‘Slowly, I write slowly. If there’s a character that I identified with in Life of Pi, it was the sloth. Some writers – Alexander McCall Smith comes to mind – write in paragraphs. Others write in full sentences – perhaps Martin Amis. I write one word at a time, like a bricklayer lays one brick at a time. But before I even write a word, I plan and think for a long time.
I’ve heard of writers who just start writing, with their characters telling them where the story will go. To me, that would be like starting on a building without knowing its function: whether school, hotel or hospital. In my novels, the beginning is defined by the end, and so the end must be known. In Beatrice and Virgil, my latest novel, as in Life of Pi, I knew what the last word of the book would be before I had written down the first.’
Step by step, this is how I write:
1 I wait in a state of openness and receptivity to a story idea, to an idea that has the potential to grow and say something about life that I find interesting.
2 When I get such an idea, I think it over, looking at it from every angle. Often, in doing so, other ideas come to mind, until I have a bushel of ideas.
3 I do research. For Beatrice and Virgil, for example, I went to the British Library and read every book they had on taxidermy.
4 Once I have all the material I need, I start the actual writing.
5 After that, the process looks dull from the outside – just a guy sitting at a computer, tapping away – but it’s thrilling on the inside.
Beatrice and Virgil is published by Canongate