Children’s author Christine Harris lives in the Adelaide Hills with her husband and writing partner David Harris. She has won tons of awards and has been published all over the world. Here, she invites us into her space and shares some of her tips on keeping the writing process fluid, active and fun.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I am on the last of three books in a mystery series called ‘Raven Lucas’. Unlike my previous books, the first two books were written on my laptop computer. I sat either in the loungeroom where I could see the garden or actually in the garden itself. (On a chair – I’m not a garden gnome.) I found I was delaying my writing by going on the internet all the time so I keep my laptop internet free. I can’t be tempted. Also long hours in my computer chair isn’t that good for my back and … oh, okay, so I Iike to be comfortable, watch the leaves blow in the wind and hope for inspiration! I still love my office, but if I’m stuck it helps to change the place where I am writing (temporarily). You can write anywhere if you have a story to tell. Once you start, that place belongs to you.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
I used to have little gadgets for different books, such as chopsticks or an emu made from a pinecone. But now, before I start a book I clean out my desk and stationery cupboard because it feels like I am wiping away the residue of my last work so I can start afresh. This is kind of important if you write different sorts of books.
I keep copies of my books on shelves above my desk, family photos, a plant, a blue wren (real feathers but fake bird) and a tiny paper foldup model of Dr Who’s tardis (it’s bigger on the inside). There is also an exercise bike that I look at and imagine I am cycling. Well, sometimes I pedal. But I probably stare more than I pedal.
I can’t listen to the radio or hear music with lyrics. It gets in the way of my thoughts. But I do play nature sounds (birds, waterfalls, cowbells etc) and I adore the soundtracks to ‘Dr Who’. Murray Gold, the composer, knows how to wring emotion from the heart. Just what I need when I am writing.
And if you promise not to tell anyone I will confess that I do sometimes dress up as my characters. I have a collection of wigs and stuff. It’s fun. Or I interview my character – ask them questions and let them answer in their own way.
How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
It has more and more books. I’m running out of space so now I am starting on wall shelves. I have culled my posters as I was running out of walls. Too cluttered. When I first began writing my two children were home so I had to write in the dining room. Now I have my own room. Bliss.
Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I try to start in the morning by 9 am. And if I don’t, I wish I was starting then. Mostly week days. I used to work 7 days a week, but I find it is better for writing (also sanity and health) to have time off with family or in my garden (and my kids told me off for working too hard). But I am a rotten sleeper and I’m often awake all hours of the night so I write then. The world is mine in the middle of the night.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Roald Dahl was also addicted to chocolate. Can I copy that one instead of the pencil thing?
But seriously, I can’t work in chaos. My house must be tidy for my mind to be so. I also make sure I sit down, have coffee that David my husband always makes because he actually sleeps at night and gets up way early. We eat our homemade wholemeal bread and talk about all kinds of subjects like the yeti crabs discovered in Antarctica, interrogation techniques, flowers or ways to improve our writing or ourselves. We read together in the mornings too. Then we disappear to our own writing rooms. We come out and meet for morning tea and lunch, and keep the phones on silent until 3 pm.
But I can’t sit still for hours. Every hour or two I get up and walk around the house or do a little chore or stare at my exercise bike.
Thanks Christine! Check back for another writer in The Writer’s Studio next week.