In the days before iPhones I’d sit on the bus scribbling words even I could barely read; now I send myself cryptic emails, often no more than a single word. The most recent says: “Beer. Breakfast. Burgers.” – a sign I spotted in Inverness airport that I don’t suppose will make the next novel (but you have to admire the sense of priorities). I’ve written in parks, libraries, swimming pools, and each of the many cemeteries that pass for wilderness in my corner of Southeast London. I’ve written in offices and cathedrals and hospital corridors. But the bulk of the work gets done at the cluttered desk in the picture, or in the pub.
Some people need silence and solitude; others, noise. Walter Benjamin wrote about the aura of the work of art in crowded Weimar nightclubs. I do a lot of editing in the pub. Words come too easily to me, and I spend far longer cutting them out than writing them down. The pub’s hubbub blocks the distractions of a noisy mind, while the first pint lubricates my mental scissors. See that paragraph mercilessly satirizing some cultural ephemera of no real importance to my story? See how funny it is? No, because it’s gone! See that almost-perfect simile? Gone. See that character who wandered in when I was stuck one morning? Gone, gone, gone. And all the better for it. Somewhere in the middle of the second pint, though, concentration lapses, the scissors blunt, and it’s time to go home.
And what does that desk at home say about the way I write? That it’s a mess, mostly. I’m a fiddler – when I concentrate, I play with stuff. Bulldog clips. Elastic bands. There’s a brass inkwell that’s never held any ink, but has the heft of a hand grenade. An hourglass I can flip and – hours later – notice thirty-minutes’ worth of sand has long since drained away. The inkwell pops up in ‘Reconciliation’; the hourglass gets significantly smashed in the next novel. That white card with all the scribbles? That’s the complicated map – complete with arrows and asterisks and different-coloured inks – I meticulously compiled somewhere between the second and third drafts of my current novel, and haven’t looked at since. There are headphones, of course: my noise has to be the right kind of noise. Bach is good, and Shostakovich and Sonny Rollins; Muddy Waters, Lucinda Williams or Nick Cave at his more raucous when I can handle words.
Above all, there are books, and coffee. Because my books are built of other books. And because when I write, mostly I do something else.
In The Fat of Fed Beasts, Ware played with metaphysics, crime and Beckett to produce a ‘brilliant’ intellectual comedy the Guardian picked as a ‘paperback of the year’. Reconciliation plays similar tricks with the spy-thriller and the family saga, to greater emotional effect.