In The Write Place series, I’ll be speaking to a series of excellent self-published writers about exactly where and how they write. I’m typing this on a sofa, laptop on my, well, lap, while my dog Busby does his best to wriggle right into my left arm, which isn’t ideal. At other times I might be in my home office, or in the summer house keeping a keen eye out for spiders. I’m happy writing on trains speeding through Europe with a nice spot of sightseeing and a meal waiting for me at the other end, or in a quiet afternoon pub people-watching and supping a pint.
Not all of these are optimal places for productivity – not least the sofa, which the dog clearly feels he owns – but sometimes inspiration can strike in the most unlikely of places. And, of course, there are some situations that can put a writer completely off their stroke. The literary critic Cyril Connolly once said, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” and, while it’s not easy to write a masterpiece with a child dangling on your hip, there are other authors that have found solace and inspiration in family life. Different strokes for different folks, as the cliche goes, so I kick off this series with Michael Cairns, to whom many thanks.
Harry Scott: Please introduce yourself, what you write and what you’ve written.
Michael Cairns: Hi, I’m Michael Cairns. I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction and zombie-gonzo-erotica, often all at the same time. (I haven’t actually written any zombie-gonzo-erotica yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually…)
I’m the author of the Thirteen Roses series, a seven book zombie apocalypse/everything apocalypse saga, Ninja Zombie Killers, a five-book-so-far dark comedy series based around musicians saving the world… (I know, I know, but it works, believe me). I’ve written The Planets, an alternative take on superheroes, involving aliens, hot guys and gals, super powers, and kick ass action. That’s a trilogy, though the next three are written. I’ve two short story collections out, one horror, one everything else, and this year I’m hoping to release a trilogy based on another sort of apocalypse, featuring a reluctant super hero and her quest to save her girlfriend. Oh, also, I’ve a six novella science fiction series called A Game of War, which occupies territory somewhere between The Hunger Games and Lost in Space.
HS: How long have you been writing?
MC: I’ve been writing since September 2013, so four years, give or take. I write fast.
HS: How long did it take you to find a writing system and a place that you were happy with?
MC: My system hasn’t changed much. I write every day, anywhere and anywhen I can. I write on the Scrivener software, on a tiny laptop that has nothing except Scrivener on it. No internet. At the moment, I head into work crazy early and write before I start. In the past, I’ve written every evening. Now, evenings are for editing and marketing.
HS: Please describe, in physical terms, what you see where you write – tell us what’s on your desk, your view, what’s nearby.
MC: At my work desk, I have a computer that’s turned off, a drum kit, my eternal inspiration, pictures of my kids… I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of those two things are my eternal inspiration. To my left are windows looking out onto trees, with a playing field beyond. Occasionally, I’ll accidentally kill a character when I get distracted by the squirrels and parakeets in the trees.
“I write every day. Anytime and anywhen I can”
HS: Why did you choose this place and what are the benefits?
MC: Benefits are that no one else is mad enough to be in work at half six, so I’ve a good hour of undisturbed time. I chose this place because writing at home would mean then sitting in traffic on the way to work. What can I say, I’m a practical person.
HS: Are you able to write with other people nearby or do you require solitude?
MC: I prefer solitude, though if I’ve had enough sleep, I can happily write in a café, on the train, Wagamamas, pretty much anywhere I can balance my laptop.
HS: How did you decide on your writing place? How did you get to that stage and what else did you try?
MC: As I said earlier, it’s all about the practicality of it. I refuse to not write every day, Christmas day included, so I’ll try anything if that means I’m able to write. At the moment, my writing place is the most practical, so until something else makes more sense…
HS: What’s your writing schedule – how do you break up your day and do you have a favourite time to write?
MC: I write every morning during the week, then whenever I can cram it in between wrangling two young kids, gigging (I’m a professional drummer) and recording at the weekends. My favourite time to write is now. Whenever now is.
“My favourite time to write is now”
HS: Do you listen to music or anything else while you write?
MC: I can’t listen to music, it’s way too distracting. How anyone can really listen to music and attempt to create fiction I have no idea, but fair play to them. I’ve written a bit with an app that simulates rain, just because I was writing an entire book that took place during generally shitty weather. Not sure it helped much…
HS: What’s the most unusual place you’ve ever written?
MC: Probably with my laptop balanced on my snare drum before playing some gig or other. When I first started writing every day, I didn’t have a routine for a while, so it was grab every second. Sound checks can last a long time…
HS: Do you have different writing places for different kinds of books?
MC: I like to write all my horror in my dungeon. The screams of my latest victims always seems to add a little something to my prose…
HS: What do you write your first draft on? Paper, typewriter, tablet, PC, Mac, software – something else?
MC: On my Samsung notepad laptop. I recently knelt on it whilst attempting to strap kids in the car, cracking the screen, which was deeply upsetting. Three years and three million words together and finally we have to part. I’m hoping I can get another the same, because it’s been fantastic and trouble free, not to mention a bargain, its entire life. Highly recommended for people who just want something to write on.
HS: Does your writing/preparation method affect your space – is it full of post-its and scribbled notes, or is it pared back and minimalist?
MC: Neither. It all happens in my head, even the gross bits, I’m afraid to say, so the space around me isn’t important.
HS: Do you have any kind of mascots or good luck charms to hand?
MC: Chocolate. Whisky. The polished bones of my Great Aunt Maud. (maybe just the first two. Old Maudie was cremated.)
“I prefer solitude, but if I’ve had enough sleep I can happily write… pretty much anywhere I can balance my laptop.”
HS: Do you have a particular type of clothing that you have to wear, or any other superstitions or rituals that go with your writing?
MC: Nope, ‘fraid not. Well, unless you count writing naked, perched atop a pile of stale donuts, with a top hat resting at a rakish angle on my over-sized head. But everyone does that, don’t they?
HS: What’s the perfect drink to write with?
MC: I find a pen far more effective… Sorry. Amaretto, but work frowned on that after the first week.
The excellent Michael, who puts my productivity to shame, has just published Ninja Zombie Killers V and, he says, “next out is the City Electric series. Book one is called Visionthief and should appear near Christmas. Hopefully.”
Michael can be found, interacted with and shouted at on the following platforms:
Instagram – @cairnswrites
Twitter – @cairnswrites
If you’d like to appear in The Write Place series, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with a quick intro and I’ll be in touch.