'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 27 May 2011

Guest Post: Writing Exercise with Doug MacLeod

KBR warmly welcomes the talented (and very funny) Doug MacLeod with this fantastic guest post... or should we say Writing Exercise... on how he came up with his CBCA Book of the Year shortlisted book The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher.


I love the 9.15am spin class at St Kilda gym.

There are usually around a dozen of us; people who work unusual hours and like to visit the gym when it's quiet.

The great thing about a spin class is its simplicity. You climb on an exercise bike and you do what the instructor tells you to do, while the music plays.

There aren't many variations on pedalling an exercise-bike. You can do it standing up, sitting down, slowly, quickly and - well, that's about it. And the reason this type of group exercise suits me is that for the duration of the class, my mind is elsewhere. I don't need to concentrate on the bike. I'm not going to fall off. I won't pull a muscle. And if I'm sitting down when I should be standing up, or vice versa, it isn't that big a deal.

This is the most important part of my writing day. I've come up with whole stories in that class. If I'm in the middle of writing a book and the plot isn't working, there's a good chance that I'll sort it out on the exercise bike, usually number eighteen, which is my lucky one. It's up the back, so it doesn't get too distracting for the other spinners if I'm sitting pedalling when I should be standing.

Most of the plot of The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher was invented on bike eighteen. I had a fair of idea of where I wanted to go with the story, once I'd written my first chapter and come up with two main characters that I liked. But the best parts of the plot occurred to me in the class.

I don't physically write while I'm on the bike. It's difficult to balance a computer on a handlebar and I'd probably get chucked out of the class if I tried. The typing business starts when I get home. But the hard stuff - the thinking stuff - is what happens in the class. There's something about mindless physical activity that gets the brain whirring.

In The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher there is a vile schoolteacher character, Josiah Atkins. I invented him one morning. His ghastly method of teaching made me so angry that I pedalled like a maniac so that I was dripping with sweat when the class ended. It's weird that a character from my imagination should get me so worked up. The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher takes some surprising twists and turns. I blame this on a very strict exercise schedule.

You'd think that all this morning spinning would make me an athlete, in the peak of physical condition, but it hasn't. To be an athlete I'd have to do strange things involving weights and machines, exercises on which I would have to concentrate. And if I concentrated on the exercises, I wouldn't be able to focus on making up stories. The best part of the day would be wasted.

So I've decided I'm going to stick with bike eighteen.

Learn more about Doug's work at his fabulous website.
a Hogarth etching that also inspired The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher