|Name: CHRISTOPHER FOWLER
Author of: BRYANT & MAY Series (2004 – 2015)
On the web: www.christopherfowler.co.uk
On Twitter: @Peculiar
Today marks the UK hardback publication of the twelfth Bryant & May mystery, The Burning Man. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m very pleased and excited to welcome its author, Christopher Fowler, to Reader Dad, to talk about his writing space. So, without further ado…
Fellow writers are always horrified when they walk into my home. The horror intensifies when they see my writing study. ‘But where is everything?’ they ask. ‘How on earth can you work like this? There’s nothing here!’
I grew up in a terraced Victorian house where space and light were both restricted. In summer you stayed cool inside, but in winter you lost the will to live. It was cluttered and chaotic with books, magazines and far too many ornamental objects. When I finally gave up my job for my career and switched to writing novels full-time, I knew I needed a better space in which to work. My partner and I found an apartment where the architects had spent four months measuring light levels before putting in the walls. Most of the outer walls are floor-to-ceiling glass. Living in a goldfish bowl takes some getting used to; there are many days when you have to wear sunglasses to the breakfast table. The unforgiving design ethic of stark white minimalism and glass is not conducive to the care and protection of beloved old books. Only one room could be shielded from the relentless glare of daylight, so that is where the library lives. We couldn’t leave books out in the light because even recent volumes have yellowed and turned brittle (whereas my rare paperback collections from the 1950s are fine).
Shelves were ordered, but only enough to keep the lines of the room. In my old house I had sat surrounded by wobbly stacks, shifting them from tables to eat, piling them beside my bed until I was in danger of being buried alive.
We decided to take all the books with us, but remove the duplicates. The dog-eared student texts, from Chaucer to Gunter Grasse, were all doubled, so they went. Out went spares of Shakespeare, Balzac, Hesse, 20th century poets, and reference books that were available online. Practical choices were made – we dumped the gardening books because we no longer had a garden. For a while the process remained polite, and even developed a peculiar kind of quid pro quo. ‘No,’ I insisted, ‘you keep your African authors, but I’ll hang onto my British theatre histories because I might need the research.’ Being an author, I could unashamedly pull rank.
There were still not enough shelves, even though they ran to the ceiling. I hung on to some very strange book choices. The worthy volumes that we felt required to keep had been discarded in favour of guilty pleasures. The Pan Books Of Horror, Spider-Man and The Films of Norman Wisdom had inexplicably been deemed more valuable than Proust. Ultimately, the new truncated library that emerged was as idiosyncratic as the old one, and as enjoyable. I think libraries should breathe and fluctuate.
Wi-Fi meant no cables, and the printer could be tucked away – although it’s virtually redundant now. The study naturally became a paper-free zone as nearly all of my research documents, photos and letters are stored online. I’ve only kept a few book awards – the rest are stored in an electronic format. The study windows overlook St Paul’s, an inspirational sight for any London writer, and there are 360 degrees of blinds which can be lowered one at a time, according to the position of the sun.
One problem is that my past books have all been written on different systems, and there’s no single access source for the texts. At some point in the future I’ll have to transcribe them to Word – the earliest were typed on manual typewriters. Even my first Bryant & May mystery novels were written on now defunct systems, so I have to go back to the master copies for reference. I keep style guides and character reference notes online, but still revert to pen and paper occasionally to help me visualise a situation.
It’s a great way to work, calm, uncluttered and skybound.