Updated: May 12
Where writers write. This thought has always fascinated me. As intrigued I am by the written word, I find myself thinking about the environment in which it was written. I'm curious about rituals and routines, the instruments used, and the inner workings of a writers' mind. It's the process and the behind-the-scenes facts behind the fiction that I long to hear.
Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women in six weeks at a desk in her bedroom. Daphne du Maurier's jotted down her ideas in pencil in small blue exercise books before being extensively reworked at one of her many typewriters. Agatha Christie worked on a portable typewriter on any old table, as she didn’t have a 'room of one's own' until late in her career. Apparently one of her secrets behind her productivity was that she usually worked on at least two books at the same time.
Michael Pollan built himself a tiny writing hut in the woods behind his Connecticut house. Danielle Steele, who has written almost 200 books, works late into the night. Her favourite quote: ‘What hath night to do with sleep?’ Neil Gaiman writes in a Gazebo in the trees. Julian Barnes has worked in the same home office painted bright yellow for the past 30 years. Dorothy Parker once said, "I hate writing, I love having written.”
This curiosity of mine has manifested itself into a new series called A Writer Profile - each instalment will examine the writing life of a writer
We begin with Bianca Marais, author of two novels Hum if You Don't Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh.
Where writers write.
Describe your writing space. What do you love about it?
We live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto, and so I feel incredibly lucky to have a den in which to write. I’m a bit like a vampire in that I don’t like bright sunlight at the best of times, and especially not when I’m writing. So, the lack of windows in the den is a huge plus for me.
My desk has a raised ledge on which I keep all kinds of fluffy toys and mementos that I’ve collected over the years. I also have tons of candles because I find that lighting a particular scent when I’m writing a specific scene can be very evocative. Above my desk are huge posters of my two book covers, as well as my two vision boards which I fill up with pictures of whatever book I’m working on.
They serve as my inspiration every time I look up, and so I don’t have any inspiring quotes or personal photos in my office. I want to be able to be completely immersed in whatever world I’m writing without reality intruding.
My podcasting equipment is also attached to my desk so it’s incredibly cramped in here. Plus, I have a three-layered cart with all the books on my TBR pile. The cart is now overflowing and so I’ll need a new one soon. My chair has a back massager which is a recent blissful addition because sitting writing for hours on end can really mess up your back.
How important is it to have ‘a room of one’s own’?
For a writer, it’s incredibly important. You need to be able to lock yourself away from the world and get to speak to your imaginary friends without interruption. For ages, I didn’t have a den and so I had to write at the dining room table which I found very distracting.
Any rules for when you’re in this ‘space’?
My husband knows that anything he says to me while I’m in my office will probably have to be repeated later as I’m almost certainly not listening to a word that he’s saying. I’m just smiling and nodding, so he’ll go away and I can get back to whatever dilemma my characters are dealing with.
What is your writing process like?
It differs with every book. I sold my second novel based on three chapters and a synopsis, and then was told I had six months in which to write a first draft. Writing that book was like a nine-to-five job. I’m extremely busy with teaching and my podcast at the moment and so I write whenever I can. Sometimes, that’s at 4am. Sometimes, it’s at midnight. It’s always over weekends which are now mostly free thanks to Covid. With my current novel, I’ve set a deadline to finish by August, and so I have to write 800 words a day, four days a week.
What is the easiest and most difficult part of the process for you?
I always find beginnings to be difficult. When an idea is just in my head, it’s this wondrous, perfect thing. I can see it clearly and it’s perfect. And then I remember that all I have to make that world come alive on the page is twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. And that’s it. And so, I never feel like my words do the idea justice. I’ll circle arou