‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. This time, we visit the home of Will Smith, writer of ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’, who used a laptop on a tower and a saddleseat to work on his debut novel Mainlander…
‘I tend to mix it up a lot. Since the kids came along, I’ve rented a desk in a shared office. I’m very tall so I’ve raised the desk and laptop and perch on a saddleseat. As you can see, I have pictures of Jersey on the desk, screen and wall. I have more at home too (although we’ve just moved and so those are unpacked at the moment). The only problem with the shared office is the lack of natural light, so some days I head off to various local cafes, especially if I’ve printed off a manuscript or script and want to scribble notes on it. I’m probably at my most productive on a long-haul flight as I can get six or seven hours work done with no interruptions other than the offer of food. I really look forward to those moments, and can feel myself saving up bursts of work for them. Trains are good too, but the phone and email comes in and out and that can pull me out of whatever I’m doing. I’d love to work with the phone and internet off, but it’s not really compatible with having young kids and elderly relatives, or with working on TV shows like Veep where I’m on call for instant rewrites.
I seem to be able to write anywhere. General background noise doesn’t bother me, and I mostly have headphones on anyway. Noise in the household is more of a problem as it usually requires my intervention, which is why I work less at home than before.
Music is an enormous part of how I write, I rarely work without it. I use it to find a mood or a character. For Mainlander I did playlists of all the major characters – a mixture of what I thought they’d listen to, as well as songs that made me think of them – and there were also specific albums that I listened to a lot as they seemed to tie into the themes – Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay, and Strangeland by Keane. Generally I listen to a lot of Baroque music, some Vivaldi and huge amounts of Bach. Scott Joplin is also a favourite – it’s melodic but structured enough that it acts as a stimulant rather than a distraction. I’ll listen to Django Reinhardt too, particularly the records he made with Stephane Grappelli, it’s so joyous and unrestrained. The guy was a living miracle, I don’t know how you could play like that with only two functioning fingers on your left hand, let alone make it up as you go along.
It depends on the deadlines, but I work every weekday. Sometimes I’ll have a page count or chapter aim, sometimes I’ll just want to plot something or crack a problem.
Having children limited my working hours and has made me much more focused, both on the micro level – I have to stop in time to pick them up and get them fed and bathed and into bed – and on the macro level of their birth bringing home to me my own mortality and the need to get things done before it’s too late.
I find improvisation comes first, but even then it’s fairly structured, probably because it has been knocking around my sub-conscious for a while. The first chapter of Mainlander just came out, I knew I had this guy sitting on a rock feeling glum about his marriage, and the rest followed on. I did a lot of revising and finessing, but the basic beats haven’t really changed at all.
I’ve always wanted a garden office, but I’m increasingly less concerned with that, although as I’ve said I have a hankering for natural light. For me, it’s all about whether the material is ready to come out, and when it’s ready, it’s going to surface wherever I am.’
Will Smith’s debut novel ‘Mainlander‘ will be published on 12th February 2015.
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