What makes writers tick – Tamar Yoseloff answers IS&T's questions

Seven Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process.


1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus journey that you find yourself and your writing?)

I have two writing places in my house – one is a desk in the study, and one is a shed in the back garden. The garden shed is too cold to use all winter, but I like the sound of the squirrels running over the roof. All my poetry books are in the study, so I’m most often in there. But I do like writing on trains.

2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer?)

I am very attached to my computer, and most drafts start there. I like being able to see the structure, to move things around while I’m redrafting. I print out all my drafts and staple them together, so that I can chart the process of each poem. I also have a little notebook that I carry around in my handbag in case I have an idea, but it’s really just for note-taking. The only time I will write a draft in my notebook is on the train, and then I tend to write sonnets, because the notebook is sonnet-sized.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions)

If you count teaching prep and reading students’ poems, then I would say it’s 9 to 5, five days a week (with some time given over to the usual distractions). I tend to read the newspapers at the weekend and watch bad television.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

I don’t have a regular writing time, nor do I stick to a certain number of hours a day, but I do like writing in the morning. Not too early – I’m not one of those crack-of-dawn writers. But I’m fresher then, and perhaps less distracted by the trivialities of the day.

5. What does it feel like to write?

I don’t know that it feels any different to anything else; it’s so much a part of me and how I think. Writing has always been my way of finding order the world.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

I am a very visual person, so it will often be something I’ve seen. And more recently, paintings have been an enormous inspiration. I’m really a frustrated artist, so writing poems about art is the next best thing.

7. What are you working on now?

I usually have a bit of a hiatus between books, simply because I find each collection is a way of working through a particular theme, and once I’ve finished, I’m looking for the next thing I want to write about. I’ve written a small handful of poems since The City with Horns, but already a theme is emerging to do with boundaries and borderlines, so I would like to see where that leads me. I’m also writing a series of ‘informal’ sonnets to go with photographs taken by my friend Vici MacDonald (http://artanorak.tumblr.com/). She likes the same unloved bits of London that I do, places that Iain Sinclair calls ‘the dirty folds in the map’, so it’s a very exciting project.

*Tamar Yoseloff is the author of four poetry collections, most recently The City with Horns, published by Salt last month. She is also the author of Marks, a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art, and the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle's Yard Anthology. She is a freelance tutor in creative writing and has run a number of site-specific poetry workshops in venues such as the Fitzwilliam Museum and Tate St Ives. Her blog, Invective Against Swans  explores the intersection between poetry and art.

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Clare Pollard talks to IS&T about her writing process

Seven Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process.

1. Where do you write?

Mainly in my head. My poems are at least half-made before I begin physically writing.  My best ideas always come when I give myself some thinking time, so usually occur whilst walking; in a deep, hot bath; lying in bed or swimming in London Fields Lido.

2. How do you write?

Once the poem is ready to be put down, I type directly onto my laptop. I try to save drafts, although I’m not as conscientious as I should be.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities?

Well, I’m freelance, so it varies, but basically most of it.  During term-time I teach writing 11 hours a week, and with preparation, that’s about 16 hours – plus all the travelling across London.  On top of that there are school visits, translations, readings, bits of journalism, mentoring sessions, commissions, admin, events to organize.  I’ve just been editing Magma 50, so that’s been at least day a week for about four months. I’m currently out of term for a month, and am spending a week of that teaching an Arvon course in Devon, another learning vocal techniques at Cove Park, and a third working on a translation project in Hungary.  With all the travelling I do, I also read about two books a week.

I realize I’m very lucky, but it’s quite hard to make a living. At least half of the invitations I get to read, write poems, edit, travel etc are unpaid – and they’re often the ones I want to do (all my work for Magma is unpaid, for example).  And it’s hard to find time to actually write in this blizzard of work. I mainly write in the summer, when there’s a bit of a gap in my schedule.  Aside from three commissioned poems I haven’t written anything else yet this year.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

Any, as long as it’s after 10am – it takes me a while to come round. Although in the evening with a glass of red wine is probably best.

