Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Writer’s Wednesday – which planet are you on?

Julie Cohen and Michelle Styles have both been blogging recently about the difficulties of living in a writers’ world and the real world at the same time – and that’s made me think a lot about the subject. When you’re living on two planets, you have a tendency to ask lots of nosey questions, you sometimes talk about (or to) people who don’t exist, and you might end up giving someone an answer they really don’t expect, because you’re answering a question from one of the people in your head rather than the person who's talking to you in real life...

Which planet are you on?

Most of the time, writers are on both Planet Earth and Book World. And sometimes juggling between the two is a bit difficult. When we don’t answer a question or mumble something completely irrelevant, it isn’t because we’re too selfish or don’t care enough to pay attention: it’s because we’re juggling.

Writers are not selfish monsters. (Better qualify that – some are, but so are some non-writers!) We all feel guilty and convinced that we’re not doing enough for family and friends, but I’d bet serious money that working women all over the world feel that same guilt. Our nearest and dearest know that we’re living on two planets, so they soon learn to read the signs. They can see when we’re distracted (sadly, children learn very quickly that the answer is ‘yes’ even when we haven’t heard the question, because authors on deadline don’t pay quite as much attention as mums usually do). They know when not to bother talking because you’re miles away and won’t answer, and they know when you’ll be chatty so they get the best out of you. They’re used to you borrowing them to choreograph something (e.g. if my heroine sits on a table, where is her eyeline in relation to the hero?). They understand that your office might look like a tip but if they want to borrow a pair of scissors or a particular reference book, you can produce them in half a second.

Away from our desks, we multi-task. We’re physically on Planet Earth, but part of us is still in Book World. Other writers can spot it straight off. I was having lunch in a café in Wells-next-the-Sea when the friend I was lunching with asked, ‘You’re having a lightbulb moment, aren’t you?’ (Only a writer – or someone who lives with one – would understand that. Anyone who overheard the conversation probably thought we were both barking mad! My friend realised that I was mentally taking notes and redecorating the place to suit my heroine, moving it to a different part of the coast, and I’d just changed the weather outside.)

As for talking about (or to) people who don’t exist... Well, if they’re not real to us, how do we expect them to be real for our readers? It’s not being eccentric – it’s doing the job well. Think of it as a bit like Method acting.

And asking people lots of questions – is that so bad? Actually, no. Provided you’re not aggressive about it, what the other person will take away from the conversation is that you were interested in them and/or something that’s important to them, you asked questions, you let them talk AND YOU LISTENED. What you actually did was make that person feel really important for a little while and that made them feel good. And a few months down the line they’ll discover that you gave them a credit in your book in the acknowledgements. How cool is that? Most people outside the profession don’t know many writers, so the fact that someone put their name in a book and said a public thank you is a big deal. We tend to take that part of it for granted because we’re writers, and several of our colleagues/friends are writers.

It’s easy to feel guilty and convinced that you’re neglecting your loved ones, particularly if you’re a mum to pre-teens. But remember this: those who know you and love you really do understand. They know you’re not like other people – you’re a writer and your imagination is a real place. Your quirkiness is actually one of the reasons why they love you, and they know you’re trying your best to get the balance right.

And there are also advantages to being a writer’s children. When you take them out, you end up telling them stories. If you take them on a family outing that just so happens to be a research trip for you, then they’ll get an awful lot more out of that trip than the average child because you’ll be asking questions or sharing your knowledge. If we go to a castle (the one on the right is Norwich Castle, one of my favourite haunts), my kids will know exactly what it felt like to be living there nine hundred-odd years ago – they’ll know the sights and smells and sounds and tastes and textures children experienced back then. Instead of seeing a mound in a field and thinking ‘oh, well, it’s a mound’, they’ll be back with Basil Brown, excavating Sutton Hoo and discovering the ghost of a ship. Or they’ll be further back still, in the kingdom of the Wuffings.

