Simon Garfield

How did you become a writer?

I became a writer at school (English was the only subject I was any good at, unless you count fidgeting). I first worked for the school magazine (I loved seeing my name in print), and then, while at the London School of Economics as an undergraduate, I worked on the paper there. I won a student journalism prize from The Guardian, started freelancing for various magazines, edited Time Out, and worked for the Independent and the Observer as a features writer. All the while I was also writing books, occasionally taking extended leave. Books were always the thing for me, but it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve been able to concentrate on them full-time.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Two main sources of early influence: the NME (New Musical Express) at the time of punk - that gave me a political sensibility. And the New Journalism - Hunter S Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, etc. Those are dangerous writers to emulate, so I had to find my own style in my late 20s. I’ve always been a big fan of tight narrative reporting, especially in book form, so I’ve always loved Tracy Kidder and John McPhee. 

When and where do you write? 

I write most days, usually I’m best in the afternoons and evenings. My favourite spot is a small house I have in St Ives, Cornwall, right by the sea, and right away from all the London madness. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m just correcting proofs of a book called Timekeepers: How The World Became Obsessed With Time, due out in September in the UK and probably the year after that in the US. It includes chapters on trains, movies, photography, music, the whole damn culture. And watchmaking...lots of stuff about watchmaking!

Have you ever suffered from writer's block? 

Not really, but there are obviously uninspired patches, and periods where I just need a break from my screen for a month or six. 

What's your advice to new writers?

Keep on at it. Really, that’s the best advice: if you want to write, write. Don’t talk about writing, just write it. And then rewrite it. 

Simon Garfield is the author of 17 acclaimed books of non-fiction, including Mauve, Our Hidden Lives and To The Letter. His study of Aids in Britain, The End of Innocence, won the Somerset Maugham prize, while Just My Type and On The Map were New York Times bestsellers.