Do you work steadily or in bursts?

I work consistently. During intense writing phases – usually through the holidays – I will work a minimum of a twelve-hour day – often more. Days are never long enough and I require very little other than coffee (freshly ground, strong, and hot), and absolute silence. The only concession I make to sound is music, but it has to suit the mood of the scene I am writing at the time or it becomes a distraction.

Do you find writing easy?

No matter how easy the words look on the page, writing is hard graft. Writing is exhausting; it is all-enveloping, and it dominates every waking moment. It is also thrilling and utterly, utterly compelling, and I never regret one moment spent in the pursuit of it.