Nette Hilton is a multi-award-winning author of books for children and young adults. Sprite Downberry, her YA novel was shortlisted for the NSW and Queensland Premiers’ Literary Awards. Here, she gives an intimate insight into her writing space and process.
Where did you create your latest book / project? How important to you is the space in which you create?
My latest book is being created in my studio. This is a luxury that I have allowed myself in recent years. My projects, however, happen wherever I happen to be. This afternooon my newest book, The Haunting of Smidge Bunney, will be happening in Ipswich. My space is important. I create spaces for my writing as I need. I like desks with corners. I like facing a particular direction which is a bit weird but it happens as I’m setting up the location. I’ve even moved tables and chairs around in motel rooms so I’m comfortable. If it is artwork that I’m playing with, I very much like a HUGE space and tend to drift out into all corners of the house. My favourite art space is on the dining room table upstairs as it is open and airy. It is always possible, however, to find bits of me on just about every chair and table. Pencils, diary notes, newspaper articles waiting to be filed, books open….
Do you transform your space in any way for each project? Do you ‘get into character’ at all?
I don’t consciously transform my studio (which really is a posh name for a room in my house but it was purpose-built with a lovely, wide opening that allows me to look out into the yard). It seems to happen all by itself. Ultimately I find myself surrounded by trivia connected to the project. Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure had pirates in it and I seemed to have pirate swords, hats, boots and all things high seas scattered across my desk. Rattus Duponicus, a rat of extraordinary possiblities, really took over. I still have a stuffed rat floating around behind me and lots of little rat puppets.
How has the place that you create evolved or changed since you first began?
I started with a pen and writing pad on the kitchen table after dinner. I progressed to a typewriter in the laundry, beside the dryer, as this meant I didn’t have to pack up for meals. I shared this space with two guinea pigs who lived in the concrete tubs and a mushroom farm! Then I had my own desk in the bedroom where I could work through the day as I’d been awarded an Australia Council Fellowship. And, when I finally decided to identify myself as a ‘proper’ writer, I built a studio out the back of the house. Good in the daytime, scary as hell at night. No trouble here getting into character for ghost stories.
Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I’m most often at work in the morning, before breakfast. For me writing is obsessive and I can’t stop the monkey from jumping unless I’ve done the work on my current project, then I’m free to move into other aspects of writing. I am working up illustrations for my workshops and a picture book. I also have a diary – I list my intended goals for the week so I have a guide. Sometimes, if my writing is going well, I might have reached my ‘project’ goal by Wednesday so the other days I can legitimately have time off. I try to do this although it usually means I’m playing with illustrations or new project outlines or preparing mentoring notes.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
I do. I make coffee, I drift and straighten objects, make beds and do mindless tasks while I relive the previous day’s work. I see my work as if I’m watching a movie. I let it drift and wait until I hear the first words for the new chapter and then I go to the computer and start. The coffee is like Roald Dahl’s pencil sharpening. It isn’t just any cup of coffee. It is the ritual. Coffee made, mind in gear and drift.