Monday, December 14, 2015

Where Writers Write: Katarina West

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Katarina West.

She is the author of Witchcraft Couture, her debut novel. She was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family that in addition to humans consisted of dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, canaries, rabbits and – thanks to her biology teacher mother – stuffed owls and squirrels. She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy. Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance.

Where Katarina West Writes

photo credit Anaa-Mari West

We all know the saying that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, right? Well, without going into the validity of that catchphrase, I feel safe to say that behind every great writer there’s a great place to write.

Honestly, there is. It doesn’t have to be a castle hall, and it doesn’t need to have a mahogany desk, or a leather armchair, or a fireplace with a mantelpiece inscription. It can be nothing else but a windowless cubicle with a desk and a chair. Or a quiet corner in the kitchen. Or your favourite table in a nearby café.

Writers, after all, have written books in the strangest of places: John le Carré wrote his debut novel during ninety-minute train rides to London, Marcel Proust and James Joyce wrote in bed, and Gertrude Stein believed that the best place to write was the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford.

What you need, in essence, is a place where your story comes alive. Where your Muses feel at home.
photo credit Riitta Sourander

I write in a room of my own, and as such, that study is the greatest luxury that I possess. It is Katarina’s Kingdom, in every sense of the term, and inside its walls Katarina’s Rules apply. Namely, that visitors should be quiet, and they shouldn’t touch anything, not even if the whole room is a mess of crammed papers and reference books, all of them lying higgledy-piggledy on the floor.

In addition to having a unique atmosphere (which was why I fell in love with it at first sight), the room has all the requirements of a perfect writer’s nest. One, there is a desk and a chair, and an armchair for manuscript reading. Two, it has plenty of empty bookshelf space. Three, it comes with a view (and yes, E.M. Forster was so right about that one). Four, it is warm.

Photo credit: Riitta Sourander

It is warm – not because the Tuscan farmhouse in which we live is warm, but because next to my desk there is an old terracotta stove, and it works wonders. That’s why in the heart of winter I start my writing days not by reading the previous day’s text, or planning the next chapter. No, I begin my workdays by lighting a fire in my stove.

In the course of years that procedure has become a ritual. Because if the winds are blowing from the wrong direction, I spend my morning battling with my stove, doing no writing at all. Plus, I know exactly which newspapers burn well. Some centre-right Italian newspapers, for example, burn like a dream – but surprisingly, so does The New York Times. And my old manuscript versions. It gives me sinister pleasure to think that in this study no words are being wasted. Because if they don’t remain in my novel, sooner or later they will be burned in my stove.

I go to my study in the mornings, when my husband and son have left to work and school, respectively. I work there most of the day – more or less till my son comes back from school. And sometimes I return there in the evening, after my son has gone to bed. Whatever the time of day, that room is always quiet and calm, inviting to inviting me to work. I may enter tensed and stressed, but once I sit in front of my computer, I forget about the outside world, and the problems that come with it.

Honestly, I really couldn’t write anywhere else.

Even if one day I might try to write on the driver’s seat of an old Model T Ford. You know, just to get into the right Gertrude Stein writing mood.

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