Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Katarina West Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We are absolutely running a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Katarina West takes it to the toilet. Katarina is a novelist and a journalist who lives in an old farmhouse in Tuscany. She has published a non-fiction book, Agents of Altruism, and more recently a fantasy novel, Witchcraft Couture, which is set in the world of fashion. You can find more about Katarina and her blog ThingsI Know About Life at

Sharing Your Bathroom With Imaginary People

Photo by Riitta Sourander
“It was big, that bathroom, much bigger than many living rooms, and the story went that she had loved it so much that she’d spent hours there, dreaming, idling, reading, designing – and even receiving guests, like a spoiled monarch. In the centre of it she had placed a nineteenth century zinc bathtub, which stood raised on an ancient wooden plinth. The space around it she had furnished like a salon, complete with an elegant Louis XVI sofa, side tables, engravings and portraits.”

Fine, so what’s this? A passage from a fifties paperback I found in a second-hand bookshop? A paragraph lying dusty and forgotten in the furthermost corners of my Facebook page? No, no, and no. It’s an excerpt from my novel, and the ‘she’ in question is a famous Italian fashion designer of the old school, a little like Coco Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli.

But the bathroom is ours. Literally. It is just the same in the novel as it is in reality.

Which means that I share the toilet with my fictional characters.

How did this happen? I mean, how did I ever allow my characters to break free from the strict confines of my imagination, and take control of our toilet? Because it’s like giving the devil a finger and him taking the whole hand, it really is.

In all honesty, I still don’t know how it all came about. It might well be that there was a day when I forgot to bring bathroom reading with me (more about that later on) and seated there, bored, my imagination galloping, I stared at the zinc bathtub… and, abracadabra, a scene was born. And once that had happened, there was no going back.
Photo by Riitta Sourander

So our bathroom is populated by two seemingly alike yet fundamentally different species, homo sapiens and homo fictus. Usually the coexistence is peaceful, not least because my characters know that I am their God, and no matter what you do, you should never make your Creator angry. But it can happen that it’s past midnight and our centuries-old farmhouse is ghostly silent, and, brushing my teeth, I look at our bathroom and suddenly see it from the eyes of my mentally ill protagonist. And though I know that he wasn’t quite right in the head and imagined it all, unexpectedly I see his mother lying underwater in the bathtub, her shoulder-length hair billowing around her, and her eyes wide open and blank. And I swear I can hear the water gushing and pouring over the edges of the zinc bathtub.

That’s when I know I’ve written too much and it’s time to go to sleep.

So do I read in that bathroom? You bet. And not only have I read there, I have even written there. Years ago, when my son was a lively toddler and life was nothing but constant checking that he hadn’t fallen off the stone staircase or swallowed the batteries inside the remote control, his evening baths were my best bona fide writing time. And they always took place in that bathroom. I can still picture the two of us: my son, splashing the water happy and carefree; and me, anxious and absent-minded, hell-bent on putting down each and every idea that had been haunting me during that day. ‘Just one sentence, honey,’ I kept repeating, even if no one was listening to me. ‘Mum’s got to write just one sentence.’

Which kind of says everything about being a writer and a mother.

Photo by Riitta Sourander
There is even a little bookshelf in our bathroom, making toilet reading the easiest thing in the world. And it’s rather edifying toilet reading: there are Victor Hugo’s collected works in French and Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto (now how did that ever end up there?) and a number of twentieth century classics in Italian, their spines elegant and aesthetically pleasing, just like almost everything made in Italy is elegant and aesthetically pleasing, from shoes and bags to lamps and statues.

But since my French is poor and Marx is not my cup of tea, I always take my own bathroom reading with me, usually in the form of my ever-so-present Kindle. And if it isn’t my Kindle, then it has to be one of my dictionaries and thesauruses, which I love to read in the toilet, because there is no limit as to how few or many words you can check while doing whatever it is you’ve got to do in the toilet. In this category my absolute favourite is Eugene Ehrlich’s The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who wants to broaden their bathroom reading horizons.

Or then it’s a printout of whatever chapter or scene I am writing – and here lies the danger, I can see it clearly now, because the moment you bring your own texts to the toilet your characters enter there, too.

And once they’re inside, there’s no way of getting rid of them, and you just got to share your bathroom with imaginary people.

So read what you must in the toilet, as long as you have not written it. That’s my heartfelt advice for all fellow authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment