In my latest book, ‘Shadow in Sunshine’ I write of my hero leaving Portsmouth Harbour aboard the commando carrier ‘HMS Illustrious’. His feelings are of self-doubt, countered by excitement regarding the future, which appears on the surface to be a simple diplomatic mission. He stands high up on the superstructure looking down at the helicopters lining the flight deck and the small groups of sailors staring at the shore, like many thousands before them. In times of peace these farewell moments are probably tinged with regret at leaving a loved one or the thrill of seeing new horizons, but in times of war must be the thought that it could be the last time they see that view of the ships home port. Ashore there are people with similar feelings, most for individuals onboard, but some seeing the ship as whole, both men and machine of war. The inhabitants of naval towns have endured the loss of many fine ships over the centuries, it is something that they accept, but never without a sense of loss, and in this age of rapidly moving political tensions, what appears to be a peaceful mission can easily escalate at the flick of a switch.
Whether all authors are like me I cannot say, but from those that I have spoken to the two common denominators in us all is the desire to tell a story and the need to continue working all night if necessary if the story is flowing. Two days after the publication of ‘A Cast of Hawks’ I was rushed into hospital requiring a heart by-pass. Such were the needs of others; I waited a little over two weeks before my operation and then spent a further five days in hospital. On the last Sunday night I just could not sleep; during the course of the evenings conversation with my fellow patients someone must have said something that triggered an idea. Having climbed into bed at eleven I finally put down my writing pad at six o’clock the following morning and the plot of ‘BATSU’ had taken a dramatic turn. It took me nearly two days to recover but the effort was well worth it.
More typically though I come out to my garden office after breakfast and set to and clear messages then get down to writing. I am not one that types with speed and accuracy therefore I feel the need to read each sentence as soon as I have completed it. Maybe I go back two or three sentences to get the flow consistent, maybe a whole paragraph, a process that inevitably has me correcting and editing. Though the process is slow; even if I have started the day with no idea at all of what I am planning to write, it draws me into the story and the pace of the plot and soon the images start to form and the dialogue is heard as I step again into my parallel existences as a traitor, terrorist, assassin, wife, spy, policeman. I helm a yacht through forty-foot seas; I feel the recoil of a forty four Magnum; I see a tear stained face of a mother fearing for her abducted child.
My phone goes and I step back into reality to discuss arrangements for a book signing or library talk and use the changed existence to send off posters advertising the next event, and e-mails confirming arrangements made. Multi tasking is the norm for most authors.
It is a lonely existence for most writers, which makes it essential, when we are away from our desks, that we people watch. In that mode a writer must learn to listen to our companions conversation with care; responses, even intelligent ones are expected, but at the same time watch the mannerisms of others, as it is as much a part of our working day as tapping at the keys of our computers.
When do I finish work? When I have finished.