This is a weekly series of guest posts on How Writers Work. This week YA author and television script writer Fiona Wood gives us an insight into her writing life.
How did you get your first book published?
‘Six Impossible Things’ is my first book. Lovely Simmone Howell (Notes from the teenage underground, Everything Beautiful) – with whom I’d worked on the television show The Secret Life of Us – read the manuscript and thought that her publisher, Pan Macmillan, might like it, so I sent it to them. They loved Dan, the protagonist, but had a few reservations about which they gave me some feedback. They said they’d like to see the next draft, which took me a year to get back to them, and that’s when they offered me a contract. It took a long time to write the book, and I was doing other work, too. I thought at the outset that because I’d studied English, and because I’d always been an avid reader, and because I’d spend ten years writing television – grappling with narrative, character, dialogue – that writing a novel might be something I could do, but until you actually do it you just can’t comprehend the scope of the job. For me, the only way to learn how to write a book was by writing a book, and then rewriting and rewriting and rewriting.
What is your writing routine?
I write at least five days a week. I seem to need to faff about and read and drink coffee and settle before I get down to writing some words. If there is a period of more than a few days during which I don’t write, I get a horrible sense of building oppression, as though something is really wrong. I can only turn that off when I’m away on holiday, but even then things are ticking away in the background. I’m sure writing looks like the slackest job ever from the outside, but you never really clock off – even when you’re asleep – so it’s both amazingly flexible and yet all-consuming at the same time.
Picture of desk.
I’ve crammed a few things into this picture that are in my office, but that don’t live together in such close proximity, so I can show you. First is the picture of Eric, Shaun Tan’s character, who is my faithful writing companion. He is the first thing I packed both times I went to Varuna. He is always with me when I write. There are pens and pencils and an external hard-drive and some flash drives. I am a manic backer-upper, possibly because I started writing in TV where you cannot afford to lose any work, because of tight deadlines. When I’m writing a script, I back up two or three times a day. When I’m writing a manuscript, just once at the end of each day. There are some books, and some random beautiful things to look at – some photos; postcards from museums – from Jacopo Pontormo to Barbara Kruker to Paul Klee – I like having lots to hand, so I can have a refreshing stare; a mottled upsidedown glass with the cheese monster on top; a wooden hand; my rabbit with a shadow. To the right of the computer there are a few things that are my favourite colour, which is a soft indigo – blue-y violet, or a violet-y blue, if I see a diary or notebook or folder in that colour I usually have to buy it. There’s a glass dish of coral pieces that I collected long ago, before we knew about Never Taking Stuff Home From Beaches. I have my screen up higher than the keyboard in an attempt to help my back (that wastepaper bin is weighted inside with a container of marbles), and I still use a sentimental mouse from a purple mac I had many years ago.
What are you working on at the moment?
My wip, another YA novel, is about love that goes wrong, and friendship that goes right. I’ve been working on it for a while and have done quite a lot of writing that I’ve thrown out. For me, it’s not always possible to know in theory what the best approach is. I need to put something on paper and take a good look at it to work out if it’s where I want to go, or not. I think I’m heading in the right direction now, but I do spend a lot of time in the horrible chasm between what I imagine and my ability to give that fair representation on the page. If you didn’t enjoy that struggle, if you didn’t find it addictive, you’d never choose to be a writer. And when you get to points at which the chasm seems to be closing, it is very satisfying.