A Way with Words: Fiona Kidman

by Fiona Kidman / 15 March, 2017

A room of one’s own: Fiona Kidman.

Fiona Kidman describes her writing day.

There was a time when I would rise at three in the morning and write feverishly in longhand, getting as much down as possible in an ­exercise book at the kitchen table. At around 5.30, the children would wake. People say, weren’t you exhausted? I was, but I think I’d developed the stamina for it back on the family farm, getting up to milk cows before I went to high school. And I loved the quiet house, the amazing silence of the night pressing against the window panes and dawn breaking against the sky. I have always loved silence; it contains its own swirling music. It’s the place where ideas happen.

Of course, it’s not like that nowadays. Fifty years have passed, another place. I have a room of my own semi-detached from the rest of the house. I go down an outside flight of stairs and unlock the door to a room that has changed little over several decades. It is painted a faded shade of apricot, the walls adorned with a collection of postcards sent by friends on their travels, and pictures of family.

There are also several framed pictures of movie stars: Marilyn Monroe drinking a glass of champagne at Malibu, not long before she died; Jean Harlow in Hell’s Angels; Marlene Dietrich on the poster for the 1992 Cannes Film Festival; Elvis surrounded by butterflies. They believed in their own mythology, these gorgeous, gone creatures. That’s my job, when I sit down each morning to write fictions. I need to step through the wall and believe in my characters.

This room has a view as well. I can see out over Cook Strait and across the Orongorongo mountains. But views don’t put words on the screen or, as Steinbeck once said, referring to the “400 pages of blank stock, the appalling stuff that must be filled”. The long distance between beginning the novel and that moment when it ends stretches ahead.

Steinbeck also said that, if research is required, it’s as well to do as much as possible in advance, so that you don’t have to keep heading off to the library, or to another town or country in the middle of the process. I get that, because my novels often require research and I don’t like to write about places I haven’t been (although my novel The Infinite Air about Jean Batten defied the opportunity to touch down in all the countries that she did). So, first there is a checking of notes, and these may well include notes I’ve written to myself in the middle of the night or the day before when I’ve been out and about in the supermarket.

Then it’s all go. I type solidly and ­without interruption for about three hours, until I have written a thousand or so words. They will be subject to ­alteration, correction and editing, but they are words, the bones of the story. Around that point, Ian, my now-retired husband, will tell me that lunch is ready. I close the door and the other part of my daily life begins.

This article was first published in the March 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter

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