My Morning Routine

When I’m talking to readers or aspiring writers, they often ask about my routine. They seem fascinated to know how I spend my day. They want to know when I start work, how many hours I put in, whether I’m a morning or night person. Maybe they’re hoping for clues to find their own methods of working or being creative, or maybe they simply can’t imagine how a writer fills their time.

For me, the day usually starts around 8.00 am, when I wake with the sound of a dream ringing in my ears.

I never clamber easily from sleep’s embrace. I’m not one of those people who rise invigorated and energetic; instead, I resemble something washed-up on the new day’s shore. But if I’m lucky, I’ll have brought back a pearl from the depths. In About Writing [Gollancz, 2022], I explained it thus,

I’m a big believer in the significance of dreams. Not in any supernatural way. Just in the way that they can help us understand our own feelings, see the world from fresh angles, and even resolve emotional issues.

Since my father died, I’ve had several extremely vivid dreams about talking to him and discussing the afterlife and my feelings about his loss. These dreams were so vivid, I could almost believe they really happened – but I understand that they are most likely my own brain trying to resolve my feelings of grief by constructing a way of telling him all the things I wish I could have in real life.

Similarly, I’ve had dreams about friends, where I hug them and tell them how much I miss them. It’s a coping mechanism. And sometimes, I’ll have a dream that feels so real I want to call the people I was dreaming about and ask them if they were having the same dream, because it feels impossible that I wasn’t actually talking to them.

But the dreams I really pay attention to are the ones I can’t immediately interpret. The ones that feel real but have no readily identifiable cause, or feature people who seem familiar, but whom I don’t know in real life. These dreams come from somewhere else in my brain, and while they may be examining an emotional truth, they also engage the imagination and my narrative urges.

They are stories.

In some ways, writing has always felt like dreaming out loud. And that’s why I keep a notebook beside my bed – because I’ve taken inspiration for many works of fiction from these vivid dreams, and it’s essential to jot down the salient points immediately upon waking, before the memories start to fade.

Like many buildings in Bristol, my apartment building used to be an 18th Century merchant’s house, but was divided into four separate dwellings during the 1960s or 1970s. That means the rooms have very high ceilings and no double glazing. When the wind blows from the east, there’s a strong draught from the bay window.

I get up and have a shower, or if I’m feeling particularly weary, half an hour reading in the bath.

From there, I go in search of caffeine, usually opting for tea as my delivery system of choice. I enjoy coffee now and then, but tea is a gentler and somehow more civilised way to coax my drowsy faculties.

While the kettle boils, I drink a pint of cold water and swallow a handful of meds, large doses of vitamins C and D, omega 3 fish oil capsules, and magnesium.

Tea forms an essential ingredient of my morning revivification. I know some people favour coffee, but I prefer to be gently eased into my day rather than jolted awake. I probably summed up my feelings towards the beverage most eloquently in my novella Ragged Alice [TorDotCom Publishing, 2019] when the main character reflects that,

For her, tea was the one truly pure and necessary thing on this miserable earth, and the favourite and most worthwhile of her vices.

In the morning, I stick to English Breakfast or loose leaf Assam, and make sure to use boiling water. I have a blue NASA mug that I bought while visiting the space shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles. It holds a pint of tea, and that’s precisely what some days require. Of course, a mug that big needs two tea bags and a good 5 or 6 minutes of steeping, but it’s worth it.

Tea has a fascinating history, of which I know too little. I do know that the words chai and tea both originated in China. Over thousands of years, Cha, the Mandarin word for tea, spread along the Silk Road through Asia, where it became known as shay in Arabic, and chay in Persian, Turkish and Russian. When the Dutch East India Company began to import tea to western Europe in the 17th Century, they were trading with coastal Chinese provinces that used the term te. Hence in Dutch, this became thee, which in turn became tè in Italian, thé in French, and tea in English.

When the brew’s ready, I carry the mug back to the bedroom, where I make my bed. The day can’t start properly until I’ve done this. And having done it, I feel I’ve already achieved something constructive, which helps me face the rest of the day in the right frame of mind. Having taken care of this essential task, I settle at my workstation, which sits snugly in an alcove beside the bed. I’ve owned this sturdy old desk for forty years. When I started secondary school and needed somewhere to do my homework, my father bought it from a second-hand furniture warehouse in Bristol. It’s wooden, with six drawers, and was apparently designed for someone needing a lot less legroom that I do. Nevertheless, it’s served me well, as I’ve written almost all my books and short stories while sat at it.

When my old computer gave up the ghost during the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020, I invested the money I received from the government’s self-employment income support scheme in a new iMac with a 27 inch screen. This is large enough for me to be able to write on Word while also having several other windows—usually email, WhatsApp and Twitter—open around the edges of the screen.

The only time I feel peaceful and focussed is when I’m actually writing; and when I’ve finished, I feel energised, self-confident and happy. When I’m not writing, my thoughts fly off in a million directions and I end up anxious and depressed.

Some mornings, I’ll fire straight into my latest project; other days, I’ll check my emails and social media first, and catch up with news from Dianne.

Dianne lives in California, eight hours behind the UK. When I fall asleep, it’s only late afternoon for her; and when I wake up, she’s just going to bed. That feeling of temporal dislocation is one of the hardest parts of this long distance relationship. As neither of us are very financially well-off, we have to savour the few days we can afford to spend together every few months. The long separations are hard, but the reunions are magical. An 11-hour flight in economy is torture to someone as tall (and wide) and I am, but it is worth it. I think I’d fly to Pluto to spend time with Dianne. We get on so well, and are in synch on so many levels. It’s great to have found someone who is totally individual, but with whom I want to spend all my time. And also someone who is so supportive of me as a person and a writer. Her enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring.

We met on Twitter, of all places. As science fiction authors, we had many of the same contacts in common, and started following each other sometime in 2017, but it wasn’t until 2020, after my first wife and I split, that our friendship started to develop into something more.

I had tweeted,

“I’m looking for a new muse. Somebody with whom to browse bookshops and visit libraries and art galleries. To drink wine and sit in front of open fires. To walk on beaches and have geeky, literary adventures. And maybe if I say this out loud, the universe will guide them to me.”

And it did.

Dianne and I were both going through some difficult stuff in our personal and family lives, and we helped each other with words of encouragement and support. We became friends, and our relationship evolved from chatting on Twitter to flirting on WhatsApp. We both knew we had strong feelings, but the distance between us seemed insurmountable.

As I celebrated my half century on 3rd September 2020, Seamus Blackley, the inventor of the X Box, messaged me saying,

“Hey, well done making it to 50. The woman will come when it’s time.”

Exactly a year later, on 3rd September 2021, he sent me a photo of Dianne at LAX with the caption,

“…and here she is, on my flight to Heathrow!”

When it became obvious we were falling in love, Dianne took a leap of faith and booked a flight to the UK. It was her first international flight, and I think she was nervous to be travelling so far to meet someone she only knew online. But as soon as she saw me waiting at the barrier in Arrivals, she threw her cases aside and ran into my arms, and I think we both knew right then that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.


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Author: Gareth L Powell

Writer

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