By Holly Tucker, W&M Editor-in-Chief
I’m a homebody. I can’t seem to focus when I’m in my campus office, and coffee shops are too noisy.
So when I’m in Nashville, you’ll find me most often upstairs, in a room just off the main bedroom. (I’m usually unshowered and in pyjamas. Or is that TMI? In any case, the neighbors have stopped staring at me when I emerge in my bathrobe to get the afternoon mail.)
When I’m in heavy research mode, I use three computer screens. On the screen to the left, I usually keep open whatever database I’m using (Devonthink or NVivo). The screen to the right is where I have the primary texts, research articles, or web browser open. And in the center, that’s for Scrivener or Word–depending on what stage I am in the writing process. In front of me, I usually have a few books open as well as a pen and a notepad to my left to catch random thoughts and scribbles. (I’m left handed.)
I noticed years ago that I just can’t seem to write unless I’m somewhere near a window. Having a window nearby provides distraction when I’m stuck. I watch the neighbors stroll by as they walk their dogs. Or chuckle at squirrels doing acrobatics in the tree.
But by far, my favorite place to write is at my family’s house in Aix-en-Provence. (No surprise there, right?) No squirrels to be found there, just the sound of the cigales [cicadas]. Over the past few years, I have made it a point to digitize everything that comes across my desk when it comes to book-related things. This lets me keep everything online, so I can get right to work when I’m there. Sometimes it’s hard to focus, when the weather is nice and the rosé beckons. But that’s where I got the bulk of the writing done for my latest book, City of Light, City of Poison. (By the way, have you ordered your copy yet? Everyone who pre-orders gets a special gift pack–and for the first 40 people, some lavender direct from Provence!)
In the Dusty Archives
The most intense work happens, though, at the libraries where I do my archival work. For City of Light, City of Poison, I spent about 4 years going back and forth to the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris. That’s where the court documents, interrogation transcripts and torture notes related to the Affair of the Poisons, the scandal that gripped the City of Light in the late seventeenth century, are held. Some I get digitized, others some I photograph myself. But for the most part, there is no way to get around the laborious work of going patiently–folio through folio–through scores of manuscript volumes. Some days are tedious and do not net much. Other days are euphoric, because you find something in papers that no one has touched for hundreds of years that lets you take one more step toward solving a historical mystery.
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