Scene of the Crime – James Oswald

James Oswald, author of the Inspector McLean series and NO TIME TO CRY, explains where he writes his novels

Posted on August 1, 2018 in Scene of the Crime
Tags: James Oswald, Scene of the Crime, guest author, where i write

If you looked at some of my early publicity, you could be forgiven for thinking that I wrote out in a field surrounded by livestock. It’s an endearing image, but I’ve found laptops and rain don’t really mix, sheep are the harshest of critics, and Highland cows like to eat notepads. The great outdoors is a good place for thinking about writing, though, and my day job as a farmer certainly gives me time for that.

I can write almost anywhere, as long as I’m not being overly distracted. I’ve written in cafés and on trains, scribbled a crucial scene from Prayer for the Dead in the hour it took to fly from London to Edinburgh. The voice recorder on my phone is a wonderful invention, even if I sometimes lose the dogs as I dictate some important idea mid-walk. And long nights in the lambing shed give you plenty of time to think, but my notebook does have some questionable stains on it.

When I inherited the family farm ten years ago, my younger brother ended up with the farmhouse. There were sound reasons for this, but it meant I had to live in a static caravan, parked in an old Dutch barn at the bottom of the farmyard. The smallest of its two tiny bedrooms became my office, with a glorious view of the overgrown sheep fank to keep my mind from wandering. I screwed two whiteboards to the wall – one for my work in progress, one for what needed to be done on the farm. Six novels came out of that caravan before Storm Gertrude blew the barn down on top of it (with me and my partner, Barbara, asleep inside it at the time.)

Fortunately, I had been building a house nearby, and although it wasn’t anywhere near finished, we were able to move into it. I had, indeed, already moved into my purpose-built writing room – a huge space above the garage – but had to vacate it again as it became our bed/living room for the next year. Work on the house has progressed in fits and starts in the two-and-a-half years since the storm, but I’ve reclaimed my den and somehow managed to write another five books in that time.

I designed the house – and my writing room – while living in the caravan, which might explain why everything is so big. There’s space for three whiteboards, and a separate desk for the farm admin. In an idle moment I calculated I could fit at least four caravans in here, although I’m not sure how I’d get them up the stairs.

If I had hoped that more room would mean less clutter, then I was deluding myself. The collected detritus seems to expand to fill the space available. I’m happiest among the chaos though. As long as I can find my keyboard and mouse, and see the screen in front of me, I don’t really need anything else.

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