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WHERE AND HOW I WORK

I divide my time between England and Portugal but I've found that the only place I can really be creative is in my house in the Alentejo - a rural area directly east of Lisbon not far from the Spanish border.

The house is set in a small range of hills, which have been popular with religious hermits for centuries. I go walking in the eucalyptus forest most days. The trees are used for making wood pulp and then paper. The irony is not lost on a writer.

The house is so isolated that we installed solar panels and a small windmill so that all our electrical needs are now met by alternative energy. My books are the greenest on the market. We bought the house as a ruin in 1991 and a local builder did up one end of it. That's how I learnt Portuguese, which explains a lot. In 1992 we moved in and taught ourselves how to live on very, very little.

After ten years of frugal living we did up the second part of the house. And that meant I could make the old animal barn into my study.

My day starts around five o'clock in the morning. It's a regime that started the first summer we were here and found that the temperatures got up to 40C by midday. Once up I make a pot of green tea and read something totally different to what I'm going to write for about half an hour. This jogs the brain into action. I then go down to my study and do half an hour of exercises. The pen is the heaviest tool in the working world. Then I lash myself to the desk and work until lunchtime with a single break for coffee.

My first job (the easy part) is research and, because my books are initially inspired by setting, this usually involves some travel and then a hell of a lot of reading before I'm confident enough to start writing.

Then comes the hard part: the first draft. I only ever attempt this work in the morning when my brain is pin sharp and my concentration at its greatest. I always write longhand using Bic biros and cheap photocopy paper. I hate the humming demand of a computer and I have the handwriting of a lame spider, which leads me to believe that everything I've written is rubbish and needs reworking. I aim to write a thousand words a day. Sometimes I manage to wring out a couple of hundred in six hours of torture, other times I can write three thousand and skip away from the desk like a schoolgirl.

After about six months working at the first draft I pretty much know where I'm going with the novel. I then start transcribing the manuscript onto the computer in the afternoons. This is my first serious edit. I see those good days and I writhe again at the product of the bad ones. This goes on for another six months and only gets easier once I've finished writing the first draft in the mornings. Then my wife reads it. My editor at my publishing house reads it. Even the cat gets to stick her paw in. And after about another six or seven drafts I have a finished book.

Having kept up this brutal regime for the last 20 years I now have eleven books to my name with the twelfth on the way.