Edinburgh author Kate Atkinson has revealed a secret of her success

Edinburgh novelist Kate Atkinson. Picture: BBC Radio 4
Edinburgh novelist Kate Atkinson. Picture: BBC Radio 4
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Best-selling novelist Kate Atkinson has revealed one of the secrets of her success – a tidy chest of drawers.

The prize-winning Behind The Scenes At The Museum author, who lives in Edinburgh, removes the clutter before embarking on a new book.

“I do finding sorting incredibly therapeutic because it’s mindless yet it’s purposeful. It helps me think,” Atkinson, pictured, tells Desert Island Discs.

“I’m starting to think about writing a new one [novel] and I am aggressively sorting out my drawers.

“There’s something about mindlessness, as opposed to mindfulness, that I think is very creative. It allows your brain some space to start doing a lot of unconscious thinking and then you have very tidy drawers at the end of it,” she tells Lauren Laverne.

Atkinson, 66, who published her first novel in her early 40s, believes her success has been “predicated on failure”.

And the author, who was born in York, says that she possesses “an imaginary sense of smell”, which helps with her writing.

“That helps because the past smells completely different to the present,” she says.

Atkinson, whose stories about Edinburgh detective Jackson Brodie were adapted into the Case Histories television series, studied English literature at the University of Dundee, graduating in 1974.

She went on to work on a doctorate in American literature, focusing on short stories, but did not complete her PhD.

Atkinson tells Laverne that her failure to finish the work “was the making of me”.

She said she “went through a grieving period” after failing her doctorate, but began writing stories and found it “much more fulfilling”.

Atkinson worked in various jobs, from legal secretary to home help, before she could make a living as an author.

She also taught at Dundee and began writing short stories in 1981. Atkinson was commissioned by a number of magazines after winning the 1987 Woman’s Own Short Story Competition. She was also a columnist for Scotland on Sunday.

She won an Ian St James Award in 1993 for a short story ‘Karmic Mothers’, which she adapted for BBC2.

“At the back of my mind I always knew I was going to be a writer and I shouldn’t be misled by other things or worry I was bringing my children up in near poverty.

“I just had this feeling that I was going to be successful,” she says.

Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year and went on to be a Sunday Times bestseller.

Atkinson has written two plays for the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh: Nice in 1996, and Abandonment, which premiered as part of the Edinburgh Festival in 2000.

Her most recent novel, Transcription, was published in September.

Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 today at 11.15am