Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 08:16 UK

'Writuals' - scribes reveal daily routines

Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Roald Dahl did it in sheds at the bottom of the garden. Shaw's desk was famously on castors, so he could turn it throughout the day to get maximum light. Dahl even had one of his own hip bones sitting on the desk. Every writer will have their own ritual. Kerry McKittrick examines the modus operandi of some of Ireland's favourite writers and asks: What are your Writuals?

Bernard MaClavertyMaeve BinchyTim McGarryDan GordonDamon QuinnColin Bateman

BERNARD MACLAVERTY

Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast. His novel Grace Notes was short listed for the 1997 Booker Prize, and he is currently Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde. He lives in Glasgow with his wife Madeline.

Where are you?

In a smallish room that we call the study lined with bookshelves. Our ground floor flat is in a tenement building in Glasgow.

What are you writing with?

A variety of things, the main writing I would do would be at the screen on a computer. But at night I might be sitting with a dram and would always have a pad beside me for scribbling, most of the time it turns out to be nonsense, but sometimes you get something. I always have a wee notepad the size of a playing card in my pocket, just in case.

What's the oddest object in front of you?

A clip frame with six different postcards of heads from all over the world. One of them is an Asian head, I've put a bit of blu tak on the nose, and on top of that a wee pair of gold rimmed spectacles. I also have a packet of self adhesive moustaches. There's a Betty Davis figure on the front that says: "Don't be caught in public with a naked upper lip." There's a different style of moustache for every day of the week.

What are you listening to?

When I'm writing it's silent - I find music too interesting. If I was settling down to do banking stuff or tidying or teaching stuff I would play music. It would be exclusively classical, usually Haydn or Mozart.

Is there anyone else in the room?

Madeline occupies a desk in the corner, she's often there. She does the essential administration; if it was left to me, I would be in jail by now.

What time of day is it?

No particular time. Sometimes I don't write at all. Lately, I haven't been creating new fiction. So, yesterday, I read short pieces of fiction from Aberdeen students, and wrote up reactions to them. I wrote a short opera, one of five put on by Scottish opera. The King's Conjecture. I also finished a screenplay from a novel by Robin Jenkins called The Cone-gatherers.

What do you look at when you're looking for inspiration?

An awful lot of looking out the window goes on. I look into the street and watch people coming up and down it. It's a busy street off Byers Road, a main west end road in Glasgow. There's a school nearby, so there's always girls parading up and down laughing and squealing.

What is guaranteed to remove your concentration?

Car alarms going off in the street. That people should be so concerned that they fix up this thing that fills people with rage. But they don't come to turn them off.

MAEVE BINCHY

Maeve Binchy has been one of Ireland's best known writers for more than 20 years. She has written 14 novels. She lives in Dublin with her husband Gordon Snell, a children's author.

Where are you?

We have the study on the top floor of our house, it's a very bright room full of light and lots of windows, so we have to keep the blinds closed or we can't see our screens. It's at the top of a spiral staircase from the living room.

What are you writing with?

I use a laptop but I wish we still had typewriters - the amount of times I've pressed the wrong button and something's disappeared!

What's the oddest object in front of you?

I have a big box of business cards on the desk. If anyone gives me a business card it goes in the box and then I look in there if I need a distraction. I find myself looking at cards and thinking why would I have the address of a man in Kentucky?

What are you listening to?

I have a very shallow brain and so I need to listen to lots of different things at the same time to keep me going. I normally put on Radio 4 or RTE, the radio plays at the moment to keep me distracted. I have to listen to it on headphones or of course it would drive Gordon demented. Or I listen to music, I like Irish music like the Chieftains, or instrumental music. I don't listen to music with words that much or I tend to stop and think about them.

Is there anyone else in the room?

My husband Gordon, we're both writers, so at the end of the morning we read each others' work and we have to tell what we think and we must be honest about it, you can't be nice. Then we're allowed 10 minutes sulking time. You can go into the garden and bang flower pots about or go into the kitchen and make noise with saucepans. But you only get 10 minutes and then you have to accept the criticism whether it's good or bad.

What time of day is it?

I write in the mornings, I'm at my best in the mornings. I'm doing something in the afternoon now because I had to go out this afternoon and it's killing me, I go downhill in the afternoons.

What do you look at when you're looking for inspiration?

We have the oldest cat in the world, Sheila, she's the most loved cat in the world. We'd get out of our own bed and sleep on the floor for her. She's 16 now and very creaky and gutsy. When I come to a halt with a character I look at her and think well if she can drag herself up the stairs then this character can do such and such. The vet says she's deaf, if a cat can be deaf, so she has the most unmerciful yowl. I'll be doing a radio interview and she'll come out with the loudest screech. She's old and feeble - looking now but I don't know what I'd do without her, although I suppose I'll have to someday.

What is guaranteed to disturb your concentration?

There's a lane behind our house which doesn't get much traffic these days, but if there's someone having a conversation then I have to stand up and put my ear to the window. I used to love it in the old days when they had crossed wires on the telephone; I would always stay on the line if that happened. It doesn't happen today because the phones are so good. But if there's a conversation in the lane I'd rather die than not know what they're talking about.

TIM MCGARRY & DAMON QUINN

Tim McGarry and Damon Quinn are two thirds of the comedy trio behind Give My Head Peace. They are currently on tour with the live stage show 'Give My Head Peace - Back From the Grave'

Where are you?

