17 July 2015

Catherine Johnson – where I write and my writing routine

Catherine Johnson
by Wei Ming Kam Author Interviews, Writing Tips

With another Online Writing for Children course under our belts, we thought we’d give you an insight into the life of a full-time writer. What is their writing process like? Where do they write? What’s their daily routine? Tutor on our creative writing courses for children Catherine Johnson recently wrote about all these things when she took part in a book blog tour for her latest book The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (the original blog piece is at Maia Moore Reads, here), and we’ve reposted it below. Thanks to Maia for her permission to repost it on our blog.


Where do I write? How do I write? Well, until the year before last I wrote all my books (and scripts) on a computer at a table in my bedroom.  We lived in a tiny house – here’s a picture of my old street in Hackney:

Now I have a view of my own too:


I think we can often put up a lot of barriers to writing: ‘I can’t work at home, only in a café, I need space, or I need to be on the train or in a certain spot. I have to have a special notebook or a lucky pen.’ And I sometimes I feel like that too (especially about trains), but I think it’s important to remember that writing isn’t magic, it’s work.

Although it’s lovely to find a story that makes it feel like you’re simply channelling the characters, and can’t type fast enough to keep up, sometimes it can feel like pulling particularly painful teeth. The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo took a gazillion drafts. I tried writing it in first person (which is very hard when your character only speaks aloud in a made up language), letters, multiple viewpoints – I wrote the story so many different ways before I found a way that works. Whereas other stories – Sawbones for example – was one of those word vomits that took weeks.

One thing I find helpful when I get stuck is moving, walking or swimming. And since my job involves sitting down all day it’s not a bad thing. It does help that there are loads of good places to walk round here.

I must admit, having a writing room feels like a huge luxury. And last Christmas I got a white board of my very own! It is brilliant for working stuff out on and reminding me about things that I am often forgetting.

Above my desk I’ll have helpful pictures. Until recently when I was working on the sequel to Sawbones, I had a map of Paris and a picture of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, brilliant brave hero of the French Revolutionary army and inspiration to his son Alexandre, who went on to write The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

At the moment I’ve got a picture by Degas of Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando – she was a black performer in fin de siècle Paris – and pinned to the white board is a story maze I did of my work in progress. I’ve never done this, but a friend, Teresa Flavin, gave it to me and I filled in the gaps and it’s been a little bit of an inspiration.

I have loads of books. LOADS. Did I mention I have LOADS of books?

I tend to have a routine that goes like this:

Early start. I am so a morning person. If I’m on a script deadline it might be as early as 5 or 6am.  I’ll work for an hour or so, then go off for a swim and come home and have breakfast. Then I’ll write some more – with breaks for food or if I am stuck, a walk by the sea and then more work until 4pm (or if it’s a script, until it’s done).

Of course, I have days when I visit my friends and eat cake, or my friends visit me and eat cake, but it is a job and I do feel very guilty if there are no words. Apart from the odd bit of teaching, this is all I do for a living.

If I’m working on a book I will try and hit word counts for a week – usually if I’m working every day that’ll be 10-12k. But some weeks I’ll have school visits or other work – and then you find yourself out of the story loop, which can be a little bit difficult when you want to get back in.

At the moment I am working on one book (a contemporary supernatural YA which is a whole lot of fun), a film project currently in development and a TV drama which is very, very, exciting – but I really don’t want to say more in case I jinx it!

I think you know it’s going well when you can’t stop thinking about the characters and the world – in fact it’s a little (a lot!) like being in love!

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