Or they’ll get to experience different cultures – I was so glad when Sarah Morgan told me that her kids can tell where she’s setting a book because of what she cooks for dinner, because it’s exactly the same in this house. Recently, I wrote a book set in Norway, so we tried gjetost (a very sweet cheese that looks like fudge) and made proper Norwegian waffles – the kids loved it. And when I wrote Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh, we ate a lot of things involving pomegranates. (My DH looked a bit worried, until I explained that no, it wasn’t a weird craving – it was an important plot point.)

So there are definite advantages to living on two planets. And, since I’m nosey… how do your friends and family know when you’re not on the same planet?

In the UK, next week on shelves you can find the second in Kate’s To Tame a Playboy duo, Playboy Boss, Pregnancy of Passion. In Australia The Children’s Doctor’s Special Proposal is out now; and in the US you can get The Millionaire Boss’s Reluctant Mistress (which is a Presents Extra reprint of the first in Kate’s Posh Docs trilogy, Her Celebrity Surgeon). They’re also available on the US and Aus Harlequin websites, and the UK Mills and Boon website.

You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Kate! What a fab post. Forget trying to be in two places at once...try being in two MINDS at once! And trying to remember everything....

    When I am asked a question and it takes me a moment to shift gears, the family knows I'm deep in it. If I answer, "Uh huh" followed by a quick "What?" they know. Ditto for moments when I look around with a lovely expression of wonder (yes, I AM seeing it, thank you).

    I went to dinner with a friend recently who said I was a lot more fun when off of deadline. I know it's true, but sometimes you just can't help being immersed in that world, you know?

    Bless you for saying my kids having me for a mother is an advantage.

  2. Hi Kate:

    It is not just writers that live in two worlds. When I was doing advertising I was always about five to six months into the future. I would be doing the Christmas month ads in July and so on. Then when I worked midnight to 8:00 am and slept during the day, I felt I was in the night world. And just think of the soldiers in a war zone calling home to their families: that is surely living in two different worlds! Of course, there is only one world with many possible perceptions of what it is like. Writers are not alone in this respect; they are just more aware of it. After all, POV is a tool of the trade.

    BTW, some writers, like Michelle Styles, have an additional problem in moving between historical epochs. I love Michelle’s, Viking and Roman Empire books and look forward to many more.


  3. Hi Kate. I'm in "book mode" today. DH come into the room part way thro' my telephone call:

    Me: "So a 2 month old baby could drink goat's milk. That's great news. Thanks."

    DH raises an eyebrow once the 'phone goes down.

    Me: "Brian Jefferies. He's a goat breeder. I need to know about goats for my latest Roman. My hero and heroine are stranded on an island see. A leper colony-"

    DH: (cutting me off mid stride). "Enough. I should have known." walks off mumbling something...

    Well he did ask (sort of). Like I said "book mode" - a strange malady that effects all writers....
    Take care - Caroline x

  4. Donna - it's certainly an interesting life :o) Told the kids where we're going this weekend. 'Oh, is this what your new book's about?' Yup, and it's fun with a capital F.

  5. Caroline - a leper colony, goats, Romans... sounds like just the kind of book I'd enjoy reading. (I love books where I learn something new as well as enjoying a romance!)

  6. Vince - thanks for raising the point that writers aren't the only ones living in two worlds. Very true: but as this is a "Writers' Wednesday" slot, I hope you'll forgive me for focusing on a narrow section of the business world, i.e. from a writer's perspective :o)

    As a qualified marketer, I know exactly where you're coming from re lead times. Books can be a bit odd like that - sometimes, when I'm writing a winter scene and it's boiling hot outside (well, as hot as an English summer gets) it can be quite disconcerting!

  7. Vince --
    The third Viking of mine comes out in the US in December. And with those revisions, I did have to switch gears from Regency reactions to Viking ones.

    I think creative types ( and here I will include advertising) do have to spend time in their imagination.

    With the miltiary is a different problem as they often have to straddle two lives -- home with its every day concerns and deployment. I am so full of admiration for the very hard job that serving miltary professional and their families do.