Posted on 27/11/2013
I’ve developed a passion for Western Australian fiction, this year reading Simone Lazaroo’s The Australian Fiancé, Julienne Van Loon’s Harmless, and the second novels in crime series by David Whish-Wilson and Felicity Young. On my TBR pile, I have Fractured by Dawn Barker and Elemental by Amanda Curtin. I’m also keen to get hold of Sara Foster’s Beneath the Shadows, described by one reviewer as showing ‘a quiet, non-violent mystery can pack a lot of punch’. Dawn, Amanda and Sara are part of a collective of writers in WA, together with Emma Chapman, Natasha Lester and Annabel Smith, who have a monthly discussion via their blogs on a question about the writing life.
I was inspired by their posts on being another author for a day to write my own version. This month, I’m delighted to be their guest blogger as their Writers Ask Writers series considers tools of the trade: What do you need to have around you in order to be able to write? Certain music? Special notebooks? Apps? Books? Pens?
Their questions made me realise that my writing tools are so basic, they’re almost quaint. I write my first draft using a notebook. Not a notebook computer, but a genuine, old school, tree-killing notebook. I write with a pen. Or pencil. Even a texta will do and, at a push, a lip liner. I’m not fussed.
My preferred notebook is the Marbig A5 ‘Colour Hide’, vertical spiral bound with a cardboard pocket at the front. I also love Chinese-made notebooks with nonsensical English phrases on the cover like ‘Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year’ and ‘I know that I’m too young to be in love, but I know that I like you much.’
But if I forget my notebook, I’ll scribble notes on whatever scraps of paper I can find—receipts, envelops, train tickets, business cards.
These simple tools suit my style. I’m not a planner. Writing for me involves a lot of what Marele Day calls ‘research in the imagination’ and Barry Maitland calls ‘mulling’; I think of it as percolating a story. An idea for a snatch of dialogue, a metaphor, a character’s distinguishing feature can come at any moment, and the less rigid my writing needs, the easier it is to capture inspiration when it strikes.
My Jayne Keeney PI crime fiction series are set in Thailand in the late-1990s. Among my essential reference materials are several books on Thai language, and Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith, a guide to everyday popular culture in Thailand. I rely on old travel guides to help me recreate the period, as well as journals I’ve kept of the years when I’ve lived in or travelled to Thailand.
Of course, I’m not so old school that I don’t do online research. I transfer my handwritten notes on to my Macbook Pro (aka ‘The Preciousss’) and use the internet to check facts, maps and geographic features.
But secondary sources only ever get you so far, and in my experience, to make a setting come alive, you need to do fieldwork. This leads me to my other important tool of the trade: my passport.
I’ve posted here, here and here about the value of scouting locations for my stories. That my commitment to fieldwork requires me to spend time in exotic tropical destinations is just one of many ways I suffer for my art.
Now read about what these other authors say about their tools of the trade:
‘One of the best things about writing is that it doesn’t require many tools,’ writes Dawn Barker, before making want to go out in search of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Emma Chapman‘s tools of the trade help her focus and include an intriguing ‘inspiration board’… Amanda Curtin loves all forms of stationery, though not as much as her late cat Daisy, who ‘once famously ate all the post-it notes off the side of a manuscript.’ Sara Foster‘s writer’s toolbox turns out to be more extensive than she first imagined. I concur with her on the writer’s most precious tool of all. Natasha Lester‘s enthusiasm for the writer’s software Scrivener borders on evangelical, though she also pines for a waterproof notebook for those ideas that come in the shower. Annabel Smith shares my love of note taking. Using the kind of notebooks favoured by Hemingway makes her feel ‘part of a great and noble tradition’, though I wonder what Hemingway would make of her other tools like Evernote and Scrivener.
Collectively, these writers go through a hell of a lot of herbal tea and Lindt chocolate. What about you? Are there certain things you need to have around you in order to write — or to read for that matter? What are your tools of the trade?