Today I’m really thrilled to introduce Hugh Fraser to the blog to talk about his First Draft process.
Hugh is perhaps best known for playing Captain Hastings in the television series “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” and appearing as the Duke of Wellington in “Sharpe”. Other TV work has included “Edge of Darkness”, “Edward and Mrs Simpson” and Alan Bennett’s “The Insurance Man”. Amongst his film credits are roles in Patriot Games, The Draughtman’s Contract, 101 Dalmatians, Clint Eastwood’s Firefox and The Man in the Mask. In the theatre he has appeared at the Royal Court in “Cloud Nine”, “Traps” and “The Genius”, at the Lyric Theatre in “Filumena”, at Wyndhams Theatre in David Hare’s “Teeth’n’ Smiles” and in various roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hugh co wrote the theme tune to the popular children’s television programme “Rainbow”. He is an accomplished musician and plays bass guitar. His debut novel “HARM” was published in 2015 by Urbane Publications.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Make a list of as many domestic chores as I can think of which simply have to be completed before I can start writing.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not really, but I usually start with the ironing.
I usually start on the keyboard, then make a few notes on paper and then go back and forth between the two.
How important is research to you?
It’s vital. Both my books, and the one I’m working on at the moment, are set in the recent past and I like to find out as much as I can about the culture, idioms, and social fabric of the period, as well as the geography of places I’ve never been to.
How do you go about researching?
Say, for example, my central character Rina Walker is going to Berlin, as she does in Threat, which is set in 1961, I’ll go online and find out what kind of plane she would have flown in and what the Heathrow Airport layout was like at that time. Some of the action takes place in a nightclub, so I’ll search Berlin nightclubs of the 1960s, look at pictures, and read the personal reminiscences of people who performed in them, patronised them etc. I might also use Google Earth to figure out the route from the airport to the hotel she’s staying in.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I’ll open a file, call it whatever the title is/notes/research etc. and put everything in there. Tell us how that first draft takes shape? I don’t have a structured approach. I’ll start with a basic idea for the story and start writing, then I’ll decide that I should and try to develop a plot synopsis, so I’ll work on that for a bit and then go back to writing as per the synopsis, then an idea will occur to me which takes the story in a different direction, so I’ll write for a bit, going with that idea, and then go back and adjust the synopsis accordingly. So far it’s been a combination of writing and plotting as I go.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I find it’s vital to turn off my phone and email and draw a net curtain across the window so that I can’t stare out of it.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
If only! Some of the time I get lost and some of the time I’ve got my head in my hands asking myself why the **** I ever thought I could write a book and why didn’t I just learn to play golf?’
What does your workspace look like?
It’s a small room with an Ikea desk, office chair, one window (with net curtain), and an exercise machine (not used since 1996).
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I edit as I go and the next day I read through and re-edit.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I go on hours at the keyboard rather than word count. I do four hours each morning (theoretically) and just keep a vague eye on the total word count.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
About six months. I haven’t made any major structural changes to a first draft so far, but plenty of tweaks and corrections.
In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?
Computer screen. What happens now that first draft is done? I send it to my publisher, Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications for his comments and also to a couple of trusted friends. The editing process proceeds from there.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
London, 1961: George Preston is in control of crime in West London, and Rina Walker is his favored contract killer. Now 21, she is living next door to her lover Lizzie, now a fearsome dominatrix whose clients include a senior member of the government. Rina is approached by Tony Farina, one of the Maltese brothers who control vice in Soho. Seven girls have disappeared, and Rina discovers they are being killed and supplied to a member of the English aristocracy for the gratification of his macabre sexual tastes. Rina’s pursuit of the girls’ murderer become increasingly desperate as she grapples with corruption and betrayal, and heads towards a final confrontation with depravity.
You can find all previous First Draft posts in the series Here.