by Jill Amadio
The 17h century English poet Andrew Marvell wrote the line, “The grave’s a fine and private place,” in his poem, Upon Appleton House. To My Lord Fairfax. I wondered if one could write there and discovered that an author actually set herself up in her small village cemetery where ancient gravestones had fallen in a heap to hold her laptop. She sat on a folding chair like a plein air artist in southern Spain in a Cost del Sol hamlet where weather was hardly a factor. I also heard of an author converting a coffin to serve as a desk. Hunters wrote in the jungle while on safari, Mount Everest climbers wrote with frozen fingers in their tents. Charles Darwin wrote aboard ship, and others wrote wherever they happened to be, as evidenced by their diaries-turned-books.
I learned to write on the fly as a reporter in different countries, the babble of foreign languages never fazing me. Deadlines were inviolable and the discipline is still embedded in my bones, which helps me with setting up and meeting deadlines today, especially for my column in the UK magazine, Mystery People. When I began to write books after settling in America I discovered I need privacy to write my books. Plus perfect silence, a fine view, classical music, and endless cups of tea. I need my files that are always brimming with notes, press clips, drafts, character bios, settings, maps, and travel guides. When I wrote the Rudy Vallee biography I had close to 86 separate folders, one for each year of his life (he died watching television as President Reagan presided over the centennial in New York harbor.
Like many writers, I jot down notes while travelling or dictate into a digital recorder if I’m visiting settings in my books, luckily all local so far. I also love eavesdropping. Restaurants and airport terminals are great places for this. But for writing crime-ridden scenes no other place beats sitting in front of my laptop at home. My needs are simple and thankfully realized. A desk and chair in front of a window with a view to the horizon. Considering the many times I have moved house this requirement has not always been met but today my writing place faces sliding glass doors to the patio embraced by jacaranda trees through which I glimpse mountains far, far away. I have potted flowers scattered around, an Asian-style bistro set, and in the north nook the perfect lounge chair for reading. My trees are home to many birds and squirrels. The hummingbirds who visit are always thirsty, it seems, probably because I add extra sugar to the water, assuring myself it won’t cause diabetes or whatever. The crows gather late in the day and I always wonder what they are telling each other with their harsh cries.
Last year I picked up Catriona McPherson at the Orange County airport. She was the main speaker at a conference. When I arrived she was sitting on a bench in baggage claim tapping merrily away upon her computer, oblivious to the crowds coming and going. A few days later we were early for her return flight. I went into the café for some tea. When I brought it over to her, there she was again, still tapping away. She told me she can write anywhere, anytime. What a blessing. No wonder she is so prolific. But what about the research and files? She said she makes a note if research is needed and she can’t find it online but knows it might be in her office files. When she gets back home she makes the additions. How sensible. Why can’t I do that? Perhaps I miss the sturdy, heavy electric typewriter too much anchored to my desk with its keys clattering to reassure me that sentences were being formed, sleuths were on the case, and victims were being murdered. The typewriter eventually died, throttled by its ribbon. Now, my laptop accepts my written words silently, the keyboard flat as a pancake, and no need for paper until printing.
I suppose all writers have their own preferred place for getting the story on the page but surely it doesn’t really matter to readers as long as you keep providing them with their favorite books. Where do YOU write best?