Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.
Imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?
“Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…
Journalist, Stylist and Translator, also a wannabe novelist… Sian M. Lewis.”
Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…
Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned-down corners…)
A notebook. Waiting-to-be filled. My favourites are soft, black Moleskine ones of varying sizes. But, an A4 lined pad works just as well.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
The Kiwi’s have a way with words – and are very happy to be rude on prime-time TV if it gets their point across. My current favourites are one for a national windscreen repair company that ends with, “Show us your crack!” And one for a bowel cancer awareness campaign that asks, “Do you give a crap?”
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Writing. Just putting one word after another on a page – whether on a computer screen or a piece of paper. As a would-be novelist, I wish that weren’t the case. I wish there was some magical secret. So, if there is and I just haven’t heard about it – can somebody please let me know?
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Take the time to enjoy what you do. I was in such a hurry to be editor of Marie Claire by the time I turned 30, that for most of my 20s I raced through jobs. It’s not as if journalism is a real job, so I wish I hadn’t taken it quite so seriously. Oh, and I never got to edit Marie Claire – by the time I worked for them I had new ambitions… Some people are never satisfied!
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Radio 2, baby! All day long. It’s not cool but I do not care. I’m not cool either.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. It is quite amazing to be transported to the American Deep South when you are actually sitting in a fusty, school class room at a desk so old it bears the signature of every pupil that has sat there before you and has a wobble that no amount of folded paper can fix. I didn’t just read the book – I lived it. And I dreamed that one day I could write something that someone else could experience in the same way.
- The 10 pm Question by Kate de Goldi. I have come to realize that painting characters this rich with simple language uncluttered by adjectives is an art. And de Goldi is an artist of the highest order.
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. There was a time when a woman’s ability to give life was celebrated and cherished. And grown men weren’t terrified of strong women. Oh, to be back there…
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
A book about my maternal grandmother in early 1960s Malaysia, during The Emergency – which was basically a civil war rebadged for corporate insurance reasons. I typed the last line in December 2013 and it still exists only in first draft form. When I go back to rework it for submission to agents I will probably want to cringe under a duvet for a week. But, it meant so much to me to get a slice of my family’s history down on ‘paper’, and when I handed my mum a self-published copy on Christmas Day she cried before even reading the first line.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
The June issue of The English Home magazine, featuring an article I’ve written.
Who was your teenage crush?
Matthew Deavin. Man, he was handsome. He also protected me from local bullies. Swoon. Then he left to train as a fighter pilot. Double Swoon. This was the Top Gun era after all. Despite my swooning and mooning, we were great friends and I recently found all my letters from him during his various military postings. How did it end? Years later he rang from the back of an aircraft carrier – not the quietest call – to proclaim his love. Treble swoon. But, by then I had given my heart and soul to another.
Describe the best meal you have ever eaten.
Location: Any outdoor spot with friends. Sunshine required. Menu: Barbequed halloumi, followed by snapper – preferably caught by someone around the table – and green beans, wrapped in tin foil with lots of butter and garlic and steamed on the BBQ. Washed down with a perfectly chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Dark chocolate to finish.
What’s your favourite tipple?
Champagne. Or French méthode champenoise (cheaper champagne). Or wine. Oh dear, it turns out I’m really not that fussy.
If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?
Africa. From top to bottom, in a zig zag so as not to miss a thing. I would stand in the queue at village water pumps and listen to the gossip and the laughter. To be a part of the sheer sense of fun and joy that co-exists with the struggles of daily life. I was in Mali, with the actress Thandie Newton (the daughter of a Zimbabwean princess don’t you know), for Eve magazine in 2008 and my abiding memory is how much people laughed – particularly when I tried, and failed, to work a water pump that I believed required superhuman strength. Not so, as the 70-year-old behind me in the queue showed. In the UK, even one day as challenging as their daily lives would have us felled – and moaning for Britain. There, they just got on with life and whenever possible they found the fun in it.
What’s in your pockets?
I’m a leggings and tunic top girl, so pockets are sore point. I miss them.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I do shorthand for all my interviews and use a notebook. Inkjoy biros work best because they actually move as fast as people talk. Ideas appear as spider chart doodles on whatever piece of paper I can reach when they hit. For everything else, it’s my trusty MacBook Air.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on your desk and recycle?)
Subscribe to loads, very rarely read them. I used to read a lot about writing and then I realized it was something I did instead of writing.
Tea or coffee?
Neither. Diet Coke. I’m not proud.
Why? Because I don’t drink tea or coffee and some days – or rather most days – I need caffeine.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
Not really, but when I have peppermint tea I stew it in a green Denby teapot that I found in my local charity shop.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Anything by Enid Blyton, which I then felt bad about when I read what an ‘interesting’ approach she had to mothering her own children. Katy in What Katy Did was my favourite character, I wanted to be as strong and brave as her.
Your favourite word?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
In a bookshop, usually a second-hand one.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.
For love, we’ll give it a shot.”
Who can resist a bit of Bon Jovi? Or is that just me?
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
If I have to write in the evenings I put on slick, American crime or legal dramas. It probably takes me longer to finish my work because I keep one eye on them, but for some reason, it helps me relax and then the words flow more easily.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Prepping for an interview with Kiwi designer Bride Hall for NZ House & Garden.
Describe the last photograph you took.
My three-year-old daughter doing her best to keep her eyes open in her Dad’s arms during a particularly splashy game of half-term water polo.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Write the first draft for yourself and the second for the rest of the world. (Thanks, Kath!).
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Two poems… as a christening present for my niece and nephew.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
Umm, I have to confess to cheating here because I can’t just reel one off….but this was the best I found on Google: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” Benjamin Franklin.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
The red head with the great breasts. I can’t remember her name. That sounds awful doesn’t it..?
Name your favourite film.
Anything starring Katherine Hepburn, preferably with Cary Grant to banter with.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
None. It’s very unusual. I’m on holiday in the Isle of Wight and I am taking the whole week to read the Sunday papers instead.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Who is your favourite artist?
Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?
Research and interviews at my desk, then I write in my grandmother’s tea-stained armchair or on the sofa.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Thanks so much Sian. And having sung along to Jon Bon Jovi with you for years, I’m feeling the love. #Moshpit
Coming soon… Irreverent marketer, talented cartoonist and mistress of seductive content, Henneke Duistermaat shares her mission to stamp out gobbledegook with us on The Writing Desk.