One of my favourite books about writers and writing is How I Write, The Secret Lives of Authors (I talked about it a while back, over on the Book Slam website). It lets you in on the curious ways that different writers entice themselves to work - from talismans to rituals, inspiration takes all forms. My own writing room is rich in encouragement, it blazes with colour, every surface patched with pictures and postcards and objects that create a sense of creation. My mum's hand-stitched blankets adorn the sofa, examples of my dad's art pepper the walls, and I've framed some of my favourite printed mentions for The Book of Summers - Grazia and Marie Claire lay-outs, a piece I wrote on childhood holidays. I've made a space that makes me want to get down to work, and that, beyond aesthetics or sentimentalism, is the most important thing. But sometimes specific work requires specific motivation. I've written before about my mood board making tendencies, whether an elaborate form of procrastination or not, they do it for me. I like creating a visual sense of what I'm writing towards, and I do the same sonically, making soundtracks for my books, playing the same tunes over and over as I tap into a mood. With The Book of Summers, there was one particular photograph that I returned to again and again. It wasn't a holiday snap from a Hungarian adventure, but a picture of an eight-year-old me, standing in my grandparents' garden in Northamptonshire. I've got a blunt-cut fringe and red dungarees and I'm right up in the foreground of the shot, everything else falling away behind me. I seem both aware, and unaware, of the camera's presence. This is the picture I propped on my desk through the writing of my first novel. I looked at that little girl, and tried to think as she might. In The Book of Summers, the figure of Erzsi isn't me, but many of the things that we do have in common come from my dialogue with that photograph.
As I was writing A Heart Bent Out of Shape, inspiration was everywhere. A wonderful bank of memory from my year living in Lausanne, as well as plenty of photos from that time. The books of Ernest Hemingway, particularly A Moveable Feast and A Farewell To Arms. Vintage traveller pictures and postcards, Riviera and snowscape living. Haunting music, from a wounded Johnny Cash to a whispery French Nouvelle Vague. Then one day I looked up from my desk and stared directly into a face. A face that had been watching over me for months, as I struggled my way through first and second drafts, edits, rewrites, scribblings-out and scribblings-back-in. In that face, I suddenly saw my whole book.
I first came across the work of Jason Brooks years ago, on a series of Hedkandi album covers. His illustrations had a clear-lined elegance, a sexiness, an unashamedly aspirational quality that made them different to anything I'd seen before. Back when was I working in an advertising agency in the early 2000s, I suggested his work for a client's campaign and felt such a thrill when they went for it. We commissioned new illustrations, animated them for TV, blew them up huge for billboards and the backs of buses. Even then Jason's work was being copy-catted everywhere, and to work with the man himself lent an integrity not always found inside the often derivative world of advertising. Now, the 'Jason Brooks woman' is practically a school of illustrative style in its own right; relentlessly imitated, rarely if ever equalled. My Jason Brooks print is a souvenir from my past, his agent gave it to me after we'd finished working together. It hangs on the wall in my writing room, just as it's hung on the wall in all the houses I've lived in in the last ten years. Only one day I looked up and saw something different in it. I saw Hadley and Kristina, and in that snow-filled landscape were all the things I hope are in the story of A Heart Bent Out of Shape; a sense of promise, of sparkle, of unease, of loneliness, of hope, of elegance. Light and dark and light again. Jason Brooks' wintry woman turned out to be my own peculiar kind of guardian angel, and as I wrote my way to my final manuscript, I did it under her watchful, level, ever-so-serene gaze. And when I finally finished, I raised a glass to her as well.