Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Sally Emerson's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 




I definitely have werewolf tendencies. I’m perfectly nice and normal during the day but as night settles in, I want to write. The darker it is the easier it is for me to write. I simply cannot understand how anyone can write in the day in their homes when there is all that LIGHT. I can’t concentrate when all the objects all around me are lolling around fully lit. How can anyone leave the ordinary world and enter another one when there is daylight outside making everything look so ordinary? Don’t get me wrong, I like the day but find it completely uncreative. This is not, incidentally, convenient as exciting life like parties and theatres and dinners happen at night (because night is fun and dangerous).

I am over my gangsta rap period (how I loved 50 Cent) but I do like worrying music to be raging around me when I work. I can’t be doing with peaceful classical music. Why? Because where is the excitement there? At this moment I am listening to the desperation in Placebo’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. Music helps to create my mood for writing I suppose. Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ is still a favourite because it is on the edge. Her songs cry out, nothing is settled, and that quality of stifled panic makes me want to write to be safe again.

When I begin writing in the evening I usually start in long hand, with a fountain pen, in turquoise ink. It gives me a sense of the physical pleasure of writing, the age-old relationship between the hand and the paper and the shape of the letters the writer makes on the page, the crossings out, all helped by the look of the ink. It’s a great way to get started, a treat.  

Fountain Pens
I have a number of pens. Hmm. About twenty. But my favourites of the moment are a gold Waterman pen with a great nib, and a new blue one. But I also love the little silver pen someone gave me which I can carry in my bag. In the age of the i-phone, when people seem to avoid writing anything anywhere but on their phones I like the weight of the pen and the sheer beauty.  Once I start writing properly I do move onto my desktop mac or my little silver mac because my writing goes wild once inspiration strikes and I can hardly read what I write.

Open my cupboards and notebooks of all shapes and sizes tumble out, some with a couple of pages of notes, some with every page urgently covered with observations or records of conversation. Sylvia Plath wrote that Ted Hughes said he’d teach her how to concentrate and observe, and that’s why writers have notebooks. In the right mood, with a lined notebook (not too small, not too big, just the right size) anything can be extraordinary. The trick of observing is to look and look until you no longer just see what others say you see – a green tree – but all the shades, the light, the shapes. A notebook comes with me, wherever I am, in a park, in a street, in a shop, ready to help channel that concentration. And when it comes to descriptions, a remembered scene tends to be muted compared to an account sketched down at the time.

If I have to write in the day the only way I can function is to go out to a noisy café. Goodness knows why this works. I suppose the daylight doesn’t worry me so much because it’s not shining on MY objects with all their connections. The jollity of other people creates a sense of isolation in me which is perhaps similar to that created by night. I wrote the screenplay of ‘Fire Child’ in an office off Carnaby Street, really fast.

It inspires me, and always has. I can still remember first coming to live in Victoria as a teenager and finding it strange and disturbing in a good way – the sex shops, the river Thames, the way no one spoke to anyone else, all that mixed with the beauty of the squares with their mighty trees. My first novel ‘Second Sight’ is set in Vincent Square, where I used to live.  ‘Fire Child’, a real London novel, full of darkness and energy, is set in Highbury in north London. My later novels including ‘Separation’ which is set by the Thames, and about a new family, are more light-filled. ‘Broken Bodies’ opens with my rival hero and heroine standing in front of the white glory of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. It’s a story about love, but many kinds of love.

I like to be afraid when I write, afraid for my characters, afraid of what will happen next. It doesn’t do to be complacent in life so I hope my stories take the reader on a big dipper ride. In ‘Listeners’ , just reissued, the heroine is at the end of her tether after her husband leaves her alone and she turns to a very dangerous woman for help. Reading back, the raw panic of the heroine is disturbing (Like my protagonist, I’d broken up with my husband but I had left him!)

Black Coffee
Obviously. It used to be cigarettes, in the good old days.


About Sally Emerson
Sally Emerson has lived in London most of her life. The first writing prize she won was for a poem about Highgate Cemetery. She climbed into the cemetery after it had snowed and it became her inspiration. Winning the prize gave her the confidence to know she could write (and that sometimes it’s good to be bad).  It’s just what her wicked, luminous heroine in ‘Fire Child’ would have done. She has edited magazines and won the Vogue Talent Contest and other awards. Her novels have been published in various languages to great literary and commercial acclaim. Included in the series of six Rediscovered Classics from Sally Emerson is the ‘twisted love story’  Fire Child and the ‘mysterious, compelling and strangely erotic’ tale of  Broken Bodies, where an intelligent love story becomes a thriller against the backdrop of the story Elgin’s extraordinary wife and the Elgin marbles. This is published alongside the chilling ‘Listeners’.

Find Sally on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @sallyemerson8

About Broken Bodies

Published by Quartet Books (26 October 2017)

Publisher's description

Patrick Browning first sees Anne Fitzgerald in the British Museum in front of the Elgin Marbles – both young historians are fighting to uncover the secrets of Mary Nisbet, the notorious wife of Lord Elgin.
Anne thinks the present is frightening, but finds the past compelling; Patrick lives life at one remove, preferring the women in books to those in real life. Before long, their research spills over into an all-too-real rivalry, a rivalry charged with tension and attraction – a rivalry which twists their own scarred love affairs to breaking point...

Sally Emerson's six rediscovered classics – Second Sight, Listeners, Fire Child, Heat, Separation, Broken Bodies - are published by Quartet. The six titles  have been reissued in a newly-designed series, published throughout 2017 by Quartet.

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