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Toronto Star

October 8, 2009

In advance of the IFOA in Toronto in a couple of weeks, I was sent an interesting questionnaire by Geoff Pevere, the Toronto Star’s book columnist, as part of his research for an article he’s preparing. Here are his questions and my answers; we’ll see how many make the cut.

How do you get started writing?

 Slowly. I produce two books a year, and I try to maintain some sort of disciplined schedule. By that I mean I know when I should be starting what is usually a four-month cycle, although actually doing it is a different matter. As my designated start day approaches I try to clear my mind of other things . . . for example I stop reading . . . and ease myself into the creative mind-set. I hide all the games on my computer. I try to leave phone answering to my wife, but that never works for I have a reflex that won’t let a phone ring three times without my picking it up, even though most of the calls are for her anyway.

 How do you avoid getting started writing?

 I fail to hide all the games on my computer. (Windows won’t let you delete them.) I take on other tasks, including public events. I decide that the weather’s still good enough to play some more golf or use the pool.

 Where do you write?

 In my office. I have two, one in Scotland and one in Spain, where the phone rings less frequently, so that’s where I tend to do most of it.

 What is the optimal creative atmosphere?

 Peace and quiet. Once I’m started I’m reasonably disciplined. I tend to write in two shifts per day morning and evening, leaving the afternoon for siesta – exercise. I do a lot of my best thinking in the gym or ploughing up and down our very small pool.

 Idiosyncrasies: dress, music, food, furniture, etc.?

 Yes, I usually dress to write, although sometimes in not very much. No, I don’t divert myself with music, unless I’m editing a draft and then it’s okay. No, I don’t eat when I’m writing, other than the biscuit my wife will bring me with mid-morning coffee. My wife’s a gem. (Literally; those are her initials.) Yes, I have a chair a desk and a computer. Etc., thinking while you’re swimming or pounding away on a treadmill could be described as idiosyncratic, I suppose. There is one other, though; what I call my ‘F G moment’. That’s when everything falls into place and I can see the whole book as a piece in my mind’s eye, I can see the light and it is good. That’s when I go down to my wife and say, ‘Babe, I’m a F*****g Genius.’

 Do you actually like writing?

 When I get up on a dull November morning, as I will soon, with a scenario in my head but little else, and I crank out the first thousand words of the next Skinner, or Primavera, that’s when I like it least. But I still like it, always. And as each work progresses, gaining momentum until the finish is in sight and I’m producing up to 5,000 words on a good day, I like it more and more, until I reach the two magic words (‘The End’, in case you’re wondering. Ever seen Romancing the Stone? Remember how it starts?) and I’m reminded once again that there is no greater gift than being able to sit down and create something from your own mind, and when you do it for a living, no better job in the world. Okay, maybe I’d be of more value to more people if I was a brain surgeon or a cancer researcher or a supermarket check-out clerk. But on the other hand, brain surgeons and cancer researchers and supermarket check-out clerks need to be distracted too, need to escape from their work from time to time if they’re to function with 100% efficiency. If I can provide an escape route through my work, what’s not to like about that?

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