You’ve got me feeling nostalgic. Until a few weeks ago, I had an office of my own. Green walls. Burgundy leather recliner. My horses looking up at me from the stables and snowdrops sprouting among the headstones in the graveyard next door. Books by the cartload and a cork-board covered in random newspaper articles, interspersed with photos of my daughter that I took when she cut all her air off on a whim and was trying to grow it back through intense cranial straining.
I moved house a month before Christmas. Downsizing, that’s the word. I don’t have an office any more. I have a corner of my bedroom, next to the laundry basket. I have a nice old writing desk with an angled reading lamp and the same burgundy recliner as before, but it doesn’t really fit and is just something to trip over on my 2am trips to the lavatory. I bashed the wheels off with a hammer in the hope it would fit under the desk, which apparently was very childish and the result of temper rather than strategic thinking.
The new ‘creative space’ is a work in progress. Much of my life would fit this category. I have a windowsill covered in the kind of books that tend to be shown in the background of programmes like True Detective. They’re bookended with skulls. The kids know better than to open the textbooks. Amber still hasn’t got over seeing the crime scene photographs in Practical Homicide Investigation.
The desk is a little lacking in feng shui. I’ve got an illustrated book of Russian prison tattoos sandwiched between a list of British executions from the turn of the last century, and a box of marzipan fruits that somebody may have sent me, or which may have popped into existence of their own accord.
There’s a picture of a skull on the wall to my right. I like skulls. I bought it in Edinburgh years ago and haven’t smashed it yet, so it must be lucky. I’ve also got a print of an old steamship. I don’t know why. I bought it in rural Spain six years ago while holidaying in a converted cave. It didn’t fit in the suitcase or the hand luggage and the fact that it’s here at all is testament to the fact that I refuse to be beaten by inanimate objects. There’s also a pencil sketch of an eye. It makes me think of birds and woodland.
My mugs of tea tend to end up on the personalised beermat, which was produced by my UK publishers for some campaign or another. A short story I wrote as a promotional tool for the same campaign has been dumped on my desk by a passing child, along with a roller for getting the fluff off clothes. I have no answers to give you.
There’s a nude on the wall in front of me. Sensual. Delicate. Vulnerable and raw. It’s by my favourite artist, who also happens to be my fiancée. In times of creative frustration, it’s nice to look up and see a friendly pair of buttocks.
Check out my replica pistol, complete with holster. I wore it at a pirate party and I still have the tricorn hat. The children threw away the eyepatch when I kept making the same joke about Apple bringing out a monocular gadget called an i-Patch.
I have a box of wrestling figures under the desk. They’re not toys, no matter what anybody says. They’re a collection, and there is nothing wrong with a 39-year-old man spending his money on them if he wants to. There’s a Jack Russell terrier somewhere nearby as well. She’s called Mol and she’s old, chronically grumpy and mildly incontinent. We’re kindred spirits.
There’s a fairy door next to the skull. I’d like to say that it has some rich symbolism but in truth, I don’t remember putting it there. If I ever wake up and find it open, expect a bemused Tweet.
It’s the view from the window that keeps me sane. Charcoal trees against a blue-black sky; grey clouds piled up like mountains. I can see myself in the darkened glass, which is the main reason I bother getting dressed.
I can hear children at the door. There are four of them but it feels like more. They’re very good at whispering at the top of their voices so as not to disturb me. They have their own rooms but they prefer to play on the landing at the top of the stairs. I don’t know what game they’re playing but one of them is shouting ‘stop it, stop it’ and insisting that I’ve given a permission for something I don’t remember being asked about. The one I’m biologically responsible for just brought me a clay model of a flower. It will go on my desk, next to the empty whisky decanter, which has looked at me with cold fury since I embraced sobriety. I gave it up to save a bit of money, because the kids need food and clothes and a new Xbox. An extraordinary amount of food, it turns out. Best go feed them. Thank them properly for helping me find this tranquil corner of the house where I can write the books that pay for the rest of it. Ow! Banged my knee on this stupid chair!
Also of Interest
- Full Time Writer? Apparently!
