ALLISON SYMES - Q&A
If you were on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, what books would you take with you (instead of music) and which luxury item? As per the show you would be given the Bible and Shakespeare. (Isn’t it time they added Dickens and Austen to that list incidentally so you get to take 4 classics?)
The Complete Wodehouse – if I must choose one, I’d go for The Best of Wodehouse which gives wonderful tasters of the novels and short stories. The Complete Discworld – if I must choose one, I’d go for Reaper Man. I’m not sorry if that’s cheating (but I’d try to sneak in Men at Arms as well).
Pride and Prejudice
The Lord of the Rings (hardback, three volume edition)
The Narnia Chronicles
Murder on the Orient Express – my favourite Christie novel
The History of Britain by Simon Schama
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - the only novel to make me change my mind about a historical event!
My luxury item would be endless paper and pens (though I’d prefer a PC, a mains supply and an endless supply of memory sticks!). I’d happily not have the internet on it given that would break the “not be able to communicate with the outside world” rule. It’d be such an aide to getting more writing done.
Which dictionary do you prefer to use?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary and Theasaurus as this is doubly useful when compared to a standard dictionary!
Are there any books you wouldn’t be without?
Yes, the annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, the latest Discworld novel and I usually find a great writing book at the Winchester Writers’ Conference too.
How many drafts do you produce?
Regardless of what I’m writing, at least three. I need to get the story down first, then edit it for sense and structure and make sure I’ve got the story right, before going through it for spelling mistakes, grammar and so on. Novels take more drafts as there’s so much more material to keep on top of so obviously need more work. Editing for story structure and sense is really important here. For scripts, I need to be able to “hear” the voices in my head once I’ve got the script prepared. It has to “feel” real.
When writing, do you “see” images or “ hear” voices first?
I hear characters speaking. I heard Eileen’s strident voice before “picturing” her. I think of my creative mind as being like my parents’ old huge television set where the sound came in first, followed by the pictures, you had to give it time to warm up before getting those pictures and sometimes you needed to give the box a clout on the side to make sure the pictures did come through. To date I have not yet had to whack myself around the head to force through my “internal vertical hold” but I suspect that may only be a matter of time! Having said that, I think hearing voices is great for dialogue writing and you can get a good idea (though not always the right idea) of how someone looks from how they sound. Most of the time you’ll be on the right lines but there will be an exception to the rule that stumps you from time to time. Seeing pictures I suppose could give pointers as to how someone is likely to speak but doesn’t allow for people who’ve “bettered” themselves (or are seeming to put on a false front).
Do you have fixed routines for writing?
Generally I write in the evenings (and use odd times during the day to catch up with professional reading, emails and son on). I find I switch into “writing mode” as if I’d never left it. I think it would be easy to let your writing go if you don’t put particular slots of the day aside for writing. And I have found the more I write, it’s easier to get ideas, to trigger other ideas and it is a joy finding potential new markets. Things that would once have taken a few weeks to sort out, I can now do in under a week. Being at the computer promptly is crucial for me – there’s always loads to do.