Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Game of Author Tag

There’s a game of tag going on between writers at the moment where we answer questions about our writing process. I’ve been tagged by top northern crime writer Nick Quantrill who preceded me on his blog. You can read all about what he has been up to, along with news of an exciting new series he is planning, right here: Nick Quantrill 

In the meantime my answers to the questions are below:
What are you working on?
I have just finished ‘Death Knock’; a crime story set in County Durham that features three new characters; a tabloid journalist, a local newspaper reporter and a young Detective. They are each investigating the disappearance of a young girl and simultaneously caught up in a cold case, involving a sixty year old, unidentified corpse found in a field on the edge of a village. The book will be published in 2015.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I am probably less aware of the rules of the genre than most. I’m not as influenced by classic crime novels because I grew up as a film fan and I think that affected my story telling style. I’m big on dialogue and like to leave incidental stuff to your imagination, so I won’t spend a whole page describing a room. The lines between good and bad characters get blurred quite a lot in my books and there is a fair amount of what I suppose would be classed as social commentary, so I will give politicians or the top brass, in organisations like the police or the press, a bit of a kicking along the way.

Why do I write what I do?

I am story led as opposed to genre led. The idea for the story is always the beginning for me and the book that was my breakthrough just happened to be a crime story. With ‘The Drop’ I had an idea about a white-collar gangster who thinks he is immune from the violence of his criminal world and then something goes very wrong.  Money he’s responsible for goes missing and he must get it back or he’s a dead man. The first David Blake book yielded so many ideas it became a trilogy that was published by No Exit.

My latest book is based on an idea I first had almost fifteen years ago, about a journalist who has to return to his home and confront his past, while using his wits to solve a mystery that has repercussions for everybody around him. It took me all those years to complete the story in my head, while I was writing other things, then another year to write it as a novel. You could say it’s been a slow burn but I think it’s been worth it and I hope the readers agree.

How does your writing process work?
My daily writing routine starts as soon as I’ve dropped my daughter at school. I have just over six hours before I collect her again, so I waste absolutely no time and start my procrastinating straight away. Over breakfast I’ll read a few pages of the Times then launch straight into the evil, web-based distractions of Facebook, Twitter and Newcastle United transfer news in the north-east newspapers. Only around mid-morning, when I have started to hate myself for not doing any actual writing, will I actually open the manuscript and begin. Powered by shame and self-loathing, I am capable of short, intense but very effective bursts of activity that might yield anything between a thousand and three thousand words in a day. That probably sounds impressive until you remember that many of those words will not make it into the final book. A lot will either be edited out as I go along or are culled at the end of my first draft, because my word count is out of control by that stage.

To keep my morale from plummeting completely in the early stages of a book I use a very rudimentary spreadsheet to update my word count at the end of each day. Watching the numbers rise gives me a false sense of momentum that is so important during the highly depressing beginnings of a book when there are at least ninety thousand words to go.

About two-thirds of the way into a book, I’ll do extra hours when everyone else is in bed. These additional shifts are sometimes powered by illicit substances such as chocolate or wine, both of which have been known to keep me going when I’m flagging late at night. I do a lot of editing and before a book is complete I will have endured many hours of fear and self-doubt. By the time it is finally finished I will have reached the stage where I can no longer see the wood for the trees and will be convinced that I am the only person on the planet who actually thinks that it’s any good. This means that when my agent and publisher report back that they love it I am always both pleasantly surprised and pathetically grateful. On a good day I’ll re read it and admit to myself that actually some of it isn’t all that bad. That’s as good as it gets when you are your own worst critic but I have become resigned to the fact that it is the harsh, self-critical editing and fear of failure that keep me plugging away until the book is finally good enough. Sadly it comes with the turf.

Next Up:
Now I’m going to pass the baton to a cracking writer and all-round top bloke Adrian Magson, who has been a great support to me. He’s the creator of one of crime fictions most intriguing and expertly-drawn characters, Lucas Rocco, a French detective in 1960s Picardie. If that wasn't enough he also writes more modern thrillers featuring former MI5 agent Harry Tate that are absolute page-turners. Adrian Magson

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