This morning I read an article about William Boyd, one of my literary heroes. He was outlining his working day in the Guardian Review and it made me feel even more affinity with him than I did already. I already knew that, like me, he is a bit of an artist as well as a writer, but now I discovered with some delight that his writing methods follow much the same pattern as mine.
He, as I do, assumes that most writers are larks, preferring to get up early in the morning and crack on with their novels with vim and vigour, sometimes before daybreak.
I have always had a secret envy for larks. I am very different, and so it turns out is William. We both prefer to limber up more gently, undertaking easier, more mundane tasks like our admin, emails, dog walking and and phone calls in the morning. We then like to enjoy a leisurely lunch and finally in early afternoon we feel that the muse is sufficiently on us to start putting pen to paper, literally in his case, as it turns out he writes his daily 1000 words (give or take) in longhand before using the evening to transfer it, with inevitable edits, to his keyboard.
On the whole I write straight onto the keyboard, but often from hand written notes I‘ve made while lying in bed savouring my early morning (in my terms obviously, not that of a lark) cup of tea. I have a number of special notebooks standing by for this purpose, which need to conform to a general rule of pretty cover, ring-binding, relatively narrow line spacing, and not too large, thereby making them comfortable for use in bed, on journeys, or at other inconvenient moments when I’m not at my computer. You never know when an idea will pop up.
William prefers a larger A4 size of pad without margins, but he stipulates a ring binding, which again show how much we have in common, although he didn’t specify a pretty cover. He also uses a very specific pen (a Rotring Tikky Graphic with a 0.2mm nib, just in case if you are wondering!)
Now I suspect that many of you will think that finding the most satisfying pen or writing pad is a ridiculous thing for a writer to become fixated on. You will assume there are other much more important things to worry about, like story structure, plot and characterisation, and indeed whether anyone will actually want to read what we have written.
And yes, of course these are also considerations the novelist has to grapple with. But it is perhaps the very existence of all the nerve-wracking unknowns and difficult-to-accomplish feats of invention that makes the few things we can actually control so important to us. As William himself puts it, ‘It’s a toiling, messy business writing a novel,’ and anything that makes it easier for us must be taken seriously!
Helen Carey’s latest novel, LONDON CALLING, has recently been published. It and her other novels are available in all good bookshops.