I have always written. I was born into a working-class family in London where my grandmother and mother were continually regaling me with romantic and tragic tales about the varied personalities in their past as well as in the present. Stories were the currency with which we so often communicated, so it was no surprise when I began weaving my own.
When my children were growing up they were used to the continual background sound of my typewriter keys clattering. So much so that my son told me he recently heard the sound of a typewriter on a radio play and it brought up warm fuzzy feelings associated with childhood. I suspect I neglected them in favour of the muse somewhat.
I have reinvented myself several times since those days, but writing has always been integral to my life. My writing routine now is different from the rigorous schedule I once set myself. Thirty years ago, when I first moved to Oxford, and before I trained as a psychotherapist, I had a rigid timetable. I wrote every day from breakfast until lunch and only allowed myself to socialise once my minimum of a thousand words had hit the page. I would often return to writing again in the evenings, and also maintained detailed daily journals. If I ever merit a biographer they’ll have an absolute field day with those.
Now I still sit down at my laptop in the mornings, usually to edit the previous day’s work before embarking on continuing where I left the narrative the day before. I’m usually as enthralled as I hope the reader will be to discover where the storyline leads me. It often comes as a surprise, though on retrospect is thoroughly explicable. My unconscious knows where it’s heading better than I do, and I trust it. After a late lunch, I hang up my writer’s hat and remind myself I’m entitled to knock off work early since I retired. And during the morning’s stint, I’m far more inclined to be distracted and to intersperse writing with things that help support my inspiration.
Who am I kidding? Playing with the cat (I should never have got those cat toys – he pesters me endlessly to join in); fiddling about with the pots in the garden; randomly exchanging witty memes on WhatsApp; gazing out at the sunshine wondering if I should go for a walk earlier rather than later; doing yet another Sudoku while drinking yet another cup of tea… inspiration or avoidance? You choose.
But I do stick at it. The muse whips me back into line if I ignore her, and once I’ve started something I have to finish it. I have what some might consider a weird kind of process. I begin with an idea that is barely more than a sentence long. It might even be a thought I speak aloud to a friend. But then it niggles and goes on niggling until apparently haphazard sentences begin forming in my mind – possibly internal dialogue, possibly words spoken by a character as yet unknown. Gradually, from that zygote grows an embryo that will eventually become a novel.
I always intend to make a proper plan, but that doesn’t really happen – or at least, not on paper. I see the whole thing in a nebulous form in my mind. I know what hero’s journey will have taken place when A reaches Z, and I trust that all points in between will eventually lead there, simply by the inevitable progression of cause and effect. I hardly know the characters initially, except as wraiths who become less cloudy as they speak to me individually or interact with one another. I rarely begin actually writing until they are real to me. This can take weeks or months. Once I understand them they are on a trajectory of their own making. I don’t always like all of them, but I do love them. They are so tragically flawed. I like that in a person. I write about what’s real.
I live alone, apart from my cat, so a degree of social interaction is vital to me, despite being an introvert. So when I’m not writing I’m usually hanging out with one of my friends, none of whom are writers, which is a relief. I see their eyes glaze over if I start to talk about my current work in progress, which is always a useful reminder that the world in my head is not as real or important to anyone else as it is to me. They are also a fabulous source of material, and I wonder how many of them realise when their eyes drift over the notice hanging in my hall just how true it is.
I’m in the last stage of editing before publishing Strange Eventful History, the final book of my trilogy, Written in Water. It’s been a hero’s journey for me as well as my characters, and I’ve revisited much of my own history while writing it. Every book feels like my last book, and I am aware there will be a period of mourning once I let this one fly the nest. And will the muse come pestering me again in a little while? I’ll have to wait and see. I tend to get bored when I’m not writing regularly. I once likened it to a mental process akin to having a daily bowel movement. I hope that’s not too graphic an image to leave with you. I told you I like to keep it real.
Author Website: http://www.lesleyhayes.co.uk
At my stage in life nothing’s too graphic 😂 A really fascinating and enjoyable glimpse into your world although I suspect there is a cheekier side you’ve omitted. Brightened my day as I’m working from my home office looking statistics for the last 2 hours prepping for an online meeting. Stay safe, big hugs to all 🤗☘️🎈
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A lovely insight into the life of one of our finest indie authors.
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Nice to get to know you better Lesley and it’s comforting to know there are other writers out there who also write with little idea of where a story is going – the characters tell you as they come to life. Stay safe.