5. What does it feel like to write?

I’ve always found it very easy. I’m usually euphoric when I’m writing. I always think I’m writing something brilliant! It’s only afterwards that wears off… And I love how absorbing it is. You can move words around for what feels like no time at all, and then you look up and the sky has gone dark and four hours have passed.  Even when I’ve been worried or depressed or grieving, I will have completely forgotten about that for four hours.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

Big personal events, obviously – I guess I’m known for being confessional.  New experiences.  Travel.  Other writers often inspire me. For my new book, Changeling, it was getting into folk music, and then ballads, and then Yeats. Philosophy inspires me.  When I read Hannah Arendt there was a shift in my work, and a lot of the new work is about politics, power – good and evil.  Recently I’ve reading Simone Weil and Karen Armstrong and contemplating mysticism and the universe…

7. What are you working on now?

Promoting the new book, Changeling.  Getting into short stories – I have been guest-editing fiction for Horizon Review and tentatively having a go at them myself.  I’ve also nearly completed a new translation of Ovid’s Heroides. Which translates as Heroines. I’m very excited about that – hoping to finish it as soon as I get some time!

*Clare Pollard's fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is The Changeling.  She is an editor for Magma and co-editor, with James Byrne, of the anthology Voice Recognition: 21 poets for the 21st century (Bloodaxe Books, 2009).

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Esther Morgan talks to IS&T about her process

Nine Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process and craft.


1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus or train journey that you find yourself and your writing? etc)

I do have an office but oddly I hardly ever write creatively there – it’s where the pc is and my brain associates it now with practical work. So if I have a day at home my favourite place to write is actually in bed – partly because I feel the cold but also it seems to put me in a more relaxed frame of mind than sitting at a desk. I also write on the bus journey to my day job in Norwich – many of the poems in my next collection were first dreamt up on the 588 Anglian Bus service. I try and get a seat near a window and put my ear plugs in and start scribbling – that seems to do the trick. Finally, I have high hopes of the summer house we took all summer to construct – it’s tiny, but I like the idea of a space away from the house and domestic distractions. All we need in there now is a source of heat!


2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer? etc)

I always write into a notebook. I need blank pages too, no lines – I like the sense of freedom that gives. My process seems to be to write a draft and then ‘talk’ to myself about it on the page – what’s working, what isn’t as I try and home in on the core of the poem. I have a tendency to try and finish things too quickly, tying everything up so it’s nice and neat. That’s why I don’t type up drafts until quite late in the day as it makes them look finished even if they’re not. When I’m not working on a draft I try and write a kind of loose journal entry – notes, observations, thoughts – just to keep my cogs oiled.


3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities?

(writing, editing, correspondence & submissions – give a daily average if possible)
On average I guess it’s about an hour and half a day, though there are phases where I don’t do much and other times when it’s a lot more. Half an hour of that would be on admin tasks – sending stuff out, responding to writing-related emails [answering questionnaires!] etc.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

My best time is in the morning, definitely. I’m not disciplined enough to rise at dawn, but on a day at home I like to get underway by 8am. The first couple of hours are crucial. Things go off the boil around lunchtime [is there any poet who writes best in the afternoon? I’ve never met one.] Then things improve again around dusk – I love being in the house on my own at that time of day. I find it conducive to mulling over ideas and the work done in the morning. I’m hopeless at night – I’d love to be one of those writers sat in a pool of light at 2am beavering away while the world sleeps – there’s something really alluring about that image, but I’ve never been able to function well late.


5. Do you set yourself a daily target for writing?

No – I suppose I try and check in to my creative process at least once a week, even if I’m really busy. It isn’t helpful to me to think in terms of output – how many poems this month etc. I’ve written at very different paces at different times and have learnt to trust that. As long as I’m making a regular space for the writing then I feel that poems will turn up eventually.


6. What does it feel like to write?

It depends what phase I’m in. The first rush of an idea and a draft can be nervily exciting – there’s the buzz as you realize you’re on to something that feels genuinely new and surprising, but, for me, also the agitation that comes with wondering whether I’ll be equal to expressing the idea, trying to pin it down on paper before it slips away. Then there’s the scratching the head, re-assessing phase – that can start off disappointing – oh, I didn’t get it right first time [why that realization still comes as a surprise I don’t know!]. But actually once it’s underway, I really like the re-drafting phase. It can be hugely absorbing and satisfying trying different approaches to make the poem come good. I’m accentuating the positive here – there are plenty of moments when writing makes me feel like a six year old who’s scribbled out the picture she’s been working on all day because it doesn’t look right.


7. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

I find I need less stimuli not more. I need to be on my own and very still so I can start to listen. I don’t do formal meditation but it’s that shift into a more settled, observant state which seems to be a precursor to writing something.


8. Do you work in silence or have background noise? If you do have sounds, what are you listening to now?

Silence, definitely. Any noise is a real distraction. Hence the bus ear plugs. I love ear plugs, they should come free with your Poetry Society membership.


9. What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed quite an extensive redraft of my third collection so I’m actually lying fallow at the moment. That took a big creative push and though I’ve got a couple of ideas knocking around, my creative energies need time to recharge.

*Esther Morgan's third collection Grace, published by Bloodaxe, is due out in October 2011. She is an editor and historic recordings manager for The Poetry Archive. She currently lives in rural Norfolk where she's waiting for another new arrival – her first baby due in June.

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What makes writers tick – WN Herbert answers IS&T's questions

Seven Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process.

1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus journey that you find yourself and your writing?)

I have a study at the top of our lighthouse that looks across the River Tyne at the old Roman fort of Arbeia. I sometimes have to be chased up to it of a morning from our perfectly acceptable kitchen table, but once I'm there I find it hard to leave till the middle of the night. I also have an office in Newcastle University that looks down on the big blank wall where we project poems for our text gallery, LIT. ('We' are the NCLA, or Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.)

I like to sit on the metro to and from work and scribble into notebooks or onto an iPhone: twenty minutes is a good meditative unit. Train journeys in general are helpful spaces for me. And I'm quite happy sitting in the backs of quiet pubs making a note or two. So that's like almost but not quite everywhere – I don't like to be noticed, but I don't mind other people being around.

2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer?)

I recycle printed sheets of A4 – turn them over to the blank side and attach them to a clip-board, date them, and off I go – work work, my work, shopping, travel times, whatever. I carry small notebooks in my pocket, a journal in my bag. Once something has been worked by hand it goes onto the screen, where it proliferates drafts on different computers I try to collate with a single memory stick, or uploads to various online storage options. Then it might go back to paper again, and back and forth. Some things, lighter work, usually starts spontaneously on screen, and then has to be copied out by hand. The only important rule is to keep it fluid, not to let it seem fixed too soon.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions)

All the time, really – either I'm teaching and administering for teaching, or I'm editing or introducing some project for the NCLA or working on a freelance project, or I'm translating or travelling to translate, or collaborating with a musician or an artist or fellow poets, or I'm writing in the interstices of the day and on my research day and on the days 'off' at the weekend and the holidays.

I take my time off throughout what I see as a constant working space, so I don't have much time for 9to5ers who think that I should be doing X by Y time, but the time off is often online networking anyway, which I regard as necessary play, blogging and tweeting and so forth to let off steam and test ideas out – not quite the same thing, but I attempt both in the same digital arena.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

During the working day I'm continually snatching at moments, but temperamentally I'm a night writer, and will sit with something into the small hours if I'm not exhausted. When I have carved out dedicated space, days or a week or two, I'll write from late morning onward (I'm a slow surfacer).

5. What does it feel like to write?

I wouldn't know, I'm not there: the words are, the possibilities are, but I'm only vaguely aware of myself as anything other than a territory in which this is happening, and even then it's usually to notice that I'm an inefficient retrieval system for some word or idea or book. (Having two libraries mean you're constantly leaving the thing you want in the other space.) I know what it feels like not to write, because the job will frequently step in the way, particularly of larger scale projects, which have to advance too slowly for my liking: sometimes it's a relief and sometimes it's a real frustration.

There's a rhythm to writing, a way of interacting with both the world and the imagination, and you have to fight quite hard to maintain it: I'm fairly passive, and quite resistant to my ego's ideas about how important it is, so I have to do a dance to keep everything ticking along in a manner I think is appropriate to my sense of duty to work and responsibility to myself and my family. The modernist Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid tried to write an epic called Mature Art and, in my opinion, failed magnificently. I'd like to think there was a way of living that was mature art – without the caps or anyone particularly noticing. I'm happy trying and quietly failing at that.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

It's always a little shaking of the perceptions and the preconceptions – a misprision of the world as we suppose it is inscribed. I see something from an odd angle and a possibility opens up. It can be a visual thing, for instance, I saw a white petal from an artificial flower lying in the gutter soaked by the rain, and couldn't tell what it was – ice or a scallop shell or a gull feather. It can be a conceptual thing, like realising that all the different kinds of poems I wrote – Scots, English; formal, free; page-bound, performance; home, travel; my own, translation – were all concerned with borders, so writing them became like responding to different muses. It can be a verbal thing – I read Burns' 'To a Mouse' and think about a chocolate mousse and realise there's a possible poem in the Burns stanza called 'To a Mousse'; then I sit in a Greek restaurant and understand there must be another poem called 'To a Moussaka'.

