Tag Archives: Writer

Deborah Levy … Shedworker

Deborah Levy … Shedworker

Deborah Levy (born 1959) is a British playwright, novelist, and poet. She wrote and published her first novel Beautiful Mutants, in 1986. Her second novel, Swallowing Geography, was published in 1993 by Jonathan Cape, while her third, Billy and Girl, was published in 1996 by Bloomsbury. Swimming Home was published in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 among other awards. Levy published a short story collection, Black Vodka in 2013. Her novel Hot Milk was published in 2016 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.

She was interviewed by the Guardian in October 2016 for their My Writing Day series.

“Some years ago, when my marriage was on the rocks, we sold the family house and I ended up living in a small flat. I wrote wherever I could and became accustomed to what Elena Ferrantehas described as being happy and unhappy at the same time. Except, in my case, it was more like being happy and extremely miserable at the same time. This was a strange emotional climate to live in – like blazing sunshine with an icy wind. Perhaps it resembled living in Scandinavia, but without the delicious herrings and crispbreads.

So then my friend, Celia, who is in her early 80s – she’s an actor and book-seller – came to the rescue. “You need a study,” she said. I had to admit she was right. She pointed towards the shed at the back of her garden. It was where her husband, the late, great, beloved poet Adrian Mitchell sometimes wrote, and it was built under an apple tree. I have rented it from her ever since. It’s freezing in winter and sweltering in summer, but I have grown to love my writing shed in every season. I have a writing desk, a few bookshelves, lamps, heaters, my desktop Mac computer, a writing chair, which I have covered with a sheepskin fleece for extra warmth—and there are also a few cobwebs and spiders.

Most days I cycle to the shed at 8am after I have seen my daughter off to school. To avoid starting work, I sometimes stop for coffee at a nearby cafe. I am very fond of the morose Italian waiter, and always ask him: “How are you today?” He stops to think about this, and always replies: “I don’t know.” As far as I’m concerned, his answer is an example of magnificent writing. It sets me up for the day.

When I begin writing a novel, I usually know where I want to get to, I just don’t know how to get there. I plan a route and follow my directions. Sometimes this works well. Yet, it’s when I detour from the map and get lost that the writing starts to open its eyes. In case you think I like getting lost, I should tell you that I resist it with all my will. This is always a futile battle. Eventually I surrender to the unknown route, write for a few hours and take a look at the new view.

My current writing mantra is a quote by EM Forster: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This applies to the life of a novel as well as any other kind of life. Come to think of it, the life that is waiting for us might be worse than the life we have planned.

This is such a terrifying thought that I’m going to nip across the garden and make tea in Celia’s kitchen. If I can find the sweet, shy house cat, I will try and persuade her to sit on my lap in the shed. This cat knows that I adore her, so she takes advantage of my love and begs for snacks. Yes, procrastination is part of the writing day and I do enjoy browsing Celia’s vast collection of books.

Now I’m back in the shed (one mug of tea, no cat) and I’m looking at some of my journals, written years ago. To my surprise, I find that I have scribbled down ideas and thoughts on some of the themes I am writing about now. As far as I’m concerned, the writing life is mostly about stamina and the desire to give my complete attention to language. And I don’t just mean literary language. I am never indifferent to the way someone might say “goodbye” or “oh my God” or “I don’t know”. To get to the finishing line requires the writing to become more interesting than everyday life. This is not as easy as it sounds, because I have never found everyday life boring.

At the end of the day, I read through whatever I have written and figure out the various problems I will need to solve in the morning. After I’ve locked up the shed, I cycle home to tell my children all about the way Celia’s cat grooms her paws.

Deborah Levy’s website

Once the grammar has been learned …

Once the grammar has been learned …

Mr Dahl & Mr Fox …

Mr Dahl & Mr Fox …

Fantastic Mr Dahl

Fantastic Mr Fox

It is perfectly okay to write garbage …

It is perfectly okay to write garbage …

Chuck Palahniuk …

Chuck Palahniuk

Charles “Chuck” Palahniuk is an American novelist and freelance journalist. He is the author of the award-winning novel Fight Club (1996) which also was made into an acclaimed film of the same name.

