Where the magic happens for Paula Weston

So the next time I’m in Brisbane I’m going to CORNER this lady – she is bloody lovely. Aside from that obvious attraction, I’m hoping some of her writing attributes might rub off on me. She is highly organised, uses time wisely, can juggle many balls, and I wouldn’t mind examining her brain for the component that helps her plot at long range: book FOUR in the Rephaim Series came out on Wednesday – BURN. In addition to talking about how and where she writes today, I also asked Paula Weston to talk a bit more about that – saying goodbye to the series. She said yes! Hurray! (On the proviso that I never come to Brisbane … ahem. However, if you’re up there, and want some of her magic, she’s doing events and signings in June and July – more info on the sidebar of her website, here.) Enough from me – happy Friday. 


When I first started writing waaay back in the 1990s, I had a giant PC that took up half a desk and a dot matrix printer that took up the other half, all squeezed into our tiny spare room. I’d have notebooks and reference books scattered all over the floor (in the early days I was writing a lot of stuff inspired by historical events) and reams of print-outs stacked under the window.

386 computer2

dot-matrix2

(Not my actual old computer and printer, but you get the idea)

These days I use a laptop and have a choice of spaces: my study, the dining room table, or a stable table/recliner combo (listed in reverse order of frequency of use!)

Because novel writing isn’t the only work I do at home (I also have a freelance writing business), I generally like to keep each type of work to its own space.

I do most of my business-related work at the dining room table but will occasionally take it into the office if I’m working on something that requires extra concentration.

Even though my study is a very ‘booky’ space, I prefer the living area (where both the dining table and recliner live) because there’s so much light and sky in that part of the house and I don’t feel like I’m totally isolated from my hubby (he has his office space in the living area too).

The majority of all the Rephaim books were written on the stable table in the recliner, often with AFL playing in the background during footy season, or a cooking show in the off-season.

Are you someone who has to be in the same bat place at the same bat time, or do you prefer to free range?

Because I’m back working a full-time day job on top of everything else, I don’t have the luxury of a set time to write, so I’ll take whatever time and place I can get. Having said that, I do find the words flow better when I’m in the recliner, my hound is asleep close by and the TV is on softly in front of me. Oh, and a glass of red also helps (only in the evening of course!).

Recliner

My writing has always had to fit in around some sort of day job. I was working full-time and building the freelance business when I wrote Shadows (and working full-time for many years before that while writing the unpublished manuscripts that preceded the Rephaim series). Even when I took the plunge and worked full-time for three years on the freelance business, my writing still often came second because the business deadlines were (mostly) much tighter than my publishing ones.

What I have found though, is that because I can’t find time to write during the week, I’m absolutely busting to get at it by the weekend. The week gives me plenty of time to chew on ideas about character and plot while driving, eating lunch and (yes) occasionally in meetings when I should be concentrating. My day job involves a lot of left-brain work, and I’ve come to realise that when that side is busy, the right side has time and space to play. Often by the time the weekend arrives I’ll have at least half a scene scrambling to get onto the page, so I tend to hit the ground (keyboard) running.

If these walls could talk …

They would be appalled at the amount of swearing. And they’d be sick of hearing me say: ‘Right, that’s it. This week, no alcohol, no sugar and more exercise!’.

Any books that you keep there that have special significance to you as a reader, writer, or person?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My first editor (Alison Arnold at Text Publishing), recommended this to me the first time we met, after we’d gone through edit notes for Shadows. That same day, my sister-in-law took me to Carlton (I was visiting from Brisbane) and I bought it from Readings. I vividly remember sitting outside the store, flicking through the book on what was a cool, sunny Melbourne day and thinking…shit, I’m a real writer now. We also stopped off at Brunetti’s in Fitzroy, and I grabbed a postcard that’s still one of many place markers in that book.

Bird by bird

I go back to this book often, because Anne Lamott offers up so much heart, warmth, humour and wisdom about what is it to be a writer and why we write. Whenever I feel a bit lost in my story-telling, I only need to see that cover I’m immediately overwhelmed with the desire to be a better writer. Reading it is like going back to the well.

The Arrival

From a reader perspective, I love Sean Tan’s The Arrival (such a beautiful, tactile book, and a reminder that great stories can be told without words). I touch it often. I also have a battered old copy of The Lord of the Rings. Holding that book, with all its loose pages and contact-wrapped cover, reminds me how well loved it’s been. I’d read other fantasy books before Lord of the Rings, but when I read it for the first time as a teenager, I experienced a story in a way I never had before: total immersion.

Lord of the Rings

If, for some unexplained reason, you had to get the hell out of there and you couldn’t go back, what 3 things would you take?

Murray (husband), Indy (dog) and my laptop.

If we’re talking objects only: laptop, mobile phone, and an old leather-bound bible.

What’s the policy on interruptions? Open door policy? Open door policy with cranky look on face? Door locked tight and hands on ears, shouting: ‘Can’t hear you, lah, lah, lah!’?

I’m usually not too bad with interruptions. I have no poker face, so my husband can generally figure out pretty quickly how I’ll react – and make his decision to interrupt accordingly. My dog Indy, on the other hand, has no such interest in checking my mood. If she wants food/walk/pats/me to stare lovingly into her eyes, she just comes up and sticks her head over my keyboard until I capitulate.

Indy

Social media – do you block it while you’re working, or let it come along for the ride?

Here’s my writing routine:

Write a few lines, get stuck.

Check Twitter

Write a few more lines, get stuck.

Check IMDB. Watch latest trailer.

Write a par or two, get stuck

Check Facebook

Write a bit more, get stuck

Check stats on WordPress

Find my groove, write for an hour solid.

 

Pathetic I know. But I seem to need to trick my brain into solving a narrative problem by leaving the room (figuratively speaking).

What magic is happening in there right now?

Hmmm, magic may be a slight exaggeration…These past few months I’ve really struggled to get decent slabs of time to work on my new project but I’m finding that when I get settled in the recliner and know I have a few hours to myself, the words eventually come.

Ever use longhand? Or is it all clickety-clackety?

I brainstorm long hand. I really love the ritual of using pen/pencil and paper. But I rarely write scenes that way unless it’s right there in my head and I’m not near a computer. Oh, and I also draw very bad mud maps (of Pan Beach, particularly). I have a notebook for each book in the Rephaim series and a half-arsed scrapbook of photos (which went by the wayside when I discovered Pinterest).

Notebooks

How does it feel to be at the end of the series? Happy? Sad? Happy-sad?

I’m still in denial. I was working on line edits for Burn up until mid May, so it still felt like the story and those characters were very much in my life. Plus, I’ve been working on a totally new thing, so I’ve been able to distract myself by having to figure out new characters and their story.

But now that you ask…

I’m happy and relieved that I got the four books written, and that all the threads I set up throughout the series came together at the end – in many ways, better than I’d hoped.

But I’m also incredibly sad to be saying goodbye to this group of characters who have changed my life and given me so much fun and pleasure in writing. I still daydream about them from time to time and I guess that’s the beauty of having them in my head: I can visit them anytime I want. :)


Thank you so much Paula (and Indy)! I hope you celebrate BURN’s release lavishly and hard. I solemnly promise to give you notice before I visit Brissy :).