In many of these cases, the opening up of a possibility for a poem is the same thing as writing it – in some sense I've already begun. In some I realise it's someone else's poem. In others, I see I'm not in the right place yet, like I know there's something buried underground but I don't know where exactly and, besides, I left my spade in the other library.

7. What are you working on now?

I'm trying to finish two books: an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry from the last thirty years, which I'm editing and translating with two old friends, Yang Lian, one of the most prominent Chinese poets of the Menglong or 'Misty' generation, and his principle translator, Brian Holton. We're all still pals, somehow, though admittedly the book still isn't finished. It covers many of the principle figures from after the Cultural Revolution, through Tiananmen Square, and into the economic explosion of recent times. I was the inceptor, the one who said 'Wouldn't it be a good idea if…' and I'm also the 'finisher,' the one attempting to make these poems work in English, which sometimes means adjusting the tone slightly, and sometimes means going through them character by character in close dialogue with both Lian and Brian and, where possible, the author.

At the same time I'm completing my latest book, which is nearly there – when the title settles I'll know it's done. Like previous collections, it's a bit big, labyrinthine even – brevity isn't terseness; its music is a bit rough – perfection isn't finish; and it's a lot non-lyrical – those other muses tend to elbow Erato about. There's a thread of pilgrimage which goes through it: quite literally in the shape of a sequence of almost-Byronic nearly-Spenserians – if travel is a subject, quest is its theme. I'm writing about the nature of our encounters with places and people; because these are often encounters with poets and poetries, I'm trying to let a non-British, extra-European, ek-centric edge into the work. You'll tell me if it works.

*Bill Herbert
(WN Herbert)  is from Dundee, lives in an old lighthouse in North
Shields and teaches Creative Writing at Newcastle University. He is
mostly published by
Bloodaxe and is finishing a book of poems and an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry. 

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What makes writers tick – Roddy Lumsden answers IS&T's questions

Nine Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process and craft.

1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus or train journey that you find yourself and your writing? etc)

Somewhat geekily, in a moment of boredom, I recently made a log of where and when I wrote all the poems in my forthcoming collection. Most of the poems are marked B for Blackheath in South East London, where I've lived for the past five or six years. However, most of the book's last sequence was written during a writing trip to the West coast of the US last year. Some of the other notes read as follows: 'notes made at P School before young poets seminar', 'some written in Cambridge cafe', 'mostly written in notes on Carlisle Lane and Lower Marsh'. 'written in head on way and back to Costcutter'.

2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer? etc)

Mostly onto the screen, after making some notes, usually mental notes, but sometimes scribbled down on train tickets, scraps of paper. Occasionally, if out and about, I'll draft a poem on paper. The US sequence was written, mostly with no thought about line breaks, into a notebook while I was travelling.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions – give a daily average if possible)

Regular teaching: 6 hours per week during term time. Add about the same again for preparation and admin.
Irregular teaching (eg one-to-one private editorial work and freelance university teaching / marking): differs, but a few hours per week here and there.
Editorial work for Salt – in theory, one day per week but more or less hours as and when books are due.
Arranging and hosting of readings (my own BroadCast series and the new monthly Salt events): about 8-10 hours monthly.
Anthologising: currently at work on two anthologies due next year; hours fluctuate during such projects but certainly averages at quite a few hours per week over a period of nine months or so.
Reading poetry, for pleasure, but also to keep up with new books for teaching and editorial reasons: a few hours at least per week (often on trains).
Dealing with other emails / admin not mentioned above: few hours per week.
Travelling and giving readings: quite a bit of time when added up.
Writing and editing my own work: fluctuates but averages about four or five hours per week.
Daily average spent on all: about five or six hours each day, including weekends. I'd estimate less than half of it is paid work.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

Afternoon is most common though, being a night owl, afternoons are sort of my 'mornings'. During periods when I'm concentrating on my own writing (usually towards a book's completion), I'll often write for an hour or two in mid-afternoon, then another session early evening.

