Today we welcome author and academic, Doctor Gillian Polack:
When Lee asked me about a post, I was full of ideas. They were practical and sensible ideas, for I am a practical and sensible person. I use butchers’ paper on the backs of doors to plan my fiction, for instance. This is a practical and sensible thing to do. I only do it for some novels, however, for not all of them require protection against demon infestation through the ritual application of arcane writing on portals. Currently, I’m writing something shorter and so all the paper on my doors are polite lists encouraging me to do work. Currently my flat is demon-infested. Not that this is relevant to this post, but it means that objects develop a life of their own.
I surround myself with small bits of paper in the hope that they will turn into fiction, too. They don’t. They turn into shopping lists. They turn into rude notes to myself. They turn into draft incantations against demon manifestations. They even turn into academic papers. My fiction, however, remains sublimely independent of small scraps of paper. Except that, like most things around me, this can change. I used small scraps of paper to move the history side of me to the fiction side of me for Langue[dot]doc 1305. I had a couple of hundred scraps containing key bits of detail (verified, awesome and not related at all to demon infestations, except one, where I’d found evidence that my time travellers may well have been considered as demonic by some upstanding citizens) and I put them in order the way I would for non-fiction and they magically transformed into telling detail in the novel and then equally magically disappeared into the recycling.
I like pens. I have so many pens it isn’t funny. I need at least three for each pile of scrap paper. Even if I don’t use them, I’m happy to have them round. I love their variety and the fact that they create colonies and occasionally mutate.
I use them for note taking and for editing, but not for writing. They’re part of my security blanket. They don’t write my novels, though. A computer is my main tool, and I can write anywhere. Right now, in fact, I’m writing during my evening break, which happens to be Sleepy Hollow. My viewing of choice explains why this post is haunted.
Music doesn’t work at all. Ever. Music makes me get up and dance, which is wonderful and stops my RSI getting worse, but it doesn’t get me writing. Except when it does.The Art of Effective Dreaming is full of folk songs and I’m positive that the text changes tone when I changed tunes. I’m also positive I drove two sets of neighbours to find new places to live simply by listening to my astonishing singing.
I do have systems, I do. I have comfort-objects and routines. The rub is that every novel has its own system. Ms Cellophane was partly influenced by a plague of ants, and also by a mirror I possess that was safely in my storeroom. Both ants and mirror were invoked, rather than being part of what I regularly do, which explains their quality in the novel.
So what do I do that’s not improvisational? What actually grounds me when I write?
I often start with a notebook to get the feel for a given novel into my mind and to keep it there. Because I write over a long period and other things keep intervening, I need a way to regain the mood of each novel. Other methods fail reliably. At one stage I tried collecting antiques, but I’m pretty positive this was just an excuse to collect antiques for a week (I ran out of money before I ran out of the desire for gilt cups), for that novel was never written. So I don’t buy antiques, but I do establish a memory keepsake, in the form of a notebook and I pretend to plan the novel in it. Instead of planning, what I do is mark the space with some words and imprint it on my mind that this is the mental space for that novel and this is the feel of that novel. For the tone and feel of my story, I need something I can pick up and that contains an infused memory. And, let me admit, I love notebooks.
After I’ve written a novel and contracted it, I use something to keep me on the straight and narrow: daruma dolls. My Japanese friends introduced them to me about the same time they introduced me to some of the rhymes and songs I used in The Art of Effective Dreaming, the ones that drove my neighbours away.
For every book contract I sign, I fill in one eye on a doll. For every published book, I fill in the other. Several dolls currently inhabit a shelf near my TV and each time I look they’re in a different position. The pink doll and the small red one are back to back right now, refusing to talk. The pink one thinks it’s superior, because its book is already out.
The most difficult bits of the whole writing process (besides sagging middles, which are something else entirely) are beginning the novel - moving from the props to the keyboard - and getting through the publishing process. I envy the beauty of others’ inspirational objects, but for me, the beginning and end are where I need..something. It’s like setting the table for a dinner party and washing the dishes after: they make the dinner party into a meal. Paper, pens, notebooks and daruma dolls, and the novel has the support it needs.
Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, historian and critic. Her most recent novels are The Art of Effective Dreaming (Satalyte, 2015), Langue[dot]doc 1305 (Satalyte, 2014) and Ms Cellophane (Momentum, 2012). Ms Cellophane (then called Life Through Cellophane) was shortlisted for a Ditmar. Her next book is non-fiction (The Middle Ages Unlocked, co-authored with Katrin Kania, Amberley). She has edited two anthologies and has seventen short stories published. One of her stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award and three more have been listed as recommended reading in the international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories.
Are you a creative artist? Fancy joining in and letting us know about that special item, object, location or cosmic state of being at the heart of your creative process? There's always room for another lunatic in the asylum: email me and make your most excited Horshack noise.