The Plunge

 

nhs

So, last week I hung up my NHS badge and took the plunge into the murky waters of being a full-time writer. It was a difficult decision and not one made lightly. I didn’t jump ship because I’d made my millions (I haven’t) or because I fancied staying in bed all day (I would, but the dog believes that a) I should get up and walk her at first light, and b) the bed after 7am is legally her land).

So why did I do it? Why leave a job that paid regularly (except that one time when they didn’t) for the unstable life of a writer? Well, firstly it was the job itself. What was once a job that kept me busy for the full eight hours and often saw me walking up to ten miles a day had become one that barely kept me busy for a couple of hours and barely leaving my desk. My mind would wander to all the things I could be doing at home, all the words that could’ve been written, and wondered what I was doing there and why the NHS were paying me to sit there with these thoughts. I’m aware that many (if not most) people dislike their job and find it dull, and I’m aware I’m extremely fortunate to be in a position (if only temporarily) to quit the day job, but this was a job that I could do in my sleep. I barely had to use my brain. There was no creativity. I got no satisfaction from it and didn’t feel as though I was helping anyone or providing much of a service – surely things jobs in the NHS should do. So I stopped. I made a decision, counted the pennies in my piggy bank and wrote a letter of resignation (the most creative thing I’d ever done at that PC).

And then I started to panic. What if I never sold another book? What if I suddenly forgot how to write? What if, what if, what if? To be honest those things might happen. My next appearance might be in the first supermarket that’s hiring. But being even more honest is the fact that the NHS is no longer a secure option either. I’ve seen firsthand the process of privatisation, the endless consultations (and not the medical kind), the promises made by private companies later broken into a thousand pieces. It’s certain that the departments I worked in over the last ten years will soon no longer exist, at least not in any way resembling their current incarnation. The job I held would certainly not exist for much longer. Sometimes I think getting out when I did was perhaps a good decision before the whole of the NHS implodes. And this makes me sad. Not because I really wanted to stay but because my friends, my colleagues want to. Because many of them went into the NHS thinking it was going to take care of them until retirement. Because, I suppose, we all assumed that the NHS would take care of us for the rest of our lives. But our Government doesn’t feel that way.

So I’ve chosen to walk away and try my luck as a full time writer. Any writers reading this, or in fact anyone who’s read the reports about how little writers earn, might think I’m mad. But at least this way I know I’m only selling my work and not my soul. At least this way I know who the bad guys are and can make sure the good guys win. And if I have to live on cold tins of beans? Well at least I’ll be getting plenty of fibre and might not have to visit the doctor so much once the NHS is gone.

Books are my bag

forum signing

Even though most of my weekends (and weekdays, if I’m honest) are pretty book-centric, this weekend was extra bookish thanks to the Books Are My Bag campaign and the Durham Book Festival.

Things kicked off with the Gordon Burn Prize announcement at Durham Town Hall on Friday night, something I was very excited about as one of my favourite authors, Willy Vlautin, was nominated. Unfortunately he couldn’t be there on the night but it was fantastic hearing the readings from the nominees and there was great music from The Cornshed Sisters.

Then it was off to Corbridge on Saturday morning to visit the amazing Forum Books to sign some copies of Stolen and chat to customers and other writers about books and other things. And I also picked up a copy of Willy Vlautin’s new book, The Free. Well, it would be rude not to.

books are my bag

Read Regional book groups

IMG_20140409_112339826The Driffield library reading group

After two events this week, I’m now halfway through my Read Regional tour and despite the nerves that get me before each event, I’m always at ease by the end of it and that’s down to the readers who come along.

This week I visited two reading groups – in Driffield and Spennymoor  - and found both to be very encouraging of me and my work and also very lively in their discussion of the book. As a former member of a book group, I know how animated the groups can be – as they should be. And at the events this week, although no one said they didn’t like Stolen, a few questions were raised about plot points or character’s motivations that caused heated debate within the group. In Driffield one lady said she thought the chapters were too short which is a characteristic of the book most readers previously have told me they loved. The majority of readers tell me they think Gardner is lovely, one even used the word adorable (which I’m not sure Gardner would approve of), but a reader at the group thought he was ineffectual. Just goes to show how people react differently to books and that you can never please everyone all of the time – something to remember when the reviews come out!

