A Way with Words

Sarah Quigley de­scribes her writ­ing day.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Sarah Quigley is a writer and re­viewer based in Ber­lin. Her new novel, The Sui­cide Club, will be pub­lished this year by Pen­guin Ran­dom House.

Sarah Quigley

The first thing my friend Tom, an in­te­rior de­signer, al­ways says when he comes into my house is, “I can’t be­lieve you work on that!” He’s re­fer­ring to my desk, which be­gan life as a wardrobe door. I found it on the streets of East Ber­lin 15 years ago, at a time when I had a big apart­ment, no fur­ni­ture and lit­tle money. Since then, I’ve moved house five times and the desk has moved with me. Right now, it’s not bolted to the wall, so it wob­bles when I type fast: a slightly ver­tig­i­nous feel­ing that’s not un­pleas­ant.

Last year, in a vin­tage fur­ni­ture store, I found my dream desk: 1970s, glow­ing teak, by a Dan­ish de­signer called

Peter Løvig Nielsen. Some­times I yearn for some­thing beau­ti­ful like that, but then I re­mind my­self it’s not im­por­tant. You can write re­ally bad stuff sit­ting at the most beau­ti­ful and ex­pen­sive desk in the world! And when you’re writ­ing well, ev­ery­thing around you be­comes in­vis­i­ble, any­way: it’s just you and the rhythm of the words.

I guess this state is what ath­letes call “the zone”. A boyfriend once said he was jeal­ous of my writ­ing be­cause it took me some­where he “couldn’t fol­low”. It was a very as­tute com­ment. The writ­ing zone is such a mys­te­ri­ous place and once you’ve re-emerged into the real world, it’s hard even for you to know how you got there.

I don’t ever Face­book or Twit­ter, and I don’t use Google much ex­cept when I’m do­ing re­search. I find most of what’s on the in­ter­net quite de­press­ing, and I think so­cial me­dia can in­fan­tilise peo­ple. Who wants to see pic­tures of some­one else’s lunch? Be­cause I also work as an ed­i­tor, I’m al­ways up against dead­lines, so when I’m at my desk, I don’t like wast­ing time.

I hardly ever shop online. One of my favourite ways to re­lax is go­ing to shops, brows­ing the clothes racks and rev­el­ling in the prints and tex­tures. I love talk­ing with shop as­sis­tants. Writ­ing a novel feels as if you’re swim­ming un­der­wa­ter for long pe­ri­ods of time, and glimps­ing into other peo­ple’s lives is like a breath of fresh air.

The other day I was jok­ing with my neigh­bour about my “Chi­nese-fac­to­ry­worker writ­ing ­uni­form”. I wear the same thing every day when I’m writ­ing. Black hoodie, black sweat­pants, no jew­ellery – and I al­ways tie my hair back. No phys­i­cal ­dis­trac­tions. If I write when I’m dressed up, I feel as if I’m pre­tend­ing, and I can’t hear the words clearly.

My favourite writ­ing time is from mid­night to 4am. There’s a magic to those hours. The world is very quiet; things are still hap­pen­ing very in­tensely, but in a dif­fer­ent way than in day­light. In the mid­dle of the night, time loses its rigid­ity. You can for­get the clock and al­low the words to fill the space. Af­ter­wards, you feel drained in a good way: empty but ful­filled at the same time. That’s the best feel­ing I know.

I think so­cial me­dia can in­fan­tilise peo­ple. Who wants to see pic­tures of some­one else’s lunch?

Sarah Quigley: “When you’re writ­ing well, every­thing around you be­comes in­vis­i­ble.”

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