Christian Wolmar

How did you become a writer? I always wanted to be a journalist and taught myself to type at 13 to work on the school newspaper. The books came relatively late when, through various circumstances, I got offered two book contracts and have now written ten, mostly on railway history.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).I have had a few very encouraging news editors in my time at various newspapers, but really the drive to write and make a living out of it has come from me.

When and where do you write? I write anywhere and almost constantly. I do not have a schedule and have a small laptop that is excellent for trains and planes. The key to being a successful journalist is being able to write quickly and having a speciality, and I am fortunate to have both those qualities. Writing fast and accurately gets easier as you get older. It also pays not to be precious – I can write in a busy newsroom, or at home with kids running around the place. Books obviously take longer and require more intense concentration, but nevertheless, getting the words down on paper is the key. The editing and the later embellishments are the easy bits. It is the first draft that is so hard.

What are you working on now? I am proofing the galleys for To the Edge of the World, the history of the Transsiberian railway, which is being published in the UK in time for xmas, and also putting in corrections for my previous book, The Great Railroad Revolution for the American paperback edition. I am also working hard on my campaign to be Mayor of London.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Not really. You can’t afford to as a journalist. There are definite times when the words flow more easily. I suffer greatly from deadlinitis. In other words, I desperately need a deadline to work to. Interestingly, even for my books I have developed a kind of internal clock of just how much I need to do to ensure I get there on time, even if it is 6 months ahead. I never write out schedules, but instinctively know when things need to be down by. A lot of this comes with experience.

What’s your advice to new writers? First answer the question, "have you got anything to say?" If not, stop there! If yes, then develop expertise and speciality – write non-fiction first, learn to tell stories and be a reporter – much good fiction is based on the old journalistic skills of reporting and analyzing. Be humble and write for local papers, trade papers, anywhere that will take your work. But don’t just blog; you need the discipline of writing for people who will criticize your copy and require professional standards.

Follow me on Twitter @christianwolmar and see more than 1,000 articles and blogs on my website archive www.christianwolmar.co.uk For my mayoral campaign, the Twitter account is @wolmarforlondon and the website www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk.