This week’s ‘Where I Write’ follows James Calum Campbell, author of Click, Double-Click and The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange (coming soon), who splits his time between his home in Scotland and New Zealand.
My modus operandi is completely anarchic. But there is a discernible pattern. I start as far away from the PC or the laptop as possible. Start with an idea. I cannot predict its provenance; it could be anytime, any place, something a friend says, a newspaper report, something on the car radio, something that happens to me out in the real world. And I think, “I could write about that!” So I carry a notebook and pen and try to jot the idea down as soon as it occurs, lest I forget. I find physical exercise, a hill walk or a run, is very conducive to creative thought. This can be tricky if in vest and running shorts; I need to hold the thought until I can access pen and ink. If it’s raining I might go to the gym in the Stirling Highland Hotel where I will run on the treadmill, and have a sauna and a swim. I’m bombarded with ideas in the sauna. Pathophysiologically, it must have something to do with the explosion of endorphins followed by incipient heat exhaustion. Once I plunge into the pool, most of the ideas seem pretty febrile! Absence of pen and ink is again a problem. Exercise, particularly out of doors, remains an important part of the ongoing process of writing a lengthy tome. I live on the edge of the Highland Fault Line. I to the hills will lift mine eyes… If I get stuck, I go for a walk on Flanders Moss which is extremely atmospheric. I try not to get too distracted or I will walk off the duckboards and sink without trace in a boggy quag, a Grimpen.
Back home, I prefer an easy chair, and pen and paper. I’m surrounded by books, things of beauty that you can touch and smell, cherish and revisit. Music is also very important to me, but I would never listen to music when I write. I do however sometimes listen briefly to a passage of music, prior to writing, if it seems to create the mood I’m trying to capture in the particular piece I’m working on. With fiction, I like to give each piece its own “signature tune” which I hope helps me to sustain a consistency of atmosphere.
I sometimes get an idea in the early morning while occupying a twilit hinterland in the cusp between sleep and wakefulness. With the tome I’ve just finished, I actually woke in the middle of the night with a solution to something I’d grappled with for weeks. I got up and wrote it down.
Sooner or later, I have to start typing. I use a desk top with a large screen. I’m an ergonomic nightmare as I’m a terrible sloucher so I try to get up and move around frequently. The computer is of course a tremendous boon especially during the revision stages, but I think you have to be careful that the act of composition is not superseded by mere word processing. Can you imagine Thomas Gray, in his churchyard, with a laptop, endlessly deleting… The plowman homeward plods his weary way… Weary the plowman homeward plods his way… Plow-ward the home way wears his ploddy man…