What’s Your First Draft Like? – Hugh Fraser

Today I’m really thrilled to introduce Hugh Fraser to the blog to talk about his First Draft process.

hughHugh 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.

img_0964Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

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).

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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.

You can find Hugh at Urbane Publications and Twitter. 

Threat

threatLondon, 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.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Tracey Walsh

Today I’m really pleased to be able to welcome fellow blogger and now short story writer, Tracey Walsh to the First Draft hot seat.

photoTracey Walsh has been enjoying life since early retirement in 2013, indulging a lifelong love of crime fiction by starting a book review blog.

More recently, encouraged by friends and family, she has discovered a passion for writing flash fiction and poetry, winning the Paper Swans poetry competition in February 2015, the Flashbang contest (part of Crimefest 2015) and longlisted for the Flashbang contest 2016.

Tracey has also been enjoying some success with magazine submissions, having sold articles and stories to The People’s Friend and The Weekly News. She has recently completed her longest story to date, “On The Worst Day Of Christmas”, which will be published as a My Weekly “Pocket Novel” later this year.

Tracey lives in Blackburn, Lancashire with husband Dave and as well as writing is an insatiable reader of crime fiction, attends crime writing festivals and enjoys being a grandparent following the birth of grandson Oliver in November 2015.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

For short stories the first thing to decide is which magazine I’m aiming at, as this decides the acceptable word length and subject matter (see Research below).

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Depending on the word length I might sit and write the whole story in one go – they vary from 700 words to 3000. Some of the magazines accept longer stories and serials but I haven’t attempted those yet. Instead I leapt into a 50,000 word pocket novel.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

first-draft-picAn A4 spiral bound notebook and pen first. I prefer Pukka Pads and Papermate Inkjoy pens. There must be dozens of each in our house. I like writing longhand as it lets me think things out as I go. Then every few thousand words I type it up. I’m a fast typist and I enjoy it (sad) so that part of the process is quite quick.

My pocket novel is the longest story I’ve written at nearly 51,000 words and I did start to wonder if it would be more sensible to write it straight onto the laptop, but at the moment I have to borrow my husband’s so it’s not ideal. I’m looking for a cheap(ish) notebook computer if anyone has recommendations. Something with Word and email would do.

How important is research to you?

Research is very important. I would hate to include something in a story that was wrong because, as an avid reader, I know how much it can spoil a story.

How do you go about researching?

Google is my favourite research tool but I’ll also consult Facebook friends – for example for the pocket novel I needed to know which bands were popular with teenage girls in the 90s. I had no idea but Facebook friends provided a list in minutes.

Writing for magazines (womags) involves a lot of research into their specific submission guidelines. These also change from time to time so it’s important to keep up to date – you’d be wasting your time submitting a story that didn’t fit their needs. Some of them still insist on paper manuscripts being posted to them so you could be wasting money too.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I constantly tap things into the Notes app on my iPhone. I have one for “Titles & First