Every now and then, one of our Crime Cymru authors is brave enough to offer us a glimpse of the place where they write. This week, Mark Ellis shows us his fabulous garden studio and reveals an Agatha Christie link.
I am the author of the Frank Merlin WW2 detective series. There are four published books in the series and I am writing the fifth. I do most of my writing in a studio at the end of our garden in London. At the top left hand corner of the external shot of the studio, you can see the back of a house on the street behind us. That is 58 Sheffield Terrace. While living there in the 1930s Agatha Christie wrote, amongst other things, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. I always write in the hope that any residual Christie karma will waft over the wall and into the studio.
My writing desk, a sturdy wooden piece of furniture, is upstairs in the studio, and from it I have a pleasant view of the greenery in the small garden and the back of our house. I have included two photos of the desk. One is of me by my desk. This was taken by a professional photographer just over a year ago when my fourth Frank Merlin book, A Death In Mayfair, was about to come out. On the neater than normal desk is my IPad displaying the cover page of the new book and a pile of my other published books.
The second photo was taken by me and is current. This time the IPad is showing a page from my work in progress. I have almost completed the first draft of Merlin 5, which has no title as yet. Up until A Death In Mayfair, despite being reasonably computer literate and having once run a computer company, I used to prefer to write the first draft of my books in longhand. Now, however, in the interests of speed and efficiency, I have weaned myself off this habit and commit everything first time to Microsoft Word.
On the left of the desk is a small easel on which I keep a general handwritten outline of whatever stage I’ve reached in the plotting of book and where I need to go next. There is also a notebook to the right in which I keep a detailed record of all the chapters and scenes as I go along. I never plan plots and structure in detail in advance of writing. I start with my characters, my specific period and a few general plot ideas, kick off and see where I go. When starting my last book, the period was December 1941, and I knew the story was going to revolve around the wartime British film industry. With the current book, the period is August 1942, and I aimed to have a plot which would involve the wartime art world and the newly arrived American armed forces.
Behind the IPad are some volumes from my now quite extensive WW2 Library. I do a great deal of research for my books, and refer to diaries, histories, novels of the period and anything else that can help me to make sure I get the details of my chosen period right. There is a desk lamp. For some reason I have always preferred this kind of lighting to overhead illumination. On the left is another crucial element in my writing process – a wireless speaker. I nearly always write to the accompaniment of classical music. My favourites are pretty mainstream – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini et al.
To the right of my WW2 book pile are a few typed copies of the work in progress. When I have completed the first draft, I like to do the first edit on hard copy. It is in the first edit that I normally make whatever major structural changes are required and I find it easier to do this with a physical manuscript than a digital version. On top of the work in progress copies is my diary. I have been keeping a personal diary since 1996.
The final photograph is of the shelf to the right of my desk. My eye usually drifts in this direction when I’m stuck for words. On the shelf are a number of photographs, mostly family pictures. In the centre is a picture of my parents on their wedding day. My father died when I was seven, while my mother got to 89. Her wartime stories of life on the Home Front first inspired my interest in WW2. Also on the shelf are a few sporting mementos. I was very keen on playing both rugby and cricket when I was young. After my mother died I discovered she’d kept all my old Llandovery College school caps. These are piled together on the right of the photograph. At the front of the shelf in the centre are two treasured oddities. One is a lucite tombstone celebrating the 1998 listing of 4Front, the computer services company I co-founded, on the NASDAQ stock market in America. Next to it is a silver box I received as a college prize at Cambridge many moons ago. Beneath the shelf on the right is a Native American sand painting I acquired in Arizona on an English Speaking Union exchange trip to the US in 1972, and to the left of the shelf is a Glen Baxter cartoon with a salutary message for all aspirant writers.
I do write in other places. Occasionally I go to the London Library or Kensington Library for research or just a change of scene. My main other writing place however is on the terrace of our French holiday home. The last photo is of my usual writing spot there. The view is a little distracting but you get used to it.
The next Frank Merlin novel will be published by Headline Accent in 2021. If you’d like to know more about my books my website is markellisauthor.com