5. Do you set yourself a daily target for writing?

Never. Though, as with recently, when a book is being finished off, I make a list of things I might want to work on, add, finish off.

6. What does it feel like to write?

Two things come to mind – one is a struggle to feel as I did when I first wrote a lot in my teens and be true to what I wanted to do then (something which I think I let slip for a few years in the late 90s) – I mean aesthetic ideas rather than personal ambition. The other is to strive for the sort of better poem I feel I could write – if I screw my eyes shut, I can see the page and almost read the words. I sense that idea in a non-visual, non verbal way too, almost as an emotion, as a happy-sad yearning.

7. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

Reading poetry is the most common one. Travel does it, intermittently, especially a long walk. For the long title poem of my next book, I used a very specific stimulus a lot of the time which was very strong Belgian beer – just one bottle (I don't actually like it that much!), but it gives a real kick and a high which I find creative. It's a sort of diaristic poem and the narrator is an actor. I imagined him having a strong drink to wind down after the show and recording his thoughts, slightly giddy from the performance and the drink.

8. Do you work in silence or have background noise? If you do have sounds, what are you listening to now?

Generally silence, though I can write if there is noise, though preferably not music which I find more distracting than the noise of people, traffic etc.

9. What are you working on now?

Terrific Melancholy, my sixth collection, is all but finished and due in May. Too early to say what I might do next in my own work. I'm also working on two anthologies due next year: The Salt Book of Younger Poets (co-edited with Eloise Stonborough) presents some of the finest new poets born since the mid-80s. Meanwhile, Best British Poetry 2011 selects from all the poems printed in magazines, journals and ezines between mid 10 and mid 11.

 *Roddy Lumsden has
published five books of poetry. He lives in London and teaches for the
Poetry School. He is Commissioning Editor for Salt Publishing. Identity Parade, his anthology of recent UK / Irish poetry was published in 2010.

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What makes writers tick – Novelist Ashley Stokes answers IS&T's questions

Nine Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process and craft.

1.    Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus or train journey that you find yourself and your writing? etc)

My present flat has a spare bedroom that I use as an office. It’s nice and cramped. I’m all in favour of niches. I do most of my writing there and try to get to my desk as quickly as I can after I wake up. I will go out to write in cafes if I can, too. Somewhere with a bit of background chatter seems good for busking and sketching as well as editing and reading through work in progress.  


2.    How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer? etc)

It’s a bit of both. I usually write longhand notes about what I’m going to write before I ‘compose’ (bit of an up-itself word, I know), then write on the computer. I have to see the story and the paragraph before I write; otherwise the story will stall for me. I go over and over what I’ve already written in a story until I can’t make any changes then I push it on to a point in the narrative I’ve agreed with myself earlier. This is the practice I’ve developed over time. I’ve had other routines. They can always change and maybe it’s good that they do. I wrote Touching the Starfish that way but then I found that the two subsequent short stories wrote were largely written longhand in pencil. It was too cold in my then house to sit still in the morning and I found that it was more productive to get out and write somewhere else.


3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions – give a daily average if possible)

Ideally I like to write from between 7am and 10am everyday, especially if I’m writing a novel. I’ll continue this over the weekend if it’s not a very good weekend, if you know what I mean. There is a three-day rule, I think, that says it will take you three days of continuous practice for the prose to find its fluency but if you take a day off you will have to go through that three-day slog again to get back to where you were. The rest of my work is all Creative Writing-centered (editing and consultancy, teaching and marking). I probably spend about five hours a day on such things. Then another hour or two on promotion like writing my blog. I like to read a bound book for an hour a day at least as well. Probably, on average, we’re talking about eight or nine hours a day in the week but two or three at weekends.


3.    What time of day do you usually write?

The morning for fiction, the afternoon for reports and the evening for the blog, in the order of, as the song says, The Knight, The Devil and Death.


5. Do you set yourself a daily target for writing?

Not in terms of words, though I usually write between 250 and 1000 a day if I’m in the middle of something. I usually write to a stage in the sequence that I want to reach or I’ve reached a point where the words are no longer there for me.


