Today, I’m delighted to feature a guest post from Matthew Harffy. Matthew has published, to great acclaim, two novels in his series The Bernicia Chronicles: The Serpent Sword and The Cross and the Curse. The third book: Blood and Blade will be published on 1 December with further volumes in the spring and summer.
I really enjoy his novels, they’re some of the best I’ve read so I was really pleased that he is able to tell us where he writes.
When Martin Lake asked me to write a blog post about where I write I chuckled to myself. You see I don’t write in any one place. When I started writing my first novel, The Serpent Sword, I wrote on my trusty desktop PC at home, but once I got seriously into the novel I quickly realized a laptop was essential. Being mobile meant I could write anywhere, even if I only had a few minutes free. My daughters were young and attended lots of clubs. There was Taekwondo, brass band practices and dance classes, and then of course there were the all-too-frequent birthday parties, often in echoey warehouse soft play centres (and if you have never been to a soft play centre on a rainy day during the school holidays, consider yourself lucky to have escaped that particular screaming-child-infested circle of hell). On each of these occasions I would find myself reading a book or perhaps chatting to other parents who were in the same situation as me, waiting for their children to finish and to ferry them to the next event. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy talking to the other parents, but after a while there was only so much small talk with practical strangers I could manage. I worked out that if I used all of the hours every week when I was waiting for my kids to finish things, I could make progress on the novel that had been bouncing around inside my head for so many years.
So I bought a laptop and set about writing whenever I had thirty minutes or an hour spare. Many writers say they need absolute silence to write. I am not one of those writers. However I do need to be able to blank out distractions. To this end, I plug in my earphones and I listen to classical music, film soundtracks or even nature sounds, such as thunderstorms, rain or waves on a beach, basically anything that allows me to focus fully on the blank page before me. I can’t really get in the zone with music with lyrics, as the words tend to distract me.
Using this technique of focusing quickly and writing in short bursts, I have now written four novels and a novella in many diverse places. I wrote most of The Serpent Sword sitting in the back of my car parked outside village halls while the sounds of slightly out of tune instruments wafted on the breeze, or perched on the benches at the edge of noisy gymnasiums whilst my daughters practised kicks and punches of a Korean martial art.
As my writing became more serious, I took to writing more frequently and therefore in more places. From memory I have written parts of the Bernicia Chronicles on trains, in my car, hotel rooms and airport departure lounges in India and Israel, planes, libraries, on my kitchen table, in my spare bedroom (which is where I do most of my writing when at home), in my living room, in bed, and probably in a few other places I have forgotten.
I think I’m lucky to be able to focus quickly and to get words down on the page with minimal fuss. But I wonder if this necessity to write in small windows of time hasn’t actually helped condition me to write quickly. As I know that I will often have to concentrate my work into short bursts of energy, I try to map out my novels in advance. I break down the plot into chapters and each chapter into scenes. This means the when I sit down to write, even if only have forty-five minutes, I know what I need to be writing next. I read what I wrote last time, making small changes and edits as I go, and then I get straight into the next scene or the continuation of the one that I had left unfinished.
So, I suppose the answer to Martin’s question of “where do you write?” is really, “on my laptop”! Where my laptop is, isn’t all that important.
Image copyright attribution:
All photos copyright Matthew Harffy, except “Practicioner breaking board with side kick in Taekwondo promotion test” which is in the Public Domain.
Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, is due for publication in December 2016.
Blood and Blade, Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are all available for pre-order on Amazon and all good online bookstores.