Barbara Nadel’s Typical Writing Day

I’m joined today with English Crime Writer, Barbara Nadel who sat down with me to discuss her usual writing day…


There may be such a thing as a ‘typical writing day’ for some people, but I think that for most authors it’s all a bit free floating. That certainly applies to me.

Of course because I write two books per year, one in my Cetin Ikmen Turkish series and the other in my London based Hakim and Arnold series, discipline has to be part of my life. However when that happens, it is often a bit of a moveable feast. I have heavy family commitments and, at the moment, I’m moving too!

But let’s have a stab at a ‘typical’ day.

I get up early. Not because I’m industrious but mainly because I can’t sleep for thinking about all the things I have to do as well as all the things my characters have to get through. I try to avoid looking in the mirror first thing in the morning because nobody really needs to see that. Although I am accustomed to the corpse look now and no longer fear I may be picked up and taken away by passing undertakers, it’s still not nice.

If I’m being good, I go to the gym. I actually do like it, mainly because it’s full of people who look knackered and who wear the most outrageously awful old clothes. No lycra loveliness here! I always wear the same black tee shirt and jogging bottoms I’ve worn since Queen Victoria was on the throne. Nobody wants to be there and so there’s a lot of moaning. I don’t know if I feel better afterwards but I can at least come home, have a shower, get dressed (in black, I never wear any other colour) and then eat some guilt free rice pops.

Body Count PBB.indd

Then it’s tea. It’s tea all day long for me. I used to smoke like a coal fired power station but now my main vice is tea. Actually I used to also drink like Dylan Thomas and swear like a sailor too. A shadow of my former self I now drink tea and have the occasional fag when I just can’t take the cleanliness of my life any longer. I still swear like a sailor.

Over the first cup of tea I’ll read newspapers on line, mainly The Guardian and the Turkish paper Hurriyet Daily News. I might Tweet a bit about the latest bit of political madness in London and/or Ankara and then, at about 8.30am, the actual work will begin.

At the moment I’m finishing my latest Cetin Ikmen book and so, as well as a lot of sitting at the computer typing, there is also quite a bit of walking around thinking about stuff. As you’re writing a novel you’re thinking about the plot and the characters the whole time – I even dream about it/them. Sometimes I get up in he middle of the night to write. But the end of a novel is a uniquely troubling time because you have to bring everything you’ve worked on for six months to a close. You have to solve problems, satisfy your readers and decide what, if any, themes you want to carry through to the next book in the series. You also have to be true to your characters and to yourself as their creator. For instance a lot of people have said to me lately that they think that Cetin Ikmen really should, as he ages, be questioning his atheism. But he wouldn’t, he’s not like that and also when you have worked at the sharp end of policing, the fire service or public health, you take a view which, rarely in its essence, changes.

I worked in Mental Health Services for years and so I saw a lot of pain, rejection, self loathing and even suicide. I witnessed the closure of a psychiatric hospital and the consequent tipping out of patients into the arms of ‘community care’. Sadly the community didn’t care much and I recall going to one public meeting where a particularly vocal individual told everyone that if a ‘nutter’ ever came near him or his kids, he’d ‘burn him alive.’ That time very firmly entrenched my view that if a ‘loving God’ did exist, I couldn’t understand Him and wanted nothing to do with Him. But I knew religious people who took comfort from the fact that He was there and another of my big series characters, Mumtaz Hakim, is religious.

Lunch is usually boring crisp bread or something else that is supposed to be healthy. I know I have to do this stuff now I’m older than space, but I’d really rather eat chocolate. Halfway through the afternoon I may succumb to biscuits. That is if the family don’t intervene and I have to go out. If someone needs taking to the shops or the doctor, I sometimes have to do that. I’m also a sort of an unofficial counsellor to this lot. I don’t know why they think I know anything but they do. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a degree in psychology.

I’ll aim for about 5,000 words per day if I can but if I’m in the groove I will do more. Late afternoon I’ll generally have a break either to write my weekly blog at http://www.internationalcrimeauthors.com or my Mary Mystery column for the on-line crime magazine Mystery People or just to explore some new ideas.

My husband will get home any time from 5.30pm to 8pm. So when he gets in I’ll stop and cook something for dinner. This is generally a one pot meal or a salad because both of those things are easy and I am a crap cook. Like Cetin Ikmen, I don’t have a great deal of interest in food. Modern molecular gastronomy, in fact any gastronomy, is wasted on me. When I drank I could never really be bothered with food. Now I don’t drink I take delight in baked potatoes and Mars Bars. Well, as the old saying goes, you can take the girl out of the East End, but you can never take the East End out of the girl. Beetroot, three ways? I don’t think so! Fish, chips and a ton of vinegar and now you’re talking!

In the evening I’ll either watch TV, clean out my axolotls (Mexican aquatic amphibians – basically salamanders) or do some more work. I’ll eventually fall into bed at about 11pm and then read for a while. At the moment I’m reading a book called ‘John McPake and the Sea Beggars’ by Stuart Campbell. Long story short, it’s about a man who has an animated Breughel painting in his head which he hopes may help him find his long lost brother. It’s brilliant.

Twitter: @BarbaraNadel