Writers' Minds - Tim Bowler

Image Credit: Whizzy Barr

Ever wondered what makes a writer tick? What cogs of creativity whirr to bring stories to life? We take a peek into the minds behind the craft and probe for creative rituals, routines and inspiration hunting. 


This month, I managed to grab award winning Tim Bowler to delve into his Writer’s Mind in between events on his rather hectic schedule – in August you can catch him speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival and in September as the guest speaker at The Arthur Ransome Society and also speaking at Hay Segovia Book Festival in Spain. Tim's latest book, Game Changer, is available now. 

I’m rather a fan of Tim’s Vlog – which has great advice and this month has elaborated on our questions from Writers' Minds, so be sure to check it out. Tim has been made Patron of the School Library Association (SLA). Congratulations Tim, fantastic news! 

Now, before you dash off to the Edinburgh Book Festival, Tim – are you ready to reveal your writerly secrets…? 

Inspiration - are you a hunter or gatherer? 

I don't know. I'm a tap that won't turn itself off. By that I mean I seem to have a constant flow of stuff running through me that another part of me wants to write about. That doesn't meant this 'stuff' is any good. It just means it's constant. The vast majority of ideas I receive in this way are useless. What motivates me is the idea that comes and then won't go. It keeps coming, keeps telling me it's worthy of my attention. 

The best ideas arrive by stealth, often when I'm not consciously looking for inspiration. Maybe something external triggers it. Maybe it just pops up in the mind in the form of a picture or a little question mark. But it comes quietly, as a whisper, and often I push it away, but when it persists, and makes me keep thinking about it, and lie awake because of it, and put down words because of it, and slave to express it and own it and believe in it, then I know it's worth fighting for. 

Somebody once said, 'Writers don't have ideas, ideas have writers'. For me, that's what inspiration is: the idea possessing the writer. 

Are you a plotter or pantser? 

I don't find plotting helpful. In fact, I find it blocks me and freezes my imagination. The physical act of writing is often so fruitful in itself that the plot changes by the sentence and I like to stay loose and be able to react to that. Some people see this as chaos but I just see it as the subconscious sharing its richness and fecundity and offering different ways in which the story can go. 

At some point in this process, I get a sense of the true north of the story, i.e. the way it wants to go. This is often very different from the way my clever little ego-driven conscious mind might have wanted it to go, especially if it has been working to a pre-arranged plot. Having said all that, it's important to remember that this is just my approach. 

Many top writers plot in detail and swear by it, so it clearly works for them. I advise people interested in writing to experiment and see what works best for them. If plotting helps, that's great. Go ahead and plot, then write your story. If plotting doesn't help and you prefer to dive in and swim around and find your way more intuitively through the story, then that's fine too. All that matters is that the story works in the end. How you achieve that is immaterial. 

Shed sitter or cafe dreamer? 

I'm a bolthole dweller. I seek quiet secluded places in which to think and write. I can write in cafes and on trains and park benches and in hotels and airport departure lounges etc but I'd rather be a hermit in a folly somewhere. My current bolthole is a hut I rent on a large parcel of land at the edge of my village. My only company is hens and ducks at the bottom of the field. It's a perfect place for an eccentric who likes to write in solitude. 

Any mottos or words of wisdom hung above your desk? 

Not above my desk but on the wall of my study at home I have a saying attributed (probably wrongly) to Goethe: 'Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' I've always liked those words, whoever wrote them. 

Target word count per day or as it comes? 

1000 words a day if I'm writing new stuff. If I'm editing or honing, I don't set a target. I just go as fast or as slow as I need to, to get it right. 6. Pen or Keyboard? Keyboard. 

Music or silence? 

Silence. I love music with a passion and I know writers who work to music. But I'm not one of them. I have to have silence. 

Chocolate or wine? 

Baileys. But not when I'm writing. 

Perspiration or inspiration? 

Both. No other way. Plus I wrote a heap of stuff about inspiration in Question One. 

To get into the Zone, do you use any techniques or triggers? Anything truly weird and eccentric? 

I try to calm myself. I've found I write best from a still centre. Even when I'm itching to get to my work, I sit quietly first and focus on my breathing, close my eyes, try to picture what I'm writing or about to write. When I feel ready, I start. I also take lots of quiet breaks during the writing process in which I close my eyes again and focus and try to go deep. The best writing, in my opinion, always comes from the stillest part of me, however quickly my fingers are moving over the keys. 

Do you ever hear your character’s voice in your head? 

Quite often. Especially as the story develops and the character becomes more familiar to me, more 'real'. I hear the other characters in the story too, those who interact with the main character. I tend to see each scene as I might see a film, unrolling in my head, and I hear the voices, and smell the smells, and feel the palpable qualities of the scene. In other words, I find my senses engaging with all that's going on as the scene unfolds, plus of course the inner voices of the main characters. 

If there is one key piece of advice, one gem of wisdom about the craft of writing, be it character development, re-writing or plot vs story, what would that be? 

I would say: write on in spite of self-doubt. When the going gets tough, write another page. If that's no good, write another page. Keep writing another page until the good pages come, which they will, and then keep on keeping on. Failure is when you stop and don't start again. So always start again, and again, and again. Believe in your right to speak. The stories inside you are precious because no one else in the world can write them but you. So fight for them and keep going and never stop. The words you haven't written yet already exist.

Tim Bowler has written over twenty books for teenagers and won fifteen awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal. He has been described by the Sunday Telegraph as ‘The master of the psychological thriller’ and by the Independent as ‘one of the truly individual voices in British teenage fiction’. His books have sold well over a million copies worldwide. www.timbowler.co.uk 

Lou Minns is the Events Editor and joint Features Editor for Words & Pictures. 

Contact: events@britishscbwi.org writers@britishscbwi.org 

Blog: Louminns.blogspot.com 

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  1. Fabulous- the best part is about being still. I think we have too many distractions. My best time is right before I go to be, I lay very still and think about the story, location, characters and block out everything else. It's amazing the ideas and dialogue that will come to you if you simply allow the thoughts to arrive. Remember to keep a pen by the nightstand!

    1. I agree Denise. Stillness is so important to unlock the subconscious. The hard thing is not to break that spell. Tim says he takes breaks and sits in a different chair and closes his eyes to maintain that stillness. Such a good tip :)


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