Monday, July 4, 2011

Writing Room Revelations - Part Six

In this week's Writing Room Revelations, I offer up the writing room secrets of two wonderful children's and teen writers - Mary Hoffman and Savita Kalhan. I think I have the timing spot on as Mary's new book, David, is published today, and this coming weekend (9 - 10 July) both Mary Hoffman and Savita Kalhan will be taking part on the "ABBA Lit Fest" being held on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure blog. Featuring a host of fabulous authors, this is a live blogging event you really don't want to miss!

But now on with the Revelations in which both Mary and Savita answer the questions:

Where do you write? And what does your writing space give you – i.e. why do you write there?

Where do you do your most creative thinking – and when? (e.g particular time of day, conscious space e.g. dreams)

Do you use/need anything particular in order to help you write? (e.g. music, chocolate, coffee, silence etc) In what way does this “support” help you?

Award winning author of the Stravaganza series, The Falconer’s Knot, Troubadour – and released today, the 4th of July 2011, David.

On Writing
I write on my laptop - on my lap! I know you are not supposed to but I do and have had no problems with neck or back. I sit on the green sofa in my green and white ground floor study, which has French windows to the garden at the back of my house. Drawbacks include this being the place where the three cats bring their prey/presents for me. Some dead, some alive, some on that borderline between. Birds, shrews, squirrels, frogs. The frogs do best.

I do HAVE a desk. It contains the phone, a globe of the world (my youngest daughter is going to sail round the world with her partner), A double hole-punch, the router, a calendar from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, with a different picture for every day, a tile with an Etruscan flying horse on it, and my Prix Polar Jeunesse for Rouge Crime (The Falconer's Knot), which is more valued than beautiful.

I've had this as my work room for just over ten years, when we moved from London to Oxfordshire. A ground-floor study for me was a priority. But a beautiful desk was not needed. The one I have is of pine and was actual;y bought for my middle daughter. She couldn't fit it in her London flat and the desk was in our garage. But now I have it and it is very useful for its drawers.

Instead of the desk, my coffee table beside the sofa contains all my day to day needs. Three baskets containing correspondence: Work, Non-work and Finance. Also my kindle, my Filofax, various index card boxes, notebooks, coasters for coffee, pots of pens, bookmarks and highlighters, a glass bowl of green and white glass "power stones" made for me by youngest daughter, a plant in a red cache-pot given by middle daughter, a box of tissues, a mouse-mat (quite redundant since I work on a MacBook Air with mouse trackpad, but it came from the London Review of books and has keyboard shortcuts for diacritics.

I have written in this set-up five and a half Stravaganza novels, three "historicals", two full length adult novels, not yet published, various picture books and junior fiction and an enormous number of blogs, emails, Facebook statuses and Tweets!

My writing space gives me - well not privacy, since the door is always propped open with a brass doorstop and it is quite a thoroughfare between the rest of the house and the garden. But it is where "writing me" feels at home. Each book I am working on or planning has its own open box, containing books, research notes, folders, family trees, etc, etc. On the green walls hang original artwork from my picture books by Jane Ray, Faith Jacques, Chris Riddell, and some prints of mosaics by Robert Field that I bought when researching City of Ships.

Bookcases hold my reference collection for myths and legends, children's and YA books I want to keep, one copy of all my books (90+ but the foreign editions are all upstairs, and many books on medieval and Renaissance Italy.

On Thinking
I don't have a place for this! maybe I should - a thinking room? It can strike anywhere, even in my sleep. Yes, I have dreamed a good plot, which I'm thinking of turning into a book, and a title which I like which might be another book. Or not. When I swim, three times a week before breakfast, I think about what I'm going to write that day. I am much more creative in the mornings than in the afternoons and evenings, but I waste a lot of possibly creative time on the Net, Twitter and Facebook. I'm sure I've slowed up my output since they entered my life.

On Support
Ooh, lots of things! My three Burmese cats, who wander through, resent the laptop because it's on my lap and sometime curl up beside me on a fake wolf rug so I can stroke them with one hand while typing with the other. I have the radio on, British talk radio (Radio 4) until 12 noon when there is a terrible programme called You and Yours. Then I switch to Radio 3, which plays classical music. At noon there is Composer of the Week. If I don't like that composer, I play CDS, usually of medieval or Renaissance music. Silence is not an option.

At 11am I make coffee (freshly ground hazelnut) and in the afternoon I have decaffeinated tea. Like most writers, I suffer from insomnia. i have developed a way of working that suits me; in my study i am like a nut in its shell. It feels like an organic container which help me to produce all the tens of thousands of words and ideas that go to make up a novelist’s output.

You can read more about Mary Hoffman on her website.

You can read Mary's blog – The Book Maven.

You can become a fan on Mary’s Facebook page.

You can follow Mary Hoffman on Twitter.

(Pictures of Mary Hoffman, courtesty of Lucy Coats.

Award nominated author of The Long Weekend.

On Writing
I have always written in a variety of different spaces depending on my mood and the book I’m writing. The first picture is the view from my son’s window where I wrote The Long Weekend one autumn a few years ago.

I loved working in his room because the view is stunning without being distracting, but also because it perfectly fitted the scenery of the book I was writing. I can see the tree that Sam hid in that night the man was looking for them in the woods.

The other work spaces include the little cubby-hole of a study, where, on the rare occasions they happen, emails and research, blog posts and organisation are conducted, but very little actual book writing is done there. I have tried repositioning the desk to face the window, but the light is all wrong and the view is of the road outside, which isn’t conducive to writing.

My third working space is the dining room, which is pretty much surrounded on all sides by book cases overflowing with books, a large table, which in seconds can morph from being a recognisable dining table to a cluttered mess, littered with paper, notebooks, files and laptop, which only I can make sense of!

Essentially, I think my writing space needs space or at least a feeling of space, of not being hemmed in on all sides. A cosy cubby-hole just doesn’t do it for me.

On Thinking
I’ve never really thought consciously of a place where I do my creative thinking. But thinking about it now, I think I do my most creative thinking on the deck at the back of my house, overlooking the woods and the brook. The allotment now also provides time where I can switch off from phone, emails, twitter etc and think creatively if I want to or not if I don’t. Strangely, the gym is another place where I can think creatively – especially if I’m running and I’ve got loud blaring music pumping through my earphones!

But what’s true of all my creative thinking is that although there are places where it happens more easily, there isn’t a specific time. Although it would be nice to slot a ‘creative thinking hour’ into the day and know that it will all happen then! Yes, I know, Nicky, wishful thinking...

On Support
Paper, pens, pencils and notebooks are always scattered around the house, my handbag, and the car! I scribble things down as they occur to me because there have been moments in the past when I’ve stored them in my head and when it came to write them I had completely forgotten them. It’s totally gutting when that happens! My laptop is essential, although it doesn’t get carried about everywhere, and when I’m writing I have to sever the internet connection because that really is just too distracting. Apart from those things, silence and an empty house are the most important things. Only occasionally do I feel the need for music, and then it can only be classical. Tea and apples supply the rest of what I need when I’m writing. And if the need is even greater, then I resort to the evil that is crisps and dark chocolate, although not at the same time of course!

You can find out more about Savita Kalhan on her website.

You can become a fan on Savita's Facebook page.

You can follow Savita on Twitter.

You can read my interview with Savita Kalhan here.


Savita Kalhan said...

Nicky, Thank you so much for asking me to contribute to Writing Revelations. I'm loving the series - it allows you to be nosy without having to be the one to ask the questions!
Mary, I'm a big fan! I'd love to be able to work on the sofa, but I'm afraid the temptation to nod off would be too great! Still, I may give it a go...

adele said...

Fascinating stuff! But I don't know if MOST writers suffer for insomnia. Perhaps we could do a survey somehow. Me, I could sleep for England if it were an Olympic sport!

adele said...


Nicky Schmidt said...

LOL Adele - sometimes it feels like is is for instead of from!