As soon as I thought of the idea for this blog series, I knew I’d have to have Kirsty Manning as my guest. Her writing outlook is spectacular, and definitely worth sharing. She’s also offered a signed copy of her new book, The Midsummer Garden, to one lucky person who comments on this blog post. So sit back and enjoy this tour of Kirsty Manning’s writing spaces!
1. My stories are made …
At home, mostly. I have a home office that has French doors on a deck high among my chestnut trees. It feels a little like writing in a treehouse. Mostly the doors stay closed. I live on a mountain outside Melbourne … enough said! In summer I throw them open and it’s magic.
A couple of times a week I’ll go to a cafe and write. Or I’ll sit upstairs in a beautiful, quiet room at our restaurant, Bellota, in South Melbourne.
That’s the trouble with writing books describing lots of food … I’m always hungry.
I also have a large table overlooking the turning circle and giant chestnut tree in my garden. It catches the morning sun and I’ll often sit there with a coffee overlooking the garden and do some work.
So that’s my ideal ‘where I write!’
The reality is I will spend many hours writing each week beside basketball courts and swimming pools. We have to leave home at 4.20 am (that’s not a typo) for my son to make his swimming training, so I’ll fumble my way onto a bike at the gym and listen to a podcast, or lie on a yoga mat ‘stretching’ and watching the clock until 6 am …when I’ll stagger into the coffee shop and do an hour of work.
2. My stance on notebooks is …
Yes, I buy a new notebook for every book. And then I promptly lose it. So I end up with a couple. I make copious notes with set pages for characters, place etc and then by halfway through the book it’s just basically a download and lots of messy questions. I also write notes on post-its, receipts and index cards, and then stuff them into my notebook too!
I just pulled my notebook off the shelf for The Midsummer Garden. I have interview notes with chefs and marine biologists, notes about motivations for characters, scenes I’d like to incorporate, a glossary of some medieval words and some notes on mushrooming in my area! There are also some random scribbles from my kids, a couple of shopping lists, line sketches of some herbs, feedback from my agent and beta readers and contact details for experts I interviewed.
Perhaps the most surprising element is that at the back of my notebook, like an afterthought, I’ve jotted down the central philosophy for what has become my current WIP! So I obviously had some ideas for the next book while I was writing the last one, and just made a note of it so I wouldn’t forget (and I did, until now!)
I tend to scribble in my notebooks non-stop. But when I’m actually writing the novel, I don’t refer to them much at all. Just dip in and out a bit to touch base with my original thoughts. It’s like a dream-catcher for my brain and it seems to be the process of jotting things down that commit it to my memory.
3. I am … tidy or messy?
When I start a new book my office is immaculate. I even pulled the books off the shelf and wiped and dusted everything before I started this WIP. Last week I was in a writing frenzy and I couldn’t see my floor, or desk! But I needed to rein in the chaos, and so it is very neat again. Often I’ll have lots of reference books open around me, so it looks worse than it actually is!
4. I like … noise or silence?
We built our house when my children were just tiny toddlers and babies, and my office connects with the living room. I had the architect cut a giant hole in the wall, so I could see and interact with the family while I was working sometimes while they did lego or bounced on the floor etc in front of me. It seemed so idyllic …
Obviously that was the worst idea I ever had!
As any mother will tell you, when you are working from home, or doing a phone interview (I worked as a freelance journo for a while) the kids NEVER play peacefully with lego. They are much older now and I have a mighty piece of customised double-glazed glass between my office and the living room!
Usually, I hate listening to music when I’m writing. But sometimes in the evening I don’t mind something mellow, like Birds of Tokyo.
5. On my desk, I must have …
A vase of herbs, usually rosemary, from the garden. I find the scent keeps me concentrating and it’s just really lovely! It’s an old habit I actually picked up when I moved into my first share-house at university. I read somewhere that rosemary kept you really stimulated and helped you to concentrate when you study. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, so I’m not sure there are enough herbs in the world to stop that!
I also have water, and sometimes a burning candle. The warm light keeps me calm.
6. My walls are covered in …
Three walls are all bookshelves. The wall above my desk (under above-mentioned window) is filled with personal family photos, cards and letters my kids have written, invitations, funny cards or quotes and a lot of post-it notes reminding me to do something.
7. I love my writing space because …
It’s so warm and inviting! It’s filled with natural light at all times of the day, it feel way more spacious than it actually is. I adore being surrounded by amazing books. It’s a happy space, quite near the heart of our home. I secretly love that the kids pop in to ask me a question (most of the time!!!) , or the littlest will sneak in for nothing except a snuggle and just to be near me. All three kids try to overtake my office for their homework, because even though they have their own desks, mine is a lovely place to be.
Win a Copy of The Midsummer Garden
Kirsty Manning’s debut historical novel is The Midsummer Garden. To win a copy, all you need to do is leave a comment below. The winner will be drawn by the random number generator at midday, June 23. Here’s some more info about the book:
Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Château de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. And all of her talents are needed as she organises the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast for Lord Boschaud and his bride. But after the celebrations are over, Artemisia dares to believe that her future lies outside the Château. But who can she trust with her secret?
There is nowhere else Pip Arnet would rather be than on the mudflats of Tasmania foraging for native clams. Pip is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she can’t seem to strike the right balance in her own life. She’d thought that her fiancé Jack understood her need to make a real difference in the world of marine biology, thought that he knew she couldn’t make any plans, even his tempting trip to Italian vineyards, until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s moved in with him, he seems to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.
When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of life’s choices, family and love, passion and sacrifice.