Saturday, October 21, 2017

My writing day / Andrew Michael Hurley / ‘​Some days I don’t look up until my wife texts to tell me to ea​t’

Andrew Michael Hurley … ‘It’s the northerner in me, I suppose, that can’t quite admit that writing is a proper job.’ Illustration: Alan Vest


Andrew Michael Hurley: ‘​Some days I don’t look up until my wife texts to tell me to ea​t’

The author of The Loney on his not-so-Scandi-neat study, why he feels guilty going for a walk and what humans will look like in a thousand years

Andrew Michael Hurley
Saturday 21 October 2017 10.00 BST

atching the morning travel updates on the news as the rest of the family gets ready to leave, I’m grateful that on writing days I don’t have to commute any further than the study at the back of the garage. It’s a nice space in which to work. The double glazing blots out the noise of the traffic on the M55. I have a view of things both deciduous and evergreen in the garden. The decor is hopeful; the white walls, desk, bookshelves and small sofa all say efficiency, order, focus – watchwords for a professional writer serious about his work, oh yes.

But for all the promises I made to myself about keeping things Scandi-neat in the study, I have reverted inevitably to type. Books and files sit on the sofa more often than I do. A picture leans against the wall waiting to be hung. On the desk, the laptop is elbowed by books. To the left it’s Coleridge Walks the Fells and the Penguin Dictionary of Geology. To the right, a bigger pile. The Essential Hemingway, a Jim Crace novel, a large hardback called The Occult Universe, a seasonal recipe book from the 1940s, each month prefaced by an appropriate poem before instructions are given for duck in aspic or hashed heart. I could quite easily tidy up, of course, but I like the magpie-nest clutter and I think there’s something a bit sterile, creatively speaking, about a clean desk. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Making a living from writing often involves talking about what you do rather than actually doing it. I’m asked to give readings, I teach, I deliver workshops. But on days when I can sit down and tap at the keys, time is generally shaped by what I need to do or where I’m up to with a particular project. In the final weeks of editing a novel I might be working at six in the morning and still be at it after 10 at night. Whereas, the earlier stages require a slower accumulation of words and ideas, and I can keep more sociable hours. It’s experimental agriculture, not frantic harvest. Throw stuff down, leave it overnight, see what grows.

I don’t have rituals to perform or any kind of morning routine at all; having been a teacher and a librarian, it would seem wholly masochistic to inflict one on myself unnecessarily. I eat breakfast. I start work. That’s it. Over a cup of tea or two, I’ll spend time reading through the previous day’s efforts and being ruthless with a red pen. It’s the only time I switch on the radio for company and even then it’s Radio 3: minimal talking, low volume. And it goes off once I’m ready to start writing. I wish I could work to music but I can’t. I need silence. I’m too easily distracted. Which is why I have absented myself from social media. I’m not entirely low-tech, though. I can’t escape email, and when I need a break I might rummage in the jumble of videos that come up on YouTube. It’s educational, of course. A writer should always be in pursuit of knowledge, after all. I now know how the speed of light is measured and the way to visualise a four-dimensional cube. I can tell you the five most mysterious things found in Siberia and what human beings will look like in a thousand years (we’ll be slightly taller with bionic eyes).

After something to eat around midday, I change tack. I’ll focus on some other project or read or try to do any research that needs to be done. Some days I don’t look up until my wife texts me from the house to tell me to come and eat. Other days, no, let’s get this right, most days, I’m restless by the late afternoon and I have to go out for a walk.
It’s the northerner in me, I suppose, that can’t quite admit that writing is a proper job. I half hear my great-grandparents asking what kind of bloody trade it is that allows you to go buggering about on the moors of a Thursday afternoon. Or spend a Monday morning listening to a river? And so on these walks I’m nipped at by guilt.
But only for a while, and not so frequently these days. Someone who spends much of their time sitting at a desk needs fresh air and exercise for the good of their health, right? And anyway, writing is a peculiar occupation for peculiar people, and so it seems entirely appropriate that it should have peculiar practices. The thing is, they seem to work. From equal amounts of hard graft and idleness stories somehow grow.

In brief

Number of steps to work: 12

Hours writing: never quite enough or far too many

Hours walking: as above

Number of words: enough in the end


My writing day

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