As a freelance TV quiz question-writer and verifier, I spend hours at my desk working on my computer. The job gives me endless inspiration for stories. In particular, researching Specialist Subjects for Mastermind regularly throws up settings and characters, and so many ‘what-ifs’. My desk and the shelves that tower above it are a busy space – books, spreadsheets, invoices and too many post-it notes covered with randomly scribbled facts.
When I write fiction I need to be in a different place. So, I head for the kitchen.
My kitchen table is a sturdy wooden desk rescued from a school that was being refurbished. After clearing it of breakfast clutter, smears of marmalade and spills of milk, I create my writing space. A pile of drafted chapters, notebooks full of character profiles and timelines and as my work-in-progress is a historical novel, a small stack of reference books. A sheaf of scrap paper (old printouts of quiz questions) for if I want to write longhand and my laptop if I want to type. Propped up nearby is my ‘characters and places’ pinboard. (Yes, that is Maxine Peake, she would be perfect in the film of the book).
I wrote my debut novel The Companion listening to the album ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ by Richard Hawley, on a loop. Every time it started to play it threw me straight into my novel and kept me there. This time round its ‘Kveikur’ by Sigur Rós – the sweeping melodies and ethereal vocals make me switch off from everything else and I’m able to focus on my writing.
I write in long unedited splurges, either scribbling longhand or tapping frantically at my keyboard, my fingers unable to keep up with my thoughts and every other word spelled wrongly. I do my first edit as I type up my scrawl, or while I’m correcting my mangled typing.
The weather ensures that the view from my window never stays the same for too long. From where I sit, I can see the nearby hills. Just another thousand words, I tell myself, and I can go for a run. I live in a South Pennines valley that is rich with history, thick with woodland and topped with windswept moors. It’s a landscape that has inspired and enriched my writing. Running through the woods or picking my way along sheep-trods across the moor, I am able to put my writing into perspective, often untangling knotty plotlines, getting insight into my characters and developing new ideas.