A writer’s natural habitat #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

Dickens had his chalet. Roald Dahl had his shed. Maya Angelou, hotel rooms. Edith Sitwell wrote in bed.

All of my books have been written nowhere in particular, and in transit, between jobs and very late at night. My first book, The Truth About Babies, was written while traveling with a baby in a pushchair on buses in central London (mostly the 259 and the 29, from the Holloway Road). My first novel Ring Road was written at my kitchen table, sometime in the hours between 10pm and 6am. The Mobile Library series of novels were written in Bangor Public Library, Bangor, Co. Down (late night opening Thursdays). Paper: An Elegy was written on the 08.37 to Belfast, and on the 16.36 return. The Norfolk Mystery was written in the basement of a B&B in Coventry.

But my new novel! My new novel, A Death in Devon, was written in an actual office! In a bookshop! Or to be more precise, in an actual office above a bookshop.

My friend David Torrans runs the famous No Alibis Bookshop at 83 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, a couple of doors down from the Mexican takeaway and opposite Costcutter. Unable to find the time or the peace and quiet at home to be able to write, I asked if David might let me use the storeroom above the shop. The room is and was a mess – it’s a bookshop storeroom, and you know what they’re like. Strip lights. Peeling wallpaper. A thin grey filthy carpet. Cracks in the wall that are large enough to keep your pencils in. I love it.

It took me and my sons a day to clear the room of boxes of returns and overstock. Now I have a Black and Decker workbench as a desk and I’m allowed to use the toilet downstairs when the shop is open. Pure luxury.

Death in Devon is the second book in The County Guides series of novels – 43 books in the projected series, one for every English county, plus London, all of the Ridings, and the bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey – in which Spanish Civil War veteran Stephen Sefton sets off with ‘The People’s Professor’ Swanton Morley and Morley’s untamable daughter Miriam to solve crimes and confront the bigotries and prejudices of 1930s England.

Staring out of the high window above the bookshop at Belfast’s rain-soaked streets I imagined Sefton and Morley and Miriam setting off once again in their white Lagonda, packed as always with Morley’s writing requisites and his Hermes typewriter wedged into its stays so that he can type while Miriam drives and Sefton despairs of the entire enterprise. In Devon the doughty trio enjoy cream teas and encounter a group of surfing Satanists.

More writers should write in bookshops. Perhaps Waterstones should establish a country-wide writer-in-residence scheme? I could set up shop in a shop in every county. Bookshops, after all, are a writer’s natural habitat. Go on. Take us in. Give us house room.

Blog by Ian Sansom


Latest book: A Death in Devon

Q&A with author Ian Sansom @ian_sansom #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

Ian Sansom Death in Devon

Your (author) name: Ian Sansom. Which is not only my (author) name. It’s my actual name.

Tell us about yourself: Must I? Why? What would you like to know? Honestly, there’s not much to tell. Birth. School. Work. The usual.

Tell us about your latest book: Oh yes, that’s fine. I can do that. My latest book is Death in Devon. It’s the second book in my new series of novels, The County Guides. Each book in the series is set in a different county in England in the 1930s. The ‘People’s Professor’, Swanton Morley, his daughter Miriam, and his assistant Stephen Sefton arrive in a county to write a guide book and then they discover that someone has been killed. In Death in Devon a young boy has died in mysterious circumstances. Is it an accident? Or could it be … murder?

When did you start writing? I started writing fiction seriously in my early 20s, which was a while ago now. It’s just a habit, I suppose. Very difficult to stop, once you’ve started.

Where do you write? Wherever I happen to be, though I find there’s a corner of Birmingham airport that I find particularly conducive to writing. I can’t tell you exactly which corner it is, though, in case you go and take my seat. The best place to write would be … nowhere, somewhere away from everything and everyone. Airports are good. Motorway service stations. Coffee shops in garden centres. Non-spaces. I’m from Essex. I like non-spaces.

Which other authors do you admire? It would probably be easier to say which authors I don’t admire. At my age the list of debts and enthusiasms starts to get very long.

Book you wished you’d written? The Bible. I’d change a few bits.

Greatest fictional criminal: Satan in Paradise Lost.

Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: Satan, for paradise lost.

What scares you? Time.

Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? Yes, of course. When daydreams become nightmares. Marshalling and controlling one’s own imagination is surely one of the signs of becoming a fully functioning adult?

3 crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE. EVERYONE? As in, like, EVERYONE? I don’t think I’d recommend any books to EVERYONE. If I was recommending a book to you, though, right now, I’d maybe recommend The Hunter by Richard Stark, The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and Great Expectations by Dickens. Are they crime novels, though? Maybe not. They’re certainly books with crimes in them. Does that count?

Do you listen to music when you write? My music – my choice of music – or other people’s music? I’ve tried listening to my own music while I write but I find it far too stimulating. Charles Mingus? You can’t really write to that, can you. But other people’s music – I end up listening to other people’s music all the time. At this very moment my eldest son is playing something very loud upstairs. [LISTENS.] Aphex Twin. I’m more of a Janáček man myself.

Are you on social media? Sometimes.

How can fans connect with you? Why on earth would they want to connect with me? I’d suggest that first they connect with themselves.