At my desk: Gabrielle Tozer

This is the column where we break into authors’ homes and have a look through their desks while holding a mini torch in our mouth. Okay, no, that’s not true. We actually have a civil chat with them about their writing space, writing habits and their latest books. So, first up, author and delightful human Gabrielle Tozer.

So Gabrielle – can you tell us about your new book, Remind Me How This Ends?
Remind Me How This Ends is a YA contemporary novel set in the summer after Year 12 in the fictional country town of Durnan. It’s a coming-of-age boy-meets-girl-again story with themes of grief, being stuck at the crossroads and the blurry line between friendship and maybe-it’s-love-maybe-it’s-not.”

We were stuck at the crossroads earlier today… the GPS had frozen. But sorry, carry on. Tell us about this boy and this girl.
“Milo and Layla, 18-year-old family friends who haven’t seen each other for five years. These two feel lost and left behind (like everyone else in their lives got the memo on how to get their sh*t together), so they begin to turn to each other to escape their lives and, well, things get more complicated…”

So, was there something in particular that inspired you to write it?
“Absolutely. A number of influences, including music, memories and feelings – oh-so-many feelings – infiltrated my brain and led me to the heart and guts of this novel.”

Okay then. Give us three.
“First up, grief… specifically how grief may never fully go away. Sure, it may fade a little, but you often need to learn to live with it, rather than expect it to disappear. I drew on the loss of a few close friends and relatives for Layla’s major storyline arc – and, while it was a wobbly emotional ride, it helped me to unpack my feelings around losing loved loves… especially when you miss out on the chance to say goodbye.

“Another influence was the idea of friends who turn into something more romantically – even when you don’t know how to define it. I’m talking about the people who give you butterflies, even when they shouldn’t – or you thought they never would! So blurry lines, not-quite loves, nearly-right loves, missed-timing loves… Nothing like a side of heartache and unresolved sexual tension to get the creative juices flowing, right?

“The other big inspiration was feeling lost myself! I wasn’t in a great headspace while writing the first few drafts of Remind Me How This Ends. Anxiety and stress had got the better of me, and I was in therapy and feeling out of sorts with nearly every aspect of my life. In an odd way, this book was comforting during that experience as it gave me another safe space to process my thoughts and feel less alone as I stumbled around in the unknown.”

In the book you juggle two different perspectives – Milo's and Layla's. How did you approach writing this?
“From the outset, I asked myself what they feared, who and what they loved, how they’d react to scenarios, what was driving their decisions etc. Milo and Layla both feel lost, but for very different reasons – and I kept these reasons in mind during the writing process.

“I also fine-tuned their dialogue, texting styles and language more and more with every rewrite (of which there were many) and edit (so, so many edits). For example, with Milo, I kept getting my red pen out to strip back his dialogue so it felt more authentic for an 18-year-old guy. He’s a sensitive dude and his overthinking inner monologue can be quite sweet, funny and wordy, but his actual conversations with people are more withdrawn and awkward. It felt like juggling four perspectives – who Milo and Layla were around each other, and who they were when no-one else was watching…”

Well let’s talk about your writing process now. What's the first thing you do before you sit down to write?
“Make myself a cup of green tea. (Real answer: make myself a cup of green tea and check Twitter.)”

Ah, green tea and Twitter – such awkward bedfellows. Okay, so you’ve sat down at your desk or writing space. Can you describe it for us? We want deets here – leave nothing out. There are aspiring writers with tape measures and stationery fetishes standing by.
“I love my desk! My husband and I live in a pokey one-bedroom apartment so I’m set up in the corner of our lounge room – not ideal, but I didn’t want the desk in our bedroom – and I’ve done my best to create a happy little haven.”

Excellent proof that you do NOT need a mahogany shelved, book-lined, rolling-laddered, green lanterned writing den. You can make any place your writing space…
“In the past few years, I’ve become interested in decluttering, life hacks and productivity, so I’m always tinkering with my desk set up. I used to think I worked best in mess and chaos, but multiple books in and I now know that I need space – physical and mental!”

So what will we find on your desk at the start of the day?
“My iMac, folders for freelance and creative writing, headphones, my published books (to remind me I CAN finish a first draft – I need daily reminders during the first-draft process), books that inspire my mood and WIP, my ampersand bookend, way too many pens and Post-Its, a Kikki K inspirational quote that I change up every few weeks, my Kikki K diary, a paperclip-shaped paper holder, a lamp and a black-and-white printer.”

And at the end of the day?
“At the end of the day, you’ll also find these items: an empty Diet Coke can, a mug of cold tea, half-filled bottles of water, bobby pins, hair ties and loose pen lids and highlighters. Maybe even an empty chocolate bar wrapper stuffed into the top drawer.”

We can picture it all so clearly! So, let’s talk words. How many words (or hours) do you aim for on a writing day?
“I don’t have a routine anymore. I might push out anything from 100 words to 3000 words in a day, depending on whether I’m squeezing in a quick 15 minutes of writing in between freelance work or if I’ve blocked out a chunk of time to focus on a project. I'm usually stoked to hit 500-2000 shiny new words in a day.”

Yes, shiny words are the best. Let’s pan out a little and have you describe your typical day for us.
“I wish I had the ability to sleep in, but my body hates me. I usually wake up at 5.30am and drag myself out for a walk for 45-70 minutes. (This is a new development that I started in late 2016 to clear my mind and help my back.) This is my favourite time of the day – no-one else is around and I can squeeze in a podcast or two.

“I’m pretty into my breakfast: I have rolled oats, cinnamon, blueberries, banana and honey every damn day. One of my author mates, Trinity Doyle, whipped up the most comforting batch of rolled oats during our writing retreat in the Blue Mountains last year and I’ve been hooked on the good stuff ever since.

“As for what happens after 7.30am… the only regular occurrence is green tea – and lots of it. I work as a freelancer so the rest of my day changes from week to week. One day, I might throw on a fancy dress and work in-house as a writer or sub-editor at somewhere like TV WEEK or Cosmopolitan; another day I might write articles or work on my books from home in my underwear and an old T-shirt.

“There are some days where I’ll head to a library or work in a café for a few hours – or even schedule lunch with a friend or my sister in the city to break up the day (and, let’s be honest, force me to have a shower, wash my hair and throw on something other than PJs). I enjoy working from home, but I can’t do it every day – I get stir-crazy and the urge to flop on the couch and watch Netflix is too strong!”

On that note, do you have any techniques to stay on track when you’re working?
“If I’m not feeling focused, which is most of the time, I rely on the SelfControl and Freedom apps to literally block me from using the internet. I cannot recommend them enough for fellow social media and news addicts. I also love the Tomighty app (Pomodoro technique) and challenging myself to #500in30 writing sprints – you aim to write 500 words in half an hour. Once 30 minutes is up, I pop on the kettle and take a five-minute break… then do it all again! It seems to appeal to my competitive side. So much of writing happens off the page – brainstorming, daydreaming, thinking, scribbling notes, planning – so I try not to discount those moments anymore either.”

Any more books coming out soon?
“I have my first picture book, Peas and Quiet, coming out in July. It follows two peas – Pip and Pop – who live in a teeny-tiny peapod behind a garden gnome and they drive each other round the bend. It’s the ‘odd couple in a pea pod’ and I cannot wait to share it with everyone! Sue deGennaro’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and capture my fantastical little world so well.”

And finally, what’s your advice for up-and-coming writers?
“1) Never stop learning – read, read, read, go to courses if that’s an option for you, and don’t forget to step away from the computer and live your life. The more you do, the more inspiration you will find.

“2) Eavesdropping is fun and a great tool for helping you to master dialogue so take out your headphones and look up from your phone every now and then, too.

“3) Strengthen your editing skills – writing is rewriting.

“4) Write stories that you want to read, rather than trying to copy trends. It’s hard enough to finish writing a book, let alone if you don’t like the content.

“5) Oh, and learn from my mistakes by taking regular breaks from writing and getting neck and shoulder massages (yes, really!) – I’ve seen a physio way too many times during this book-writing biz thanks to poor posture, a creaky back, tight shoulders and tingling nerves in my arm. Yes, it’s a glamorous life I lead…”

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