Writing fiction, especially at the start, is an odd process. For me it involves long stretches of time doing very little. I begin with paper and pencil, a few scattered words, scribbles, or the transcribing of notes from my notebook to the computer. A word, or image might be the start of a scene or chapter. I make lists – of characters, of events, of subjects that require research. I get distracted by research, and open the computer to look up post war Essen. Then I realise it would be helpful if I understood German, and wonder whether I should contact an acquaintance who lives in Frankfurt to ask his advice. Then it’s time to make tea, to stroke the cat on the way back upstairs. A brief scene is written with much staring into space between sentences. Then I decide I’m hungry, so time to make lunch. And so it goes on, until for a while I’m captivated, I’m in flow, the words tumble onto the screen, and something resembling an opening chapter is sketched out. I love the sense that I’m researching – not only in the usual sense of the word, but also that each new work is a journey into the dark, and I will discover and bring to light my players who will speak to me, or through me. I will learn something from them, I’ll perhaps discover my own preoccupations. Never was this mysterious exchange more powerful than when I wrote my first novel for adults – and appallingly bad though it was, there was something wonderfully enriching in the creation of one of my main characters – how he took on a life that seemed separate from me – how at times I wondered if I were part of his imagination rather than he of mine. Strange – but the imagination is strange, and mysterious, and at times frightening. Where does any of it come from? Out of the blue.
I get up and walk, and at once they are all crowding in, speaking, living their lives, leading me a merry dance. And the day feels complete, and the end of the day peaceful – as if something has been accomplished.