According to his website he writes whenever he has an idea that demands he puts it on paper before he loses it. Chuck advocates against forcing yourself to write on a schedule, when you are uninspired and uncompelled. The most basic tenet of his writing philosophy can be paraphrased as “shit or get off the pot.”

He writes wherever he finds himself. Chuck is a physical and a social person. He likes to be in motion and he likes to stay involved with people. He sort of dreads the later stages of drafting and the serious research phases that force him to sequester himself away from the world and plant it in front of a computer. Much of Chuck’s early drafting is pen and paper. He recommends taking your early computer drafts with you when you go places, and line editing with a pen–constantly rolling your ongoing experiences into the work.

When you don’t want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you’re free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you’ll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you’ll keep going. Instead of an egg timer, you can put a load of clothes in the washer or dryer and use them to time your work. Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don’t know what comes next in the story… clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come.


Chuck Palahniuk website

Books aren’t written …

Books aren’t written …


Val McDermid … a life of crime

Val McDermid … a life of crime

Val McDermid  is an award winning Scottish crime writer. Her work is often described as “Tartan Noir” in the Scottish crime fiction genre. She has created many notable characters such as journalist, Lindsay Gordon; the private investigator, Kate Brannigan; and psychologist, Tony Hill. Her books include three main series: Lindsay Gordon, Kate Brannigan, and, beginning in 1995, the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series. She has sold over 11 million books translated into 30 languages.

During a 2014 interview with the Daily Express, she spoke about her writing routine.

I write on my laptop. I used to have to write at my desk but one year I became ill and crashed my deadline. I was travelling at the time but I quickly discovered I could write on planes, trains, airport lounges, anywhere.

Normally, I’ll start work about 9.30am and go through until I have to start making the tea. Then after we’ve eaten, I’ll go back and write more if I feel like it. It also depends on where I’m at with my deadlines. If I’m aiming to deliver a manuscript in April, I will work steadily through January, February and March. I will do a second draft in April then it will be pretty much done and dusted by June. I’ll be writing about 2,000 words a day to start with, then 4-5,000 words a day as the story progresses. The most I’ve ever written in one day was 11,500 words but that was a total one off.

She was also interviewed in 2016 by the Guardian for their My Writing Day series.

When I first became a full-time writer, I mostly had writing days. People seldom wanted to listen to me read, consult my opinion or watch me perform. But the combination of success and the proliferation of literary festivals and media platforms has profoundly altered the even tenor of my mostly isolated days. Now I try to carve out a chunk of the year when the other calls on my time are kept to a minimum. Three or four months when I can more or less stay at home and write. January, February, March and, when I can get away with it, into April.  

I have two desks – a conventional one and a standing desk, which I try to use for 10 minutes every hour, just to keep me moving. And I always have music playing while I’m working. 

I’m not an early starter. I usually make it to the keyboard by half past nine but I don’t really get going till about 11. That first part of the day is taken up with emails, admin, the occasional bit of journalism such as this, checking out my Twitter feed and looking at the news online. Around the second cup of coffee, I take a look at what I last wrote, tweaking and revising, stripping the prose back till I’m more at ease with it.

Once I start, I tend to write in 20‑minute bursts. That seems to be the length of my concentration span. Then I do something different for a little while, something that lets my subconscious whirr away at the next bit of creativity. So, I make a cup of coffee; I game on the computer or the console; I go out to buy milk or stamps or tomatoes; I make a phone call. And then it’s back to the work in hand.

I don’t work a set number of hours or aim for a set word count. Usually, I stop around seven, but if the words are flowing and I feel there’s more to come, I’ll go back to my desk and keep going, sometimes past midnight.

Val McDermid’s website