Tim: The BBC have very generously given us an office to sit in, Damon, Michael and myself come in and shout at each other, scratch our backsides for hours and then try and write some jokes. Damon: this office does smell of three men.

What do you write with?

Tim: Let him answer that one. Damon: I'm a pacer up and downer, so I don't do any writing. I pace up and down and Tim and Michael share the typing between them. Very conveniently I'm a very bad typist, it would take me hours and I'd never get a script done, so the lads understand that. Tim: He has the excuse of being a one finger man, takes him forever.

What's the oddest object in front of you?

Damon: It's not exactly on the desk, but the oddest object obviously is that big life-size Elvis in the corner. That came all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. We were filming a Give My Head Peace special in Memphis and that was in a shop window so we bought it, had it sent back over and it's been here ever since. We say when Elvis leaves the building, that's the day when we'll leave as well. Tim: And the other more significant item on the desk is a tray, because of the constant supply of coffees and teas required from the canteen to keep us going.

What are you listening to?

Damon: We normally listen to the sound of two of us arguing. If there's a fight it's usually between two of us with the other saying 'Aye c'mon lads, there's work to do here. Don't be sayin that about him - it's not nice'.

Is there anyone else in the room?

Tim: It's happened a few times that people have said: "Can I come and watch you write?" But they can't really. We can't write if there's someone in sitting in the corner looking at us. We've been doing it so long together we have a sort of symbiosis. We can sit around for hours scratching our backsides and then produces 10 minutes a day. Damon: The most significant thing about writers is that writers hate to write, so we'll find any excuse not to write. We'll talk about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the weather. Tim: Why did Hitler invade Russia? Damon: Yeah, we could have that conversation for half an hour, just to stop us writing a script. Best thing you can give a writer is a deadline.

What time of day is it?

Damon: It's usually in the morning. These guys can do it, they can go to the pub and have a couple of pints at lunchtime, then come back and work, I can't do that. If I go to the pub and have a couple of pints at lunchtime, I'll fall asleep, or I'll say: "Come on, we'll stay out, we haven't had a day off since yesterday."

What do you look at when you're looking for inspiration?

Tim: There's a lot of looking at the fantastic BBC News website to see what's happening in the news, checking your emails a million times even though there's no need to.

What is guaranteed to remove your concentration?

Tim: Phone calls all the time, or we're on a roll and somebody bursts in and demands something of us.

DAN GORDON

Dan Gordon is best known for his role as Red Hand Luke in the BBC Northern Ireland comedy series Give My Head Peace. He is also an award-winning short story writer and director. He lives in Belfast with his wife and children.

Where are you?

In a kind of a study. As my family got bigger, there was less space in the house for me, so I made my neighbour an offer he couldn't refuse, bought the house next door and knocked them through. My study is the room that was supposed to be the gym, and used to be the kitchen of the house. There's a filing cabinet, two desks, two computers, and a lot of books for reference.

What are you writing with?

I've just recently got a laptop, but I miss the old clicky feel of the desktop. I don't like the laptop mouse either, I'm caught between the two at the moment, but I'm trying to train with the laptop.

What's the oddest object in front of you?

Well, there's a megaphone, left over from the play 'To Be Sure', we borrowed an old RUC megaphone and I kept it. Occasionally I get the kids up with it. Or there are two plastic Roman centurion helmets that I took from the Lyric. I tend to pick up junk and not throw it out. There's an old workman's hat around somewhere as well.

What are you listening to?

Pure silence - I would tidy up and think a lot before I write, but it's quiet when I'm at the computer.

Is there anyone else in the room?

The mother-in-law would come up to help with the kids and the housework from time to time. She's very good, but I give her a hard time as I like to have the house to myself.

What time of day is it?

Mornings, before lunchtime. I get the most done between 9am and 3pm.

What do you look at when you're looking for inspiration?

I've been fixing up the house for 10 years, so I would be planing doors, doing odd jobs, that sort of thing. If I'm at the computer, I would spin round in the chair and look at the 1,400 scripts that are catalogued behind me. There's also lots of books and poetry for inspiration.

COLIN BATEMAN

Colin Bateman worked as a journalist for the County Down Spectator before becoming a full time novelist. His screenplay Murphy's Law has been made into three successful BBC series starring James Nesbitt. He lives in Bangor, County Down with his wife and son. Where are you?

In the study at home, which has a little plastic tile on the door that says 'Genius' pad. My wife put it up. The study is a shambolic hole, with piles of books, empty Pepsi cans, wires for contraptions I no longer have, that sort of thing.

What are you writing with?

A combination of PC and laptop.

What's the oddest object in front of you?

At the moment a Twix wrapper, and my passport. I was giving a talk at a university outside Paris for the elite of France. I came back with shingles, so that's all I got in Paris.

What are you listening to?

Silence broken by my wife every half hour shouting: "Can you get me a cup of coffee?"

Is there anyone else in the room?

A small cat. She loves me, although I don't like cats. I almost lost most of my new book the other day because she stood on the keyboard and nearly wiped it. She's called Rosie.

What time of day is it?

I get the majority done first thing in the morning, but I'm in the study until about 5pm every day. I try to work normal working hours.

What do you look at when you're looking for inspiration?

A window in front of me looks onto the garden with great big trees, or cats trying to get into the house, we seem to be the neighbourhood diner for cats.





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