Whenever I meet someone who does a job I’ve never encountered before, I’m always fascinated by the details of their work. What do you actually do in the day? I might ask as they back anxiously away from me in the post office. Where do you spend most of your time? What are your colleagues like?
People are often surprised when they ask me the same questions. The life of a writer is thought to be glamorous – filled with champagne launch parties, glamorous book signings and hours sifting through adoring fan-mail. This is all true, of course. (Hmm…) But as any author will attest, there’s a lot more going on too.
I thought I’d take you through an average day in my life when I was writing Sky Thieves. Hopefully in the process I’ll give you some kind of insight into the life of a writer, and some kind of idea about my inspiration for Zoya and the gang.
So, without further ado…
My alarm goes off this time every day. I tend to wake early anyway, (the curse of a pinball mind,) so this is the time for me to drag myself out of bed and switch off the alarm. I struggle to read as much as I used to, so I like to start my day with half an hour’s reading. At the minute, this is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
I love food. Always have. (Ask my aunt, who used to have to cook extra food for our Sunday roasts to ensure there was enough for my three plates.) So breakfast is one of my three favourite times of the day. A hot breakfast’s best, so I quickly scramble some eggs and head to my computer to read the news, check my favourite websites, etc.
I’ve been writing for over a decade, but every day, before starting work, I get this weird little gnawing feeling in the back of my stomach telling me I’m not going to be able to think of anything to write. I’ve got better at ignoring this over the years, but it still catches me every day.
Having dealt with my crisis of confidence, I start writing. I wrote Sky Thieves at a wooden corner desk, with my big screen and plenty of empty mugs strewn about to make me feel writerly. I tend to write one chapter in the morning and one in the afternoon, each around 1200 words. Once the first is complete, I rewrite it immediately, smoothing out the rough edges so I don’t have to see them again. No music, unless its instrumental. I’m easily distracted by lyrics, so it’s Final Fantasy soundtracks, Chopin, Bach, Holst and pretty much any movie soundtrack.
After finishing my first chapter, I head out for a walk. There are three main reasons for this. First, having sat in the same position for two and a half hours, moving is the only thing that stops me turning to stone. Secondly, a break between my first and second chapters allows my brain to refresh. Thirdly, the walk gives me time to read. This last is the most important. A few years ago, I found Audible and have been addicted ever since. Inspiration for Sky Thieves included Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Lunchtime. While I’m eating, I like to watch a little TV. I take inspiration from a lot of places, and the ideas for Sky Thieves came as much from television programmes and games as they did from books. The Battlestar Galactica reboot stands out as a particular influence. Something about the lone crew braving the frontiers of space while stranded on a ship really echoes the story of Zoya and the crew of the Dragonfly.
Once I’ve done the washing up, (yes Mrs Walker!) it’s time to start writing my second chapter of the day. The second chapter’s always harder than the first, as my brain is starting to get tired by this point. The setup is the same, though – 1,200 words, then a rewrite.
It’s no secret that creative types in the twenty-first century have to spend a good portion of their time doing admin work – reading and writing emails, updating websites, fielding phone calls, posting to social media. I spend an hour or so every day keeping on top of this. It’s like climbing Everest.
By this time, my mind has turned to jelly and is no longer capable of cogent thought. (If anyone ever points out any inconsistencies in Sky Thieves, I’d bet one of these new pound coins that section was written towards the end of the day.) When I’m done, I like to play some video games. Games have been an enormous influence on my creative mind for a long time, and it never ceases to amaze me the great work going into this medium. Japanese games in particular present an utterly alien fantasy to the ‘elves and trolls’ fantasy we know in the west. There would be no Sky Thieves without them.
Dinner. A chance for Mrs Walker and I to talk over our days. (Or more accurately, for me to spend half an hour telling Mrs Walker the latest of what’s happened in my story and for her to nod patiently saying ‘ahuh,’ and ‘mmm’ while her eyes glaze over.) We’re both lucky enough to work from home, but tend to avoid each other during office hours as I’m easily distracted. Much to Mrs Walker’s relief, I’m sure.
We often finish the night by watching a movie. My short attention span means we watch these in parts. I find movies fascinating, as the storytellers have to cram entire story-arcs into two hours, (unless you’re Peter Jackson,) and often make notes on what I’m seeing. Sky Thieves owes a debt to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, the Star Wars films, the Japanese fantasy of Studio Ghibli and the movies of Disney and Pixar.
Bed. I like to read for the last half an hour of the day, partially so I can refill the ideas bank in my brain, and partially to wind down ready for sleep. Sometimes half-an-hour turns into an hour, but that’s never a bad thing. Eventually, though, the time comes to turn out the light. Then it’s off to the land of dreams, ready for another day of stories.