Virginia Wolfe longed for a room of her own and a £100 a week/month. As a 21st century writer and mum these things are essential still a consideration, but not so much as time of one’s own. With all the pressures of work and family responsibilities squashing me into a warped distortion of what I would be if I lead a life of leisure, we just had a little more time I think time to one’s self is the essential thing any writer needs. I have choices along the lines of: write at 2 am or zombify the kids with a DVD or a new game for the tablet, abandon all those essential tasks like cooking/cleaning/marking (I’m a teacher in my other life). I know these are not the best mothering/living/teaching techniques but when deadlines are drawing in, and then emergency measures must be taken!
Then there’s the silence. Ok, so headphones and instrumental music or songs I’ve heard so many times that I am not distracted by the lyrics will work most of the time, but there are moments when you just need silence to write in.
The space and the place are of no consequence (I perch in the corner of a room with a desk smaller than my laptop and work still gets done) but time and silence really are golden.
Cover by S. L. Johnson
by Graham Wynd
If you write noir then you know the murky streets where darkness and rain seem nigh on constant. When Monday rolls around it’s just another day and you face it with a hangover more often than not. The slug of whisky in your coffee is just enough to stop the shakes and the dame that rolls into your office looking too slinky for the daylight reminds you how you got into this state in the first place.
But she’s got that one thing you need: a story. That’s the real drug. You can sit at your battered Underwood—issued to all would-be noir writers at the inception of their careers—and open a vein as Red Smith suggests, but blood only gets you so far. You need a narrative to lasso your reader and drag them along behind you.
If you’re writing noir, you need atmosphere too. It helps if you have the kind of heart that’s heard “too many lies” because after all “one more tear won’t make no difference to the rain”. Your heart has to yearn for something it’s not likely to get, yet that goal has to be close enough to your grasp to make reaching for it irresistible. That’s what keeps the shadowy streets, rainy nights, cool dames and dangerous guys from slipping into cliché.
It helps if you have an ear for dialogue. You can go plain and hard, like the Continental Op, but once the bodies pile up you find yourself spitting out phrases like, “This damned burg’s getting to me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” You have to feel isolated, like you can’t trust anybody really, even if you need to relax once in a while. Every description reminds you that death lurks behind every transaction. The Op hears things like, “Polly De Voto is a good scout and anything she sells you is good, except maybe the bourbon. That always tastes a little bit like it had been drained off a corpse.”
If there isn’t the risk of death, the stakes aren’t high enough. Sit down and list your characters: figure out what they want and how they suffer and see where the lines cross. Make them doubt every step of the way—make them also think they’re the one who’ll get away with it, that they’re ahead of the game.
And make them suffer. Make them all suffer. Take another shot of whisky. You’re bleeding now.
A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Wynd’s novella of murder and obsessive love, EXTRICATE is out now from Fox Spirit Books; the print edition also includes the novella THROW THE BONES and a dozen short stories. See more stories (including free reads!) here.
Alec’s book ‘Emily Nation’ is officially released in paperback TODAY! Post apolcayptic Cornwall, an alcoholic assassin, a mysterious benefactor…
Now here is Alec with a Monday Method for you all.
I thought I’d start by summing up my writing environment in one neat little picture. In the background you can see what I like to call organised chaos, but what everyone else at work thinks of as an unholy mess. They’d probably be right, and if I had to submit a metaphorical picture of the inside of my brain, a big heap of bits of paper, probably teetering on the verge of falling over and crushing me to death, would about do it. I’m not the organised kind in anything that I do. You want a wedding planned for next June amidst the softly swaying trees of rural Pembrokeshire? Nope, can’t help you. Oh, the shit just hit the fan, the doves are attacking the guests, the priest is stuck at the bottom of a well, the venue (a busy roundabout) is on fire and you have to get married within the hour or you’ll turn back into an ornamental bedside lamp? Well hold on to your fucking petticoats, you’ve come to the right place…
I’ve got a full time job, two kids, three cats, a dog and more hobbies than I can shake a stick at, and I still find the time to write. That doesn’t make me special though, if you ever find yourself at a convention (try Edge Lit in Derby, tis a good ‘un) you’ll find out this is quite close to the norm. We all have our ways of getting it done, and this is mine. It’s all about controlling my environment, and the way I do that is really simple. I stay up really late when everyone else is sleeping, pour myself a huge brew the colour of Black Beard’s shaded parts, crank up the tunes to FUCK YOU, EARDRUMS! type levels and get typing. A lot of people can’t write to music; personally I find it’s best to avoid anything you’d normally sing along to, avoid rap as the music is heavily dependent on the words and, for preference, opt for a band with a vocalist whose indecipherable singing you can’t understand anyway. Keeps the distractions to a minimum, but you can still stop to shred an air-guitar solo every now and then. That’s a given. There’s no-one around, I can’t hear anything that I didn’t put there to be heard and the whole world is kept at arm’s length while I try and turn the internal chaos into something resembling a story.
Sometimes it actually works.