6. What does it feel like to write?

It depends. Sometimes it feels exhilarating if you’re aware a passage is coming through as strongly as you imagined it and it’s causing me to experience it like I’d hope a reader would (like, laugh or cringe or feel fear or pity, rhythm or dazzle). It can feel great too when you realize you’re doing something that you couldn’t have done previously. Then again, sometimes there are stories that I call ‘grinders’ that seem a real trial to write, that don’t come together easily. Strangely, with the pieces or passages that I’m most happy, I can rarely remember afterwards how I wrote them, or the process of writing them or even how I got the idea for the approach. It’s a very future-orientated thing for me. I’m always thinking about what to write next, rather than dwelling on what I’ve done before.


7. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

A nice quiet morning and that feeling that you’re the only person awake or alive is useful. The odd mug of coffee helps, as does leaving the Internet alone until later in the day. If I do feel the need to refresh myself and just get myself putting one word in front of another, writing a diary to clear my mind of gripes is a decent filter, as is writing about randomly selected images. I always have a stack of art cards in my in-tray. I do also select passages from short stories at random and analyse how they work and why they are not useful to me in terms of what I am supposed to be doing. I do find though that most of my ‘ideas’ and realizations come when I’m doing something else (skulking around supermarkets; moping in the park; swimming). The writing is the transcribing and interrogation of these ideas.


8. Do you work in silence or have background noise? If you do have sounds, what are you listening to now?

I work in complete silence. Noise really distracts me and I will be forced to stop if I’m disturbed. I try to see the prose as music (I do mean ‘see’) so having something else interfere with that part of my mind causes me to lose the signal. In The Anatomy Lesson, Philip Roth says that he can’t write if there’s a cat in the room. I think that’s perfectly reasonable. I find it a bit hard to write when there’s a cat in the room. There was a cat in the room once upon a time and I found it a bit hard to write sometimes. I might listen to something low-key and instrumental if I’m writing the blog or editing, things like Brian Eno or Harold Budd.


9. What are you working on now?

As well as writing SubGrubStreet, which is a sort of sequel to Touching the Starfish told in blog form, I’m just finishing a collection of stories called The Syllabus of Errors that will be published by Unthank Books next year. I’ve never spent quite so long on shorts before, having now written ten stories in the three years since I finished the novel. I’ll probably write a couple of very short ones before starting a new novel and a book of essays about writing next year. There’s always a stack of things that are going to need your full attention at some as yet undetermined point. It’s a bit like knowing you’ve got something wrong with you but putting off the visit to the doctor, all the while knowing that soon you’re going to have to sit in the waiting room with the throbbing and the sweats.


*Ashley Stokes' debut novel Touching the Starfish is published by Unthank Books.

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What makes writers tick – Michelle McGrane answers IS&T's questions

Nine Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process and craft.

1.Where do you write?

My study is east facing, so in the morning the sun pours through the window. On the sapele mahogany desk there's a laptop and printer and a vase filled with pens and, in one corner of the room, there's a Victorian hatstand. The walls are lined with bookcases. I work best in an uncluttered space, so I try to keep the stacks of notes and reference books to a minimum, but they sprout overnight.


2.How do you write?

I write drafts in longhand until I have an idea of where the poem is going and what form it's taking, then I transfer it onto my laptop where I carry on drafting and editing.


3.Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities?

It varies from week to week. If I'm working on a poem, I might spend a couple of hours a day on it. Comparatively, submissions don't take much time. I find blogging time-consuming, but reading and sharing the poetry submitted to Peony Moon (http://peonymoon.wordpress.com) is rewarding. And, most evenings, I spend three to four hours reading poetry and fiction.


4.What time of day do you usually write?

I work full-time, so I write in the evenings; on weekends, I write in the mornings.


5.Do you set yourself a daily target for writing?

No, I don't find it difficult to set aside time when I'm engaged with a poem.


6.What does it feel like to write?
I've very little awareness of time passing and of what is going on around me.

7.Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

Fine art. Films. Postcards. Stories. Newspaper articles. Prompts. An overheard phrase. A line from a song.


8.Do you work in silence or have background noise?

I work in silence, although on weekends it's punctuated by bird calls: grey loeries, hadedas, owls, robins, sparrows, weavers. We've a wide variety of birds in our environs all year round.


9. What are you working on now?

My manuscript, The Suitable Girl, was finalised a couple of months ago, so I'm working on some new poems.




* Michelle McGrane's collection, The Suitable Girl, is forthcoming in the United Kingdom towards the end of 2010. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and blogs at Peony Moon

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