The How-Do-You Series #3 – Derek Des Anges, Author of A Tourist’s Guide to the Ideal London

The How-Do-You Series is an ongoing collection of interviews I’ve conducted with creators. In each edition, I’ll ask (pretty much) the same three questions. The goal is to show the different ways that different people tackle problems fairly common to everyone who works in the arts.

Derek Des Anges has written a whole lot of books across a whole lot of genres, from urban fantasy (A Tourist’s Guide to the Ideal London) to horror (Architects of the Flesh) to thriller (The Next Big One). He’s also contributed to anthologies like Corporate Catharsis and For the Good of the Realm, and the websites Madame Guillotine and Bad Reputation – all while somehow holding down a day job too.

I met Derek many years ago in the wilds of LiveJournal. Since then, we’ve quite happily cheered each other on from across continents and had many drinks together that one time, when I visited the UK – much to the annoyance of everyone else in the pub, who had to deal with our obnoxious, drunken yelling.

Derek Des Anges

1. How do you start working on a project? Do you have a ritual or a routine that helps you get into the right frame of mind, or an exercise that helps you build momentum?

DDA: I wish I could say that I did. It would be much more interesting than the truth, which is that for shorter projects with a deadline I just stare angrily at a Google Docs document with the deadline in red, a brief summary of the brief I have to meet, and some half-arsed notes which I will probably end up ignoring, while muttering, “You are not going anywhere until you’ve written at least 200 words,” and then have to coax myself back to the same document after inevitably opening another six tabs to read something really urgent, like a cute story about a penguin ending up in someone’s house in Aotearoa.

For longer projects, my approach is a little less reminiscent of a furious mid-century schoolteacher, but not a lot more mystical or palatable: I just wait until the overall weight of planning and research and “test writing” (short pieces intended to get the hang of individual character voices/feel out what sort of tone I want the narrative voice as a whole to have) reach critical mass – usually at the most inconvenient moment possible – and then start writing. After that, the “you’re not moving until you’ve written X amount of words” instinct takes over again, day after day. With some of my older novels, this involved sitting in a library carel that functioned like a set of horse blinkers to stop me from getting distracted, while I tried to plug out five thousand words a day. I don’t recommend it. You’ll get RSI.

I don’t put much stock in staying in love with what I do and I’m not sure I ever have done; creativity feels less like a passion and more like the inevitable response to experiencing the world, a bit like exhaling when you’ve inhaled.

Derek Des Anges

2. How do you overcome creative fatigue? How do you stay in love with what you do, or how do you get out of a creative slump?

DDA: Historically, I allowed myself a fallow period after finishing something big, where I’d just read or fart about writing fan fiction or do absolute shit-nothing until my brain got itchy and wanted to put something on paper again; after a particularly low spell after finishing my creative writing degree (nothing will kill the urge to write like knowing you have to show it to class full of people!), I got myself back on my feet again with writing exercises intended to focus solely on the technicalities of prose rather than stressing myself out about compelling content. I find that can be quite valuable, and do like to revisit that occasionally. Apart from anything else, it’s swiftly the case that the brain starts to get bored and chafe at having to stare at a twig and describe it in detail for 2,000 words and will invent almost anything to get out of having to do any more of that!

I don’t put much stock in staying in love with what I do and I’m not sure I ever have done; creativity feels less like a passion and more like the inevitable response to experiencing the world, a bit like exhaling when you’ve inhaled. So, it’s not really a question of staying in love so much as remembering to breathe out, and to not get too caught up on what everyone else is doing, or whether or not I’m “good enough.”

For a slump, the key is often to switch media; instead of trying to force prose, writing poetry or a bit of unattributed dialogue, or giving up on the verbal entirely and having a crack at some physically creative work, like fibre crafts or visual art. A lot of the time, this can help inspire a new written work from a different direction as O think your mind makes different connections when it’s working in a purely visual format; the same goes for trying to compose music (I’m very bad at that, but the challenge is the main thing). And if all else fails, there’s always the classic “just go for a walk,” or even a gym session; moving the body shakes the mind loose.

Derek Des Anges

3. How do you balance the creative with the administrative? How much time do dedicate to your writing, since you also hold down a day job, and how much of your week is devoted to answering book-related emails or sending out invoices?

DDA: Very little time gets dedicated to the actual physical business of writing, although that varies depending on whether I can kick my daily allowance out easily or not. On a good day, I can get both of my projects done in under an hour; I don’t write very much on any given day (usually a total of around 500 words spread over one longer-term and one short-term project), but I write every day, without fail, including the times I’ve been in hospital! I figured if Terry Pratchett went home and wrote 400 words on the day of his father’s funeral, I had no excuse.

The periphery creativity, the planning and thinking and working things out and coming up with dialogue and so on, that takes place when I’m doing other things: usually at the gym (there’s nothing like cardio exercise to make your brain revolt in boredom and immediately start telling a story where you’re doing anything but running), while walking to the shops, or quite frequently at work (what they don’t know can’t hurt ’em, and I’m still working with about 50% of my brain).

Submissions normally take up a couple of hours a week, and I like to fling them out all in one sitting, en mass, in the hope of getting things over with; likewise emails (I tend to be as brief as I can be with those) and promotional work. The real time-consumer is editing, mostly because I will do so much procrastinating to avoid doing it. The actual editing normally doesn’t take that long at all; it’s just the business of coaxing myself into my seat and opening the file and not hiding on Twitter for as long as I can get away with!

As I primarily work in short story format for small presses/magazines at the moment, I don’t have to prepare many invoices (those tend to be for commission work only), although there’s a certain amount of time that gets spent on reading through contracts. “Thinking about it” definitely takes up more time on any given day than any of the other aspects of writing.

Check out Derek’s complete bibliography here or follow him on Twitter.

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