L.J.M. Owen knows her stuff! Her books are meticulously researched, which I love. I feel smarter after reading her work. We share an interest (obsession?) with the darker side of human behaviour and motivations, so always have a lot to talk about!
Here she is, talking about how she refreshes her wells:
“How do I refresh the wells?
This question arrived at a fortuitous moment. Bone-shakingly tired, having just finished editing the second instalment in the Dr Pimms series, it was the perfect time to divine an answer. It emerged that my process is threefold: first, deny that my energy reserves are running low; next, avoid replenishing them even when it’s obvious I must do so; and finally, go wandering.
Creative inspiration runs rampant through the pathways of my mind in apparently inexhaustible and chaotic supply. My body, on the other hand, dictates physical limitations *queue synchronised eye-roll from family and friends*. The gap between all I want to do, and what I am actually capable of doing, is an endless source of personal frustration. When in the writing zone I’m annoyed by the need for sleep, the requirement to eat and the passage of time. Is that so unreasonable?
My attempts to ignore the dictates of the physical world result in extended bouts of exhaustion. Thus, my recent proposal to delay sleep for a few months until I “catch up on everything” did not meet with universal support *on the edge of your hearing, that’s a sigh from Longsuffering Partner*.
When my batteries deplete to 30% I insist I’m fine and continue as normal. Since I’m running on an ever-increasing sleep debt of over 2000 hours, I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to not be tired. Once I dip to 20% capacity, however, I will indulge in an afternoon of Midsomer Murders, Terry Pratchett or Kerry Greenwood, and a vat of Earl Grey tea.
In days gone by I learned a trick to side-step mental exhaustion. I dealt with soul-crushing years as a public servant by escaping into out-of-hours study. After degrees in archaeology and biological anthropology came diplomas in librarianship and various languages. I realised, as I prepared for multiple exams, that when one processing centre in my brain fatigued others remained vital. Thus I could study Chinese for two hours, then French for two, then Spanish for two and be ready for Welsh that night. But I couldn’t study Chinese for six or eight hours straight – two hours per language was the limit. At times I could almost feel the worn-out lobes power down as fresh synapses sparked to life.
I’ve since replaced study with creative writing and discovered the side-step trick works here as well. If I’ve temporarily wrung every last drop of prose from my mind I can swap to research, or editing. Each step in the writing process seems to draw on different cognitive repositories.
Occasionally, though, I exhaust all sectors of my brain. If scraping the bottom of the well I will finally concede the need for a short break. When the inner battery levels flash red it’s time for G&Ts, a feast of epic proportions, and binge-watching TV shows like Spaced, Black Books, Green Wing, Firefly, Archer or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In extremis I may actually do some housework *audible huff from Sadly Neglected Furchildren*.
Recovered slightly, the replenishment of creative energy begins as I go for a wander among the people and places in my head…
I stroll along country roads, running my fingers through the agricultural crops discussed in a half-drafted recipe book that explores the relationship between human evolution and the domestication of plants and animals…
I nod respectfully to the entire cast of my Celtic Kings series, spread as they are from western Ireland to western China…
I slip by my band of Marauding Steampunk NunsTM rampaging through an epidemiologically-accurate 19th century London. They occupy a disproportionate quantity of writerly daydreaming time as it is!
I have long, in-depth discussions with Elizabeth, the protagonist of my Dr Pimms series. As a young woman in her 20s she’s a passionate archaeologist, introverted and a Whovian, so I have substantial empathy with her. Nonetheless, it took me quite some time to like her. We didn’t get off to the best start as I resented certain freedoms in her childhood denied to me, and she found my insistence that she grow up overbearing. We explore the areas of her life that both she and I are happy with, the parts of her life she’s disgruntled by, and the aspects of her personality I would like us to work on. Self-reflectivity is a good thing, that’s all I’m saying.
As I amble on I turn down narrow alleys of history where women’s stories linger, starved of light. I listen to their tales of adventure, invention, triumph, persecution and betrayal. I meander woodland paths of academic research on ancient civilisations, forensic science and information management.
And finally, the right archaeological artefact or scientific breakthrough or moment in history triggers a neural cascade, another story flashes into existence. *That faint whoosh is a collective shoulder slump from Partner and Furchildren*
I’m off again!”