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.
My 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:
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 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/