The psychiatrists have all been clear. I need peace, serenity and room to let my thoughts unspool. But what do they know, eh? Four kids, a dog, a newborn baby and a publishing deal makes for a far more interesting life…Continue reading >>
- Mental Health Provision – A Personal View
Depression’s quite funny, when you think about it. There you are, bumbling merrily along like a daddy-longlegs on a skirting board and then ‘wham’ – the fleece-lined slipper of utter despair turns you into an ink-blot. Too much? Too colourful an analogy. Sorry. I do that. I have a very visual imagination. In my teens the psychologists called them hallucinations...Continue reading >>
- A Bite of the Big Apple
During the research process, I’m pretty much a sponge. I absorb and soak up until I am saturated. Sitting at a bar in Little Italy, earwigging as the wiseguys spoke about ‘some bum’ who needed ‘a talking to’ it occurred to me I probably had the best job in the world but probably shouldn’t be seen taking notes. Drinking rum-filled hot chocolates in an Irish bar, I had a vision of McAvoy’s boss, Trish Pharaoh, getting insanely excited at the selection of whiskies and realised that I needed to get her into the story...Continue reading >>
- Setting the Scene
Invariably (until recently) my books have been set in Hull. Why? Well, I know the city. I’ve lived around the area for 17 years and I was a journalist in the city for an age. I know that if you drive down Southcoates Lane with your windows down you will smell the cocoa from the chocolate factory. I know if you head for Wincolmlee to avoid the traffic on Beverley Road, the stink from the tannery will make your eyes water. I know that the car park at...Continue reading >>
- Why the Hull Not?
The lock gates look as though they are simply staying up out of bloody-mindedness. The timbers are rotten: sinking, inch by inch, into a sucking chocolatey sludge. The rusty metal struts are half hidden behind hanging tapestries of green slime. Anybody wanting to test the path must first wriggle past lethal-looking metal security railings and a tattered curl of barbed wire. This is St Andrew’s Dock in Hull.Continue reading >>
- North v South
There’s a good reason why Londoners take such pride in the fabulously cultured ways they can spend time in the capital. It’s because nobody wants to go home.Continue reading >>
- Research With a Difference
“No way. No. No, it’s too dangerous. No, you can’t. Seriously, you’ll hurt yourself. It’s not worth it. There could be a total psycho! Oh for goodness’ sake, all right. But if you get hacked to bits, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” My 12-year-old daughter has been telling me off for the past ten minutes. She’s adamant...Continue reading >>
- McAvoy Takes Manhattan
It’s a little after midnight. I’m freezing. The flight seemed to take forever and the security guy at the airport was a right prick. Apparently ‘a bit of both’ isn’t an answer that they can work with in reply to the question ‘business or pleasure?’ The cab driver who brought me from JFK to the Lower East Side had been thrilled to discover he had an author in his taxi. He took it as an opportunity to outline...Continue reading >>
- Might you also talk a bit about your writing process? Your daily process while you are writing as well as what is it like to write a series—keeping all those plot threads straight!
I’m very lucky that I have the kind of mind that is perfectly suited to writing fiction and which is horribly ill-suited to everything else. I take notes now and again and sometimes find scraps of paper with random words and aide-memoirs scribbled upon them but by and large I think of my skull like one of those candyfloss machines. I just swirl a stick around in there and ideas stick to it. The story I’m living and breathing then squats there in my head and pushes everything else out. Sometimes I look at the clock and I’ve lost a day and I realise I haven’t been to the bathroom since dawn. I write a chapter a day, no matter what. I’m at my desk by 9am, drinking coffee and grinding my teeth. It’s delightfully masochistic. I kind of enjoy the agony of it, which sounds very pretentious for a writer of dark thrillers! As soon as it’s done, my brain just kind of flatlines for a bit. Then it starts preparing for the next project. Two years later, when the book is in people’s hands, I’ve largely forgotten what it was about. Sorry!Continue reading >>
- What is essential to writing good crime fiction? Do you stick to some sort of formula or do you break all the rules? Do you read a lot of crime fiction or thrillers as well?
I read everything I can get my hands on. I love thrillers and psychological fiction but it is rather difficult to read them for pleasure now that it’s my day job. It’s hard not to read with an air of comparing the market. I don’t really take any notice of rules, either in the writing process or in life. Actually, I do have one – if the novelist has mentioned the make and model of a car by the end of the first paragraph, the book isn’t for me. And for God’s sake, don’t start off with a dream. For me, it’s just a case of meeting interesting people and twisting preconceptions on their head. Listen to the radio a lot. People who phone DJs are particularly inspiring – they always seem like the sort of person who could be a killer or the killed. Listen to your inner voice. When some dullard is telling you about their tedious problems, think of ways to kill them, and why. It’s less risky than actually doing it. And you think I’m joking.Continue reading >>