I started this series in November with a short post saying where and how I write. Since then I’ve been able to post fascinating pieces by Matthew Harffy, Giles Kristian, Stephen Carver and Carol McGrath. They give marvellous insights into where and how authors produce their books.
Today, I’m delighted to give the stage to my friend Prue Batten. Over to Prue.
Where I write…
I recently read Carol McGrath’s contribution to Martin’s blog and her opening words were resonant. Essentially she asked if a writing retreat was a physical space or a state of mind.
I thought long about this. I’ve never been to what is called a ‘writer’s retreat’ and have no inclination to do so because knowing me, my creative juices would dry up quicker than a drought-affected waterhole and my self-discipline, or lack thereof, would have me going for self-indulgent walks, drives, swims and so forth. So maybe for me, it’s all a state of mind.
I’m a mobile writer – a necessity caused by lifestyle. I live in Tasmania, the unique island state that is part of Australia. My husband and I travel between a coastal cottage with a large garden and a small townhouse in Hobart. Mostly we live at the cottage, but there are times when city life impinges and we need to stay in town, accomplishing that which keeps our business turning.
I write in the city of course – just one or two hundred words.
Some editing as well but nothing huge, nothing remarkable. However, I do an awful lot of fact checking, pulling books off shelves, using post-its to mark paragraphs of interest.
Because the coastal cottage is tiny, we have little storage and so all my writing world is stored on the city bookshelves, in the ‘cloud’, on USB’s and kindle and in my section of the city office. I’ve known nothing but that nomadic life and with ten novels published and the eleventh well on the way, it’s a lifestyle that works for me.
The cottage’s location is beautiful.
It sits twenty minutes opposite the former colonial penal settlement of Maria Island and is surrounded by water that vacillates between turquoise and aquamarine. It has beaches with powdery sands that squeak as one walks. It has a temperate climate, a lot of blue sky and a sea that stretches in part to New Zealand and then further to South America in one direction, then Africa in another, with Antarctica to the south. It’s a gem…
It fires something in my blood so that when I take myself into my writing state, words flow from my innermost being and I find that I see into my characters’ souls with more clarity than when root-bound in the city.
Through all my books, the revelation of heart and soul is the life-blood that flows through the pages. I write character-driven historical fiction and historical fantasy so my characters need to ‘feel’. I can sit with the sound of wave, wind and seabird floating on the air and recall my own experiences of an active life, of my emotions during watershed events, and I can relate that to my characters and their historic settings without fear or favour.
The cottage itself is filled with cream, blue and taupe colours – the calming colours of the coast – and they too have the effect of pressing the starter motor of my writing state.
Outside, in summer, the garden against the house wall is filled with blue and white agapanthus and my seat looks across to a border of essentially white perennials. Along with the sea, the ornamental and productive gardens are my other escape, where my mind works unconsciously through narrative glitches and character gaps. Perhaps the archtypical ‘writing retreat’. Who’d have thought?
I write with pen and paper – every one of my ten and a half novels – with blue Bic pens and standard recycled A4 pads from the city office-supply shop. I usually go through 3-4 pads and perhaps 2 pens per book.
I have a file folio which travels with me and at the end of writing, it will be shelved in the office with all the facts therein, to be available should any further novel require similar research. For example, the first book in the trilogy of The Triptych Chronicle – Tobias (a semi-finalist in the M.M.Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction and also a semi-finalist in the Chanticleer Chaucer Awards and an Indie B.R.A.G gold medal bearer) takes place in Constantinople. The final book in the trilogy, Michael, also takes place in that august city so there is a complete cross-over in research.
I’m also lucky to have a friends in the UK, Turkey and France who have gone above and beyond the bounds of friendship in researching for me. Tasmania is a long and expensive distance from the settings for my narratives and one never knows from one book to the next where a new plot will take one. I can tell you, no words will ever express my gratitude to those friends.
Each few thousand words (which I have edited with pen and which are cross-hatched and scribbled upon with arrows pointing over to the backside of the page) I transcribe to word document on the Macbook Air, backing up to the ‘cloud’ and to a hard-drive as I go.
All is done to the continued music of seawinds, bush and seabirds and the occasional crash of waves, but more likely the wind-brushed sigh of wash along the shore.
I belong to no creative writing group, relying on interaction online with readers and writers and specialist interest groups. My editor is in England, my formatter in Scotland, my beta readers in Turkey and the USA and my creative designer here in Tasmania. Nothing is beyond the realms of possibility in this global state in which we live.
My writing retreat, my writing state – call it what you will – is perhaps not unique. Thousands of writers through time have sequestered themselves in remote areas to follow their hearts. I do think though, that Tasmania is just that little bit special in being geographically isolated. One can truly switch off from the world’s intensive peregrinations.
Thanks so much, Martin, for allowing me to rattle on about my beautiful island and for making realise, yet again, how lucky I am.
For more information about award-winning writer, Prue Batten, go to:
Thank you so much for this beguiling piece, Prue. I really appreciate it and enjoyed it
You’ll be pleased to know that a number of writers have written about where they write and these will be featured over the coming months. I’m delighted to have contributions from Annie Whitehead, Edward Ruadh Butler, Jerry Autieri, Robyn Young, Erin Johnson, Simon Turney and Colin Falconer and that’s just for starters.