Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Paula Daly

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Paula Daly's desk

Paula Daly's first book is Just What Kind of Mother are You? (Random House Canada), which tells the gut-wrenching story of a missing child. Lisa Kallisto is minding her best friend's thirteen-year-old one day; she looks away for a moment and the girl disappears, setting off a chain of events that tear the surface off Lisa's supposedly sleepy and sweet small English town.

Today we welcome Paula as part of Open Book’s At The Desk series, in which writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them. For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting and we are seeking the stories behind the pages.

Paula's workspace is an oasis of calm in a busy family home, with a spectacular view of the English Lake District, where her novel is set.

Today she talks with Open Book about dog-walking as part of the writing process, daily word quotas and playing alone.
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I write in my bedroom — which overlooks Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the English Lake District. Just about the only thing I need to write is a comfortable chair and reasonable quiet. That said, I can write when the children are home as long as they’re not pestering too much. And the room needs to be tidy. I don’t think of myself as a control freak but I know there’s no way I could begin writing if the bed was unmade, or my husband’s jeans were still slung over the chair.

I’m a planner when it comes to writing. Not reams and reams of notes, most of it is inside my head, but I do need some basic things in place before I start to type. This is my favourite part of the process because it involves much wandering around outside (with my dog) and sitting for long periods in the chair looking out at the lake, jotting down ideas in longhand. The planning stage is always done longhand — as are the ‘I don’t know what to write’ stages. I find something unlocks inside my brain if the pen is moving across the paper and often the answers to problems arise in around twenty minutes. Whereas if I continue to stare at the screen, nothing useful ever happens.

The ideas for stories usually come from something that’s bothering me. With Just What Kind of Mother Are You it was the overstretched mother, so typical of life today, and how she’s so overwhelmed with responsibilities that there’s no margin for error. My main character takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her friend’s child disappears. Disaster.

Once I have my theme, I’m looking for my baddie. Someone with the right motivation to attack my protagonist. Then I’m looking for my protagonist, and it has to be someone who is vulnerable to attack.

Lastly I need some idea of my ending and then I’m more or less ready to start.
I write 1000 words a day, I’ve tried writing more but I’m simply not capable. I would say though that these are 1000 good words. When the first draft is done a major rewrite is not necessary. Usually I’m just making my characters more like themselves or tidying up passages to make my writing as clear as possible.

The actual writing, the composition, is the hardest part for me. I turn off the internet connection and don’t answer the phone unless it’s the children calling (or their school). I find the writing difficult to do but I enjoy it. I liken it to playing alone as a child. As I write this I can hear my youngest in his bedroom, giving voices to his Pokemon toys, and if I were to go in there, he’d say, “Mum, can you go now please?” That’s what it’s like for me. It feels fun and exciting to write, and it thrills me. It gives me a buzz, as playing did when I was young. But I suppose unlike play it’s pretty draining. I’m physically unable to produce 3000 words a day as I know some authors can.

Obviously the novel is a work of fiction and I don’t base my characters on real people but I always have the antenna up, I’m always watching and listening carefully to what people say and do. If something attracts my attention and it’s funny, or upsetting, or poignant, or unfair... anything at all really that sparks a feeling in me, then it goes into the book. One of the greatest joys of this process is hearing a line of dialogue and popping it into the mouth of one of my characters. Love that.

— Paula Daly

Paula Daly lives in Cumbria with her husband, three children and whippet, Skippy. She is a freelance physiotherapist and lived for a short while in France but returned to the UK after missing the hustle and bustle. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? is her first novel. Paula is currently working on her next novel, The Day Before You Came.

For more information about Just What Kind of Mother Are You? please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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