Friday, 11 November 2011

Blog Tour: The Haunting of Charity Delafield - Ian Beck

Hello everybody! Happy Friday - hope you all have lovely plans for the weekend.

I'm here today with a gorgeous guest post from the one and only Ian Beck, author of the truly beautiful The Haunting of Charity Delafield. Ian's here today to talk about his average writing day; I love hearing all about the writing process from various authors and, I have to say, I think Ian's average day sounds pretty awesome!

As I have got older I tend to get up earlier. So around seven I am straight down to the kitchen to make coffee, which is very important. The rich oily smell of the fresh coffee is an essential thing and I stand happily over the chugging machine and breathe it in as it flows. After breakfast I cross the seventy feet or so of garden to my shed, which I refer to, pretentiously harking back to a romantic vision of a non existent Old Russia, as my Dacha. I am very fond of this little mint green building and feel very happy when I am inside it and things can begin.

I switch on the machine and do all the procrastinating things. First I check emails. Sometimes there are knotty questions in overnight from translators asking me to define various phrases.

Recently a Spanish translator asked me exactly what was meant by ‘pitch black’, as he understood it ‘pitch’ was a toss or throw, a place to play football, or a bid to sell something. It is then as you try to explain the allusion to road surfaces and tar and pitch that you realise yet again the infinite richness of our language. Then I set off on my regular morning website trawl, starting always with the wonderful Jeffrey Wells’ Hollywood Elsewhere. A glimpse or two at twitter and then usually a phone call to my closest friend, illustrator Mick Brownfield for our doubly procrastinating water cooler chat which might be, (invariably is) about an obscure British film of the 1950s, sections of which either of us have suddenly found on youtube. I might then add something to my blog. This is usually book related, and most likely connected to an aspect of illustration, decorative art, or the movies. I recently added a post about the Rex Whistler murals in the Tate Britain restaurant, and another on Clouds in Films.

Then after this period which I excuse myself for by claiming is ‘commuter time’ I actually get on with it. The writing starts. This is like entering a waking dream. You consciously cross a threshold and once more you are back in the world you have imagined and which has waited patiently for you to come back so it can move on again. This world is peopled with characters you have mostly made up, but who share certain tics and preoccupations with yourself and with people you know. I am at my happiest humming along improvising through the scenes as the ideas grow and multiply. That time when it all really does seem possible, first draft time. During that happy period which can last anything between six months to a year, there is the occasional presenting to agent and editor. It is really only at that stage that I start keeping a hand written word count and try to keep to an average per day although that is not in any way fixed.

Also, when in the mid flow stage other ideas, connected but not an actual part of the scene I am working on will present themselves and I have to jot them on to post- it notes quickly before they fade. Then they are stuck on to the wall near my desk. At the end of a long drafting spell there will be a whole collection of random phrases sitting strangely together all on luminous pink or yellow and saying things like, ‘remember the ice maiden, see things from her side too’, or ‘sweeps boy falls down into Charity’s room’.

When the first draft is done it is followed by the inevitable redrafting, rewriting and the editing process. I’m often happier editing, it is a task which I set to without demur, indeed sometimes with relish. I have great faith and belief in both my agent and editor(s). I enjoy solving the problems that the freely written narrative has at first thrown up. I am capable of ruthless hacking back, like a fierce gardener let loose with a sharp pair of shears, or worse, a murderer creeping up behind my now unwanted characters and despatching them painlessly but ruthlessly. I do wonder sometimes if those excised characters wait in limbo for their chance. Perhaps one day they will all demand to be assembled in a story of their own, an odd mix that would be.

I enjoy the process of going backwards and forwards through the text, checking, cutting and fixing, putting all those doors in all those alleyways.

I do draw and paint in the Dacha as well, I have a writing side and a drawing side, but my pure illustration work is now almost non existent, my last big job was illustrating Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp for Philip Pullman, which was just recently published.

I work fairly conventional office hours, stopping to cook supper most days at around five thirty. My wife Emma gets in at around seven which is when we will eat. Before I had the Dacha I would often carry on working late in the evenings, the machine sat there somehow blinking at me and urging me to get on. Now I can lock it all away until the whole process starts again the next day.

The added extra bonus about working out in the Dacha is that I am now part of the garden as well as the house. I notice the bird life and the subtle changes in weather and light. I watch the squirrels hurrying about in the apple tree outside the Dacha door, or hear them run across the roof. I can hear the flocks of bright green wild parakeets too that shriek and flutter through the suburban gardens.

Last winter I sat happily working one afternoon during a heavy snow fall and it was so quiet and so beautiful, exactly like being inside one of those glass snow globes.


Sounds like absolute bliss, don't you agree?


  1. Ian writes so poetically. It sounds lovely to have a separate office that he can just walk away from in the evening.

    I love that last paragraph about the snow.

  2. A bewitching account. And now my ambition is to have a dacha of my own.

    'Working from dacha' sounds so much more splendid than 'working from home'...

  3. A bewitching account. And now it's my ambition to have a dacha of my own.

    'Working from dacha' sounds so much more splendid than 'working from home'...

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  6. My daughters (6 and 8, at time of reading) loved this book, and I loved reading it to them, so I recommend it for bed-time stories. The author's touch with description of colours is striking, I wish I could conjure a scene so vividly.

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Thank you kindly for the comment, you sweet thing.