James Roy is a generous, funny and dedicated man. He is also one of the most respected and awarded authors of Young Adult and Middle-Grade fiction in Australia. His book Town is currently up for a major German literary prize and, this week, he will appear at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Here, James takes us inside his writing space and sheds light on the quirks of his process.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I wrote most of it in the space that I usually work in, although some of it was written in airport lounges and cafes, some was written in the car on a long drive to Canberra (I wasn’t driving the car at the time) and some was actually written on a sick-bag on a Jetstar flight to Geelong, when the muse arrived just as the cabin crew asked us to turn off our computers. I think a quiet space is fairly important, but when all’s said and done, if you’re determined to write that book, you’ll find a way, no matter where you are.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
I don’t get into character through my space, although I do transform it a little by wiping away the planning notes from the last books and starting again. I don’t use a white-board – I use whiteboard markers on the big front window of my study. It’s a fairly big space, and it makes me feel like that guy from A Beautiful Mind.
How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I used to write in a tiny study at the back of the house. I built a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, which made me feel very studious, but it was still a very small, rather claustrophobic space. But then my wife stopped working from home, and the front room that she’d used for her business became available, and I moved into a more common area. My family is out for most of each day anyway, so it’s still quiet, but I can see the bush and the horizon, I can hear when the mail comes, and I don’t feel like I’m in exile every time I go to work.
The other way it’s changed is that I carve the name of each book I complete on the front edge of the old kitchen table that I use as my desk. It means that just by glancing down, I can see that what I’m doing isn’t wasted effort – there is a final goal that is worth striving for.
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
I travel so much now that I find it quite tricky to get into any kind of regular routine. Also, three hours of work will feel like work (emails, invoices, ‘researching’) but I won’t have any writing done. So now I set myself a minimum word quota of 2,000 words a day, five days a week. That way, if I get it done by lunchtime, that’s good, and I can have the afternoon off, or I do it again. But if I’m still sitting at my desk at 1am with no words written, that’s no one’s fault but mine.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
A cup of tea and some breakfast, and then I’m into it. I recently decided that I was best able to discipline myself if I got my words out of the way first, then did the other stuff like the emails and invoices after I’d written my words. So far that’s working for me.
I also like to read a page from one of my favourite writing motivational books, Walking on Alligators, by Susan Shaughnessy, which encourages me to get into it.
Thanks Mr Roy. Next week, another children’s / young adult author will be here, sharing their space.