She now spends practically every waking hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in imaginary pasts or parallel worlds. Her particular obsession is Elizabethan England, so it helps that she now lives in a city full of medieval and Tudor buildings where the cattle browse on the common land much as they did in Shakespeare’s London.
Pride of place goes to a big office-sized desk with shelves at the back (it’s half as big again as the main section shown in the photo). I’ve had it for several years – do they still build desks with CD towers? – and I don’t think I could manage without it. I don’t do a lot of my actual writing at this desk, perhaps because I’m stuck at a desk all day for my day-job, but it’s my “control centre” for the business side of being an author: sending emails, managing my website, that kind of thing. I also compile the final versions of drafts in Scrivener on my Mac Mini, for sending to editors and reviewers.
(And yes, those two Playmobil ships are mine. This past year I’ve been working on the second instalment in the Night’s Masque trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams, and there are ship scenes and pirate attacks in the novel. The black domino mask hanging from the shelf is from a research trip to Venice for the same book.)
Just out of shot to the left of the desk is my calendar, where I keep track of deadlines; in December 2011/January 2012, I used it to plan my editing schedule (one chapter every two days) and log my progress, to keep myself motivated. I also have a whiteboard and a cork-board: I didn’t photograph the latter as it’s generally where I plan upcoming work so I like to keep it Top Secret…
As you can see from my desk I’m a bit of a Mac addict. I have a desktop Mac, a MacBook Air, an iPad and an iPhone, all of which get used for writing to some extent. The vast majority of my fiction gets written on the Air and the iPad – I have a bluetooth keyboard for the latter, which effectively turns it into a small, robust laptop with an impressive battery life. I use the Notebooks app on my iPad and sync that via Dropbox to Scrivener on my laptop. I’ve been using Scrivener for over five years now and I have to say it’s the best piece of writing software ever created. It makes organising a complex, multiple PoV novel a breeze – something that came in particularly handy when I got a request from an editor (to whom I’d sent sample chapters and a synopsis) to revise my manuscript before sending it in. That same editor went on to sign me for a three-book deal, and whilst I can’t credit Scrivener with making that happen, it helped me to turn the revision around quickly which must have helped.
It’s not all high-tech, of course. I still like to do my initial brainstorming in a paper notebook, and I have shelves of reference books that I wouldn’t be without. Dictionaries and the like sit close at hand in a small bookcase next to my desk, but the main bookcase (pictured) is in the opposite corner. The top shelf is filled with some of the many how-to-write books I’ve collected over the years – so many that I did a monthly giveaway on my blog last year – whilst the second one down holds non-fiction on the Elizabethan period, the setting for my current trilogy. My favourite reference book is probably The A-Z of Elizabethan London, an annotated reprint of a late sixteenth century map of the city. It’s been indispensable in writing the London-based scenes of my books, allowing me to plot my characters’ movements around the streets in detail.
No account of my writing environment would be complete without a mention of my frequent companion, Madeline the Burmese cat. Unfortunately her favourite place in cold weather is underneath my laptop (because it’s warmer there), which does not make for comfortable typing! I suppose I should be glad she doesn’t try to sit on my keyboard…
THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS
Released March 27th 2012, Angry Robot
Night’s Masque is a trilogy of fantasy novels set in 16th-century Europe, following the adventures of swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn.
The Alchemist of Souls
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods—and a skrayling ambassador—to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally—and Mal his soul.