A Way with Words: Charlotte Grimshaw

by Charlotte Grimshaw / 08 March, 2017

Writer Charlotte Grimshaw. Photo/Jane Ussher

Charlotte Grimshaw describes her writing day.

When I was younger and had three small children, I was extremely disciplined. I set myself strict writing times when the kids were at kindergarten and school, and often handed them over to [husband] Paul so I could write on Sunday afternoon, too.

My mind works in an opportunistic way. Everything is a source of detail that I can use in fiction. Recently, I did a schools visit in Marlborough, which I don’t normally do, and to my surprise, I loved it. Some of the children were so impressive: imaginative, intelligent, thoughtful. I told them writing is good for morale, because every experience is useful. Even if something’s terrible or a disappointment, there’s a positive side: it’s material.

I got more interested in the process of creating fiction when I realised I have very little memory of writing my books. When I was asked how I came up with the most suspenseful passages in my latest novel, Starlight Peninsula, I found I was inventing a memory of writing in order to answer the question. What I do is work myself into a particular state, and the more intensely I’m focused, the less I recall it afterwards.

And yet I have every detail of my novels and short stories mapped in my head. I know exactly how they are connected, and continually think about what I can invent next.

The novel I’m working on now is called “Mazarine”. It’s not so much a sequel to Starlight Peninsula as a new twist; I hope it’s an ingenious one. It’s set in Auckland, London, Paris and Buenos Aires, and you could say it’s a ­psychological ­literary thriller, a story about the divided self in a divided world, and even a ­meditation on the psychology of writing fiction.

I stick to a routine that gets me into the required state of mind. I usually go to a cafe with Paul, and I have exactly the same breakfast every day wherever I am in the world: I call it the Wittgenstein. It’s two large coffees, toast and tomatoes.

In Auckland, I walk my dog Philip around Hobson Bay. It’s when I’m walking through the mangroves at the bay, which is my turangawaewae, that I come up with ideas: a plot development, a character, a way to approach a review or essay.

It suits me best to be alone all day, until the family come home in the evening. I go to work on the fiction, fuelled by a lot of coffee. Philip lies under the desk while I work, and only comes raging out if there’s someone at the door. He’s a terrific guard dog.

In the afternoon, I spend a ­strenuous hour at the gym. Since I’m rather ­hyperactive, part of my writing formula involves exhausting myself each day. I still haven’t worked out how to tone down this regime.

Most evenings I don’t drink wine, so I can read for a couple of hours with a clear head. On evenings when Paul and I have some wine, if we’re not out ­somewhere we watch a film, or a TV series on Netflix. Sometimes I wake up at 2am with an idea, and have to write it down – this is usually a sign the fiction is going well.

This article was first published in the February 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter. 

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