I asked the writer James Kelman recently* what was his starting point for Kieron Smith, Boy, his answer was a joy. I could see him thinking as he started to speak: 'Well...' His eyes sparkled and his face warmed to a soft glow: 'you know artists studios...?' I nodded. He went on to describe an artist's studio: packed to the gunnels with stuff, gathered for the hell of it. This stuff inspires, feeds, informs and, sometimes becomes part of the artist's work, he said.**
His computer, he continued, was like an artist's studio: on it he gathers all sorts of little things, snippets, which he puts into files. He has hundreds of files like this. Some might sit untouched for years, but generally he will add to one or other of them from time to time. Every now and again he might have a look to see what he has, and occasionally when he does he sees the start of something, and that is how he works. He collects what may or may not turn out to be material, keeps it with no particular aim in mind, has a look at it from time to time, adds to it, and then sometimes he will find the suggestion of a story. One such file was the starting point for the book.
This notion has been percolating away in my mind for a month or so, I love the imagery of it, have always adored getting a peak at the studios of artists. One of the best things about Saturday has for me been the 'Writer's Room' feature in the Guardian Review, though, sadly that seems to have stopped recently. The thing I can't quite get to grips with, though, is the thought of keeping everything on the computer, everything. I wonder if he actually does, I didn't ask him? How I would love to be able to do that, imagine how neat and serene his room must be. I dream of having a large, virtually empty space to work in, no distractions. Unfortunately I can't seem to keep my collecting habit to my computer, it keeps spilling out into the material world.
My writing table, this morning. No wonder I'm unable to get any work done.
*At the Borders Book Festival during the questions bit after his reading, sadly he wouldn't know me if he had to scrape me off the sole of his shoe.
** I should just say here that I didn't take notes so this probably isn't exactly what he said.