IMG_20140410_105628409Chatting to members of Spennymoor reading group before the discussion kicked off.

So thanks to everyone from both groups for bringing so much to the discussion, and to Gary Smith at Driffield and Catherine Gillham at Spennymoor for being such great hosts.

 

10 Reasons Why You Should Go and See Muppets Most Wanted

1. It’s the Muppets.
2. It’s directed by James Bobin who directed Flight of the Conchords
3. The music is by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords
4. Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords is in it (I really like Flight of the Conchords)
5. Tina Fey is in it
6. Ricky Gervais is in it
7. Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo do a song and dance number
8. It made me laugh for about ten minutes with the simple words “Goodnight, Danny Trejo”
9. For the Swedish Chef’s plot suggestion
10. It’s the Muppets!

My Writing Process – Blog tour

Fellow Read Regional author, Susan Elliot Wright, invited me to take part in this blog tour in which writers talk about their writing process. The questions seemed easy but when it came to answering them it was harder than it looked. But I’ve given it my best shot. If you want to read Susan’s blog, you can find it here.

IMG_20140402_091008515My very messy desk.

What am I working on?

I’m waiting for the copy edit of my second book, Gone, to come back to me so I can be horrified by all my mistakes. And while I’m waiting I’ve started work on the third book. I’ve spent months trying to work out the plot only to be told by my agent and editor that it’s not quite right. So it was back to the drawing board and more sleepless nights, unable to think about anything else. It’s quite strange to be at the day job, working away, but in my head I’m trying to decide on the best place to stab someone in order to keep them alive just long enough to serve the plot.

I’m also making notes for a non-fiction book about my travels in America – although I have been making said notes for the last ten years!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think it’s quite hard to see your own work objectively enough to see how it’s different or similar to other work. But I think my crime novels are slightly unusual, but not unique, in that the narrative is shared between the police and the “normal” people. I like having the victim’s (or criminal’s) point of view alongside the police characters because I think it draws the reader in that little bit deeper. I think we can identify with the woman on the street more and think ‘What if that was me?’

I do think Gone is different to Stolen in some ways though and the third book seems even more of a departure in some ways which I guess is a gamble if readers like what you’ve done before. But I’d hate to think I was writing the same book over and over again!

Why do I write what I do?

I’m asked quite a lot why I write crime fiction and why people love it in general and the answer is I don’t really know! I started writing crime because I’d loved reading it. I remember the first crime novel that really gripped me was The Third Victim by Lisa Gardner (who my character DI Gardner is named after, by the way). It was so good, I just couldn’t put it down. And that made me seek out more of her novels and then more crime novels in general.

I think as a writer I enjoy writing crime because it’s quite challenging trying to figure out a good plot and keep people guessing. As a reader, I think we all enjoy crime because it’s fascinating and thrilling and by reading about it rather than experiencing it in real life we can explore the dark side in a safe way. There are a lot of theories about crime fiction offering a resolution and justice being served that’s comforting because it doesn’t always happen in real life – but I quite like an unhappy ending sometimes so maybe that’s not always true!

How does your writing process work?

I suppose it starts with a very vague idea – maybe something I’ve read, seen on the news, overheard. Over time the idea starts to develop but sometimes this can take years. I had an opening to a crime novel which I thought would be the second book but I still can’t get past that opening so it’s still whirring around the back of my mind somewhere.

Once I’ve got a few ideas I start thinking about what ifs? and play around with different scenarios. It’s not very often an idea will come fully formed. But once I have a couple of ideas I start thinking about the characters involved and sometimes write little sketches or scenes which are unlikely to end up in the book but help me get to know the characters and that helps develop the plot once I know how and why people are doing things.

I’m very disorganised with my writing notes. Instead of keeping them all together in a nice notebook, I scrawl ideas on bits of paper and end up with a complete mess with no rhyme or reason (see the photo above for the state of my desk). Talking it over with my boyfriend helps if something isn’t working. He can usually spot holes in my ideas , and sometimes just saying it out loud helps even if the other person doesn’t come up with anything. Talking to the dog is good for this – she never has an ideas.

Once I’m happy there’s something there and I have most of a plot, I start writing down each plot point or scene on a little bit of paper and spread them all over the floor. This way I can see more clearly where things are missing and also how best to structure the book. I shuffle the pieces around until I’m happy and then write up a vague chapter by chapter outline. I use this to guide me once I start writing but often I’ll go off on tangents anyway.

I can write a first draft quite quickly once I get going because I don’t edit as I go. If I kept stopping to try and get everything right, I’d never get past the first page! So editing can be a long process. I generally go through a lot of drafts but hopefully each gets better.

Once I’m fairly happy with a draft I’ll send it off to my agent and editor and wait for their notes with a feeling of nausea. When I get the notes back they’re always helpful but I always think it’s worse than it really is – that I’ll have to start over and I’ll never finish. This isn’t true but I always think it regardless!

 

So that’s me and my process. Thanks for reading. Next week, 14th April, the following writers will be blogging about their writing process:

RS Pateman

Rob is a native of Harold Hill, Romford in Essex but spent much of his adult life in London, particularly Kennington. He’s also called Rotterdam, Manchester, Edinburgh and Frankfurt home for varying lengths of time.

He somehow graduated in History from Warwick University and then faffed about as a tour company rep, play leader and night club bouncer – while dreaming all the while of being a writer.

His dream sort of came true when he began a career as an advertising copywriter. Eventually he sat down and wrote several books – one of which became The Second Life of Amy Archer (Orion). His next novel, The Prophecy of Bees, a psychological thriller about a troubled teen in a remote country house and her susceptibility (or otherwise) to superstition and witchcraft, is out in November 2014. http://rspateman.com/

Helen Cadbury

Helen is a York based writer whose debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, was joint winner of the Northern Crime Award and was launched by Moth Publishing in May 2013. Helen was born in the Midlands and brought up in Birmingham and Oldham, Lancashire. She writes fiction, poetry and plays and is currently working on a sequel to To Catch a Rabbit. http://helencadbury.com/whether-pigs-have-wings-blog/

 

 

 

Crimefest!

crimefest-2014-15-may-18-may-85

Very excited to be taking part in the following panels at Crimefest this year. It’s the first time I’ll have been to the convention too so it’s doubly exciting!

Saturday 17th May 9.00-9.50am Missing: Why we like to read about characters who disappear. Panel with Tim Weaver, Rachel Howzell Hall and Susan Moody. Moderated by Hilary Bonner

Sunday 18th May 9.30-10.20am Debut Authors:An Infusion of Fresh Blood. Panel with Neil Broadfoot, James Carol, Emma Kavanagh and Charlotte Williams. Moderated by Laura Wilson

Read Regional – South Shields

cropped-rr_masthead

Had a really good night at my first Read Regional event at South Shields central library. It was fantastic hearing Susan Elliot Wright reading from her novel The Things We Never Said and hearing about her writing life – including a very funny story about the moment she found out she’d got a publishing deal.

It was a very miserable night outside but lots of readers braved the elements to come to the event and it reminded me once again that readers and librarians are all lovely people with great questions. And also that it’s a small world. One reader came up after our talk to tell me he’d stayed in a holiday park in my hometown of Redcar several times many moons ago, and another couple mentioned they’d stayed in Loftus (which is briefly mentioned in Stolen) and had taken part in the Poultry Run – an annual event that as an (almost) local I’m sorry to say I knew nothing about.

Thanks to everyone who came and to Pauline Martin who organised the event.

Next stop Bradford!

And we’re off!

cropped-rr_masthead

Read Regional 2014 kicks off (for me, anyway) tonight with my first event at South Shields Library. It’s been a while since my last event so I hope I’m not too rusty. Fortunately I have the brilliant Susan Elliot Wright to share the stage with and I’m really looking forward to hearing her read from The Things We Never Said and finding out more about her writing.

I recently sent off what I hope will be almost the final draft of my second book so I can focus my attention back on Stolen. Although it was only published in May last year it feels like a long tome ago so I’m hoping readers will help me to remember some of the details!

The event in South Shields will be followed by a trip to Bradford on Saturday afternoon which will be a slightly scarier solo event and then in March I will attend my first book group (as a writer). As a former member of a book group myself, I know how heated the discussions can get and how opinions on the books generally range from love to hate. So I’ll prepare myself for some honest feedback!

A list of all the Read Regional events I’m taking part in can be found on my events page and to find out more about the project and the other writers and events please take a look at the Read Regional site here.