Writing has always been a place rather than an activity, as if writing is somewhere I go, my very own Rapunzel’s tower. As a child I used to sit under the table writing stories. In fact, as an adult I tried to stop writing and concentrate on more grown up things but it never worked. In spite of my best intentions I would always find myself writing.
Still, sometimes it’s hard to begin. I am a great admirer of other writers and I can sometimes feel silenced by their greatness. I also have this fear that it won’t come, that I won’t be able to get to that place where things start happening.
The answer to this, I’ve found, is to sit down and do it. It’s a discipline and, like exercising, it might be difficult to start but it’s great as soon as I’ve begun. If I’m really nervous starting I set the timer on my phone for an hour telling myself that I’ll just do that hour and if it doesn’t work I’m allowed to give up. Invariably that gets me going and then I’m immersed in it. I’m notorious for not hearing things that my family say to me when I’m at my desk.
Some quotes by my desk encourage me. Some pictures my children have drawn, some knickknacks they’ve made or given me and the fountain pen my homicide team gave me when I left the Met act as talismans but once I get started I don’t really see anything except the book.
I have a writing companion – my dog, Charlie – who sits by me. After a few hours he gets bored and comes over to nudge me out for a walk. Walking is really helpful – plot developments, character, all the difficult stuff of novels have a way of get sorted in the background when my legs are walking up a hill or through a muddy wood.
The worst thing about writing is the backache. I’ve tried everything! The only thing that’s really helped is a height adjustable desk. I do a few hours standing, a few hours sitting and I vary the chairs I use.
I’ve learnt to have a notebook by the bed. Often, just as I’m nodding off, I’ll have an idea and I have to scribble it down or I can’t sleep. It’s horrid having to get out from under the warm duvet to find pen and paper. That scribbled idea may form the basis for a good start the following day.
When I really need to immerse myself I get away from my family to a little cottage in Shropshire. When I’m there the first thing I do in the morning is to go to my desk and write until I can’t write any more. Then it’s a short breakfast and more writing until Charlie saves me with a walk up the wonderful windswept hill behind the cottage. The hill is a wild place with extraordinary views over Shropshire and Wales, an Iron Age fort and a historic pathway. Once I disturbed a hare who jumped out and looked at me for a second before he zig zagged off. After my walk I’m usually good for another hour or two writing in the evening. I move my laptop downstairs and sit in front of the wood-burning stove. Writing in Shropshire is a brilliant way to live inside the book but after a few days I probably look a bit crazed. Luckily I have lovely neighbours, one of whom gives me delicious free-range eggs from her hens who wander over the back garden. Is there anything tastier than a poached egg from some of the happiest chickens in England?
People have asked me if I find writing lonely. I loved policing and I do miss the Job but I don’t find writing at all lonely. After a working life involved in the tumult of people’s lives it’s a privilege to be able to set hours aside just to write.
Kate London is the author of Post Mortem, which we serialised for The Pigeonhole app and web reader in partnership with Atlantic Books. Other ebook editions are available via retailers including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Google Play. Learn more about Atlantic and Post Mortem here.