Mornings, and sometimes, I have really good writing afternoons, but I’m absolutely useless in the evenings and nights (those are the hours of eating, drinking, partying and seeing friends, no?).
A few years ago, I converted my attic into a study. I have the best views over the rooftops of London. It’s light, quiet and I can see the world below me without getting distracted. It’s a writing heaven.
A Mac laptop. But when I work on structure and narrative pace, I need to do everything on paper. I end up with bits of paper scattered all over the floor. For days, I tiptoe through the chaos and move the papers around to plot structure.
Silence – 100 percent. Iit actually drives me crazy when I work in libraries and someone even breathes too noisily next to me.
I can’t start without a proper coffee made on my magnificent Italian coffee machine.
I have successfully avoided to have a word count hanging over me – I tried but it completely stifled me. I spend so much more time reading, researching, restructuring and thinking than writing that it has become meaningless to have a word count. I’m an obsessive re–drafter. I write, re–write, re–write and re–write. Draft after draft. And how would you count those words?
For me, editing is as important as writing. No, probably even more important. I’ve never been able to sit down and write the perfect sentence. I re–write constantly – it’s almost like being a carpenter sanding a piece of wood, again and again, until it’s perfectly smooth. My best and oldest friend is my first editor; she’s ruthless, clever and amazing. I don’t trust anyone like her. And if there are problems, my agent Patrick Walsh is my editing knight in a shining armour – he always comes to my rescue.
I don’t think so. At least not consciously. But I always read novels while I write – as a reminder of the importance of language. Just because I write non–fiction doesn’t mean that beautiful language should be excluded.
Haha, no, I’ve not been kissed by a muse. For me, writing is a craft that needs constant honing.
I always wanted to be either a writer or a painter – but luckily, I went for writing.
It’s always the last one. So right now, it’s ‘The Invention of Nature’.
I have never read a book on writing – unless you count novels which can be perfect models for structure, language and plot.
It’s been incredibly helpful for many reasons. It has made me think about language differently. Though German is my mother tongue, I write in English and I sometimes feel that I was born into the wrong language. English liberated me – German is incredibly precise but English is so much more descriptive. Learning English properly when I moved to Britain in my late twenties was like opening a treasure trove of words.
It hasn’t really affected my writing (why would anyone aspire to an academic writing style?) but it really helped me to do research with obscure sources and in archives.
Unlike many of my writer friends, I don’t have a drawer full of ideas. They occur very sparingly (too sparingly) and I’m always in a half panic that I’ll never have another idea after finishing a book. And right now, I’m in the midst of such a panic. How can I possibly find another person like Alexander von Humboldt – the most famous scientist of his age, yet forgotten today … brazenly adventurous, yet a genius thinker … a daring explorer, yet someone who was connected to every important person of his time … argghhh …. just writing this … and the panic is rising.
Maybe not so much the way I write, but the way I researched ‘The Invention of Nature’. I followed Humboldt’s footsteps and travelled to some amazing places, from listening to howler monkeys in the rainforest at the Orinoco in Venezuela to standing above the clouds on 16,400 feet on Chimborazo.