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While on book tour, I’ve been surprised to find that readers are fascinated by how writers actually write. Most readers hold in their mind an idealized image of the novelist at work—a figure in a trendy urban coffeehouse, a solitary figure walking along an empty beach. The truth, however, is seldom so romantic.
Before going any further, let us stipulate that, much like the hero of my novels, the art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon, I am something of a creature of habit. I work seven days a week, from early in the morning until six thirty in the evening, when I stop to watch the evening news. My work clothing never varies: gray sweatpants by Russell Athletic, a long-sleeve T-shirt by L.L. Bean, fleece Acorn moccasins, and discount cotton socks from Marks & Spencer in England. Occasionally, visitors to our house will catch a glimpse of this outfit, but, for the most part, my wife and children tend to shield me from public view. As a rule, I don’t answer the telephone—unless it is a family emergency of some sort—and I don’t read e-mail. I nibble rather than eat. Portrait of a Spy, like all the Gabriel Allon novels, was fueled largely by McVitie’s digestive biscuits.
I have a computer, of course, but I really do most of my actual writing in longhand, on yellow legal pads. I prefer to work while lying on the floor rather than at my desk. This annoys my wife because she...