A Way with Words: Charlotte Grimshawby Charlotte Grimshaw
Charlotte Grimshaw describes her writing day.
My mind works in an opportunistic way. Everything is a source of detail that I can use in fiction. Recently, I did a schools visit in Marlborough, which I don’t normally do, and to my surprise, I loved it. Some of the children were so impressive: imaginative, intelligent, thoughtful. I told them writing is good for morale, because every experience is useful. Even if something’s terrible or a disappointment, there’s a positive side: it’s material.
I got more interested in the process of creating fiction when I realised I have very little memory of writing my books. When I was asked how I came up with the most suspenseful passages in my latest novel, Starlight Peninsula, I found I was inventing a memory of writing in order to answer the question. What I do is work myself into a particular state, and the more intensely I’m focused, the less I recall it afterwards.
And yet I have every detail of my novels and short stories mapped in my head. I know exactly how they are connected, and continually think about what I can invent next.
The novel I’m working on now is called “Mazarine”. It’s not so much a sequel to Starlight Peninsula as a new twist; I hope it’s an ingenious one. It’s set in Auckland, London, Paris and Buenos Aires, and you could say it’s a psychological literary thriller, a story about the divided self in a divided world, and even a meditation on the psychology of writing fiction.
I stick to a routine that gets me into the required state of mind. I usually go to a cafe with Paul, and I have exactly the same breakfast every day wherever I am in the world: I call it the Wittgenstein. It’s two large coffees, toast and tomatoes.
In Auckland, I walk my dog Philip around Hobson Bay. It’s when I’m walking through the mangroves at the bay, which is my turangawaewae, that I come up with ideas: a plot development, a character, a way to approach a review or essay.
It suits me best to be alone all day, until the family come home in the evening. I go to work on the fiction, fuelled by a lot of coffee. Philip lies under the desk while I work, and only comes raging out if there’s someone at the door. He’s a terrific guard dog.
In the afternoon, I spend a strenuous hour at the gym. Since I’m rather hyperactive, part of my writing formula involves exhausting myself each day. I still haven’t worked out how to tone down this regime.
Most evenings I don’t drink wine, so I can read for a couple of hours with a clear head. On evenings when Paul and I have some wine, if we’re not out somewhere we watch a film, or a TV series on Netflix. Sometimes I wake up at 2am with an idea, and have to write it down – this is usually a sign the fiction is going well.
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