(This post first appeared on Mulholland’s tumblr)
A few years ago I moved back to Cambridge: when I saw this shed in the garden of one of the houses I was viewing, I put an offer in on the spot. Like most writers, I’ve had to work in all sorts of inappropriate spaces, and, like most writers, always craved the perfect place to work.
My shed is near perfect. It’s a little on the small side, but that just means I have to tidy up from time to time, which is no bad thing.
Here’s what it looks like on the inside (just after a tidy up)
The stuff on the walls is never just random – they’re all things to do with books, most usually, they’re inspiration for books I’m writing or have just finished writing.
High up on the wall are a couple of guardians – ‘V’ from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, one of my favourite films, and Edgar the raven, both of whom make me smile every time I walk into my shed. That’s more important than in sounds, and links to the word that Edgar’s standing on. That one word – PLAY – is the single most important thing I’ve learned in the 15 years I’ve been a published author. I’ve thought a lot about writing in that time, I’ve had moments of block, I’ve had many fears and worries and concerns about how to best do the art. The importance of play, and I mean play in a focussed yet relaxed, serious and yet fun way, cannot be denied: it underlies the best work I do, I think.
Underneath that are a few spirals; I’ve just finished the second draft of a new YA novel called The Ghosts of Heaven – it’s a slightly complex quartet of novellas, each of which has the motif of the spiral underlying the text.
Beneath the spirals we come to a series of rough art by my friend Thomas Taylor. I’ve started to write graphic novels in the last year or so – and these are images from a forthcoming project: Scarlett Hart. It won’t be out for a while though. I finished a first draft in the autumn; a second draft is due and then Thomas has the gargantuan task of producing almost 200 pages of full colour art. That will take him a year or so to do. And then publication will be a year after that – comics take MUCH more work than many people give them credit for. Personally, I’ve found it a wonderful challenge to learn how to write for comics – to set up plot, character, backstory, atmosphere etc etc and yet to have so few words to do work with (95% of what you ‘write’ as the author of a graphic novel disappears into the images) is a huge task. Then, add to that, that you have to hit a page count more or less exactly (due to the cost of production of comics) and you have a major set of hills to climb. But I like a challenge.
On the left of the desk here are a few books I’ve been using to research my next novel for Mulholland – I’m deep in that process of hunting out things that I know will be useful, or hope will be, and connected to that, I guess, are the red notebooks at the back of the desk. I’m on book 10 at the moment, since 2000, and the previous 9 I keep close at hand as you never know when browsing through old ideas might finally make a connection to something that’s been lurking in your unconscious for a while. Connections are as much the stuff of a writer’s art as the imagination.
Next to the books are the edits for a short story I was recently asked to write – that will be what I work on later this week. I love writing short stories – they’re a chance to let your hair down, try something new, and experiment with style. Something which can feed back into longer work in the future, perhaps.
I tend to change the view on my screen saver, and find something central to what I am writing about at the time – this is a building that will appear in this second Mulholland title. I won’t say where it is but it’s more sinister than it might first appear. Me view is pretty limited – a hint of my neighbours’ garden – but that’s a good thing – it’s interesting enough to stimulate day dreaming (a friend in my opinion, not an enemy), but not so interesting that you end up not doing what you should be doing.
Over to the right, although I’ve finished work on it long ago (the book is about to be published) is the cover of my first novel for Mulholland – A Love Like Blood. Covers are so important. I know that’s obvious but what might be less obvious is the nerves with which you open an email with the subject line “cover of your book”. Whenever we get to the moment of designing the book cover, I live in fear, and the hope that your publisher will come up with something you love. Fortunately, this time, I loved the cover from the first design. A little tweaking and it was done. If you get sent a dodgy first attempt, you know you might be in for months of wrangling. But if you have to, you have to, because covers are the first and primary thing that sells your book once it’s out in the world. Something that some authors might not like to admit, but which, having worked in sales, in publishing for many years, I know to be true. Above the book jacket is a photo of the Italian village where the book opens – a weird and wonderful hilltop place called Sextantio by the Romans.
And finally, here’s another important tool for me. Along with notebooks themselves, maps of one form or another have always been key to how I organise a book. So I use large sheets of paper, on which I write in pencil (because it changes all the time) and on these maps I sketch out a novel’s structure, themes character notes, and so on. Every book has a different kind of map, because every book needs to be written in a different way. Understanding that and not being scared of it is very important, and is again something I am still learning about. This map is the first go at one for the second book I’ll write for Mulholland. At the moment it doesn’t even have a working title, the characters don’t have names, the plot is still forming. It’s simultaneously one of the scariest and most exciting periods in a writer’s work cycle.