How I Write by Anna Stothard

We are delighted to be working with Salt Publishing to serialise The Museum of Cathy by Anna Stothard in a pre-publication exclusive beginning on 31 October. This is Anna Stothard’s fourth novel. Her second, The Pink Hotel, was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize. Here, she tells us how she writes.

I wrote much of The Museum of Cathy during a humid Berlin summer, quickly and nomadically, while tramping the city looking for places to work. The city’s natural history museum was a favourite writing spot, either sitting in a corner of the central dinosaur hall or crouched amongst embalmed snakes and bats in the air-conditioned basement. I’d balance my computer on my knees and let children trip over my trainers. I’ve never been fussy about writing in solitude or quiet. I like busy isolation. As long as nobody tries to talk to me, chaos and skeletons can reign around me.
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I also worked in cafés. In order to centre myself while changing location constantly I listened to music and carried around pocketfuls of the little memory objects that form Cathy’s museum in the book: ballerinas, soldiers, smashed pottery. Ever since I quit smoking I need things to fiddle with while writing.

I like immersing myself in locations, getting into the character’s headspace. Most of the novel is set over one night in Berlin’s natural history museum, and I was living in Berlin at the time, but there are flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood on the Essex marshes. To write these bits I spent two weeks on the street where Cathy grows up. It’s the loneliest place in the world, this tidal landscape where birds wheel up into the sky and look like dust. It’s never the same landscape twice. When I wasn’t writing, that fortnight, I collected feathers and sea glass and bones, got stuck in tidal mud, and cooked sausages on a little barbecue. My computer broke, so I filled notebooks.

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I’m a binge writer. I will write solidly for a week and exhaust myself, hate myself, talk gibberish to myself, forget to wash myself, and then put my words away in a huff before going back more methodically to edit and adapt. I’m often quite surprised by things I’ve written, like the words just crawled right out of my unconscious without consulting me – unannounced, but very welcome.

There are limited free slots for our serialisation of The Museum of Cathy, and prize giveaways too. Sign up now!

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