Friday 13 February 2015

Where The Ideas Flow - Alexia Casale


I seem to have been struck by an abundance of guest post ideas lately. And here is another one. I wanted to be nosy. I wanted to see just where all my favourite authors wrote their books; what they could see when they were mulling over idea or where they sat creating characters. So I popped on Twitter and put out a request, and yet again lots of lovely authors wanted to take part.
So today I am so pleased to welcome Alexia Casale to the blog. Alexia is the author of the highly praised debut novel, The Bone Dragon, which was published by Faber and Faber last year. Alexia has a new novel called House of Windows, coming out in July this year.
I live in an attic conversion, all slope-y roofs and odd angles. It’s brilliant except for the lack of tall wardrobe space. Just as well I’m so short.
My study is bigger than my bedroom, but who wouldn’t want to be able to work with the sun coming through the window all day long and a lovely view of the far hills? Look at how pretty it is when the world is all frosty and just waking up!
So, the right-hand window is actually glued shut becaimageuse a handy-man damaged it and I couldn’t stand the draught any more than I could stand to have him back to break something else. These things happen. Soon the wood will warp again and become snug once more. There has to be some advantage to rising/falling/creeping damp.
On my windowsill is a New York Met Museum pencil holder (a present) to remind me of living in NY. Also a pyramid clock that doesn’t work (present). Or maybe it would if I put batteries in it but that hasn’t happened in a while. And probably won’t happen any time soon. There’s also a pewter wizard plus dragon (present) and a little clockwork kitten that buzz-purrs. It’s ridiculous but it makes me happy. It was also a present. Finally, there’s a very pretty little dish I found in a charity shop. I have many pretty little dishes for all the little bits of Stuff I end up with: pebbles, dried flowers, shells, random sequins, plant seeds… 
On both sides of the window I have wind-chimes from College (things I bought!). And mirror thingies. I love having mirror- and crystal-danglies hanging in my windows so I get random rainbows. 
I love my study. It’s such a luxury to have a room of my own – a really lovely room – for work. I won’t show you the rest of it though because it is a HUGE tip. I started doing a massive clear out about 18 months ago, got down to about 4 boxes and then gave up. I have this idea that one day I’ll finish but I’m not committed to it. I can live with it as is, but I’m not sure I can survive the trauma of a further clear out.
imageSo, what else? I have these brilliant cubbyholes for my files. They’re ugly bare ply board but they’re sturdy and the perfect size. These are my book-related cubbyholes for Important Notes. Some will one day become books. There’s also a certain amount of stuff for events and keepsakes from events (posters, programmes, etc.).
This is part of my book file for House of Windows. Lots of pictures and postcards of Cambridge. A small map. And of course The Plan. The Plan is written in pen on a piece of A2 paper spread across the living room floor for a day. I put rubbish on the TV and gradually transcribe The Plan from my head, where it lives in the form of a movie of the book until this stage. Sometimes a second day in the living room is required because Decisions Have To Be Made because The Plan looks wrong. 
The Plan is not infallible but it’s the starting point every time I sit down to draft. For each scene I think is necessary, The Plan says what is meant to happen, how, where and why. Sometimes it includes key clues or bits of info that must appear in the scene. Sometimes it has snippets of dialogue. Much of it is written in semi-mathematical code. Maybe because I’m dyslexic I find it easier to keep track of structure and themes this way. The Plan is the blueprint for the book until it is drafted. Then a new scene-by-scene plan gets written up on the computer, but that’s mostly for reference.
All that takes up a lot of my desk. But here’s what sits next to my laptop. 
A row of books I use for reference.image Baby-name and surname books. A thesaurus, of course, and a dictionary. Robert McKee’s Story – one of the best books about structure out there. Some notebooks. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams to remind me that prose should be complicated and wonderful and full of hidden meanings.
Oh, and more Stuff. At the bottom right, there’s a heart-shaped paperweight in amber glass (present) on a Turkish ceramic coaster (present) with a Chinese Dragon (present). There’s a Dragon birthday card and a random zebra (present). And a sign that one of my friends thinks sums me up. 
So much for what’s on my desk. As you may have gathered if you know me on Twitter, I have a book problem. Don’t tell anyone about this stash under my desk.
Nearby, among other bits of random Stuff, there are quite a lot of things made of sugar. Mostly flowers. I did sugar craft semi-professionally for a while, debated doing it full-time and then writing-related stuff worked out so I didn’t have to. I MUCH prefer just to make the occasional cake for people I love. And they really are occasional as each costs well over £100 in raw materials and takes a minimum of 150 hours to make.
Anyway, I think these bluebells and lily-of-the-valley are very pretty still considering they’re fading and droopy after ten years.
Hang on. TEN YEARS. Really? Seriously? How did that happen?! 
Moving swiftly onwards…
If I had to sum up my space it’s ‘Here be lots (and by lots I mean LOTS) of pretty things’. Very few of the things are expensive – I’m not into bling* (*which is distinct from twinkly-sparkliness, which is lovely) – they’re just pretty. They come from travels and family and friends. Some I made. Some I just collected from beeches or forests or little shops… It’s all higgledy-piggedly chaos and clutter, but I like there to be a jumble of beauty and fun and wonder around me. For example, this.
This is actually in my bedroom but let’s pretend it’s my study. It’s a collection of Venetian ceramic masks. Not one cost me more than 8 Euros: most were about 4. They’re pinned to an old corkboard covered with thick cream paper, with a border of old white wool. I splurged on good quality sticky-back hooks so the masks wouldn’t fall and break. This is a thing of Beauty and I love it.
Why am I telling you about all the Stuff and pretty things? I think it’s important to feed your imagination as a writer. And part of that is pretty things. Pretty things that don’t cost a fortune but make the world you live in nicer, brighter, more wonderful.
Yes. That is a MASSIVE witch’s hat. No, you can’t borrow it.
Why not? WHY NOT?! Would you randomly borrow someone else’s wand? 
No, is right. Really, what were you thinking just then? Let’s move on, shall we?
Yes, there are lots of copies of my book. And lots of other books (I copped to the book problem above, remember). Also another Dragon (present). And random pretty things, just like I said.
The long-dead flower beside the witch’s hat is my white rose from speaking at the Hay Festival. It was literally a dream come true. Now it lives opposite my desk to remind me that wonderful things have happened in my life and may happen again. I make the ‘again’ more likely every time I write.

Alexia’s new book cover was revealed last week over at Fluttering Butterflies. Please click here to find out Alexia’s reactions to it.
house of windows alexia casale 
To find out more about Alexia Casale:


  1. Those Venetian masks are beautiful! And I love the sound of your study. Clutter and mess and pretty things sounds perfect for taking inspiration from :)

  2. A lovely space and totally get that you live in a loft conversion (I do too) and love it - and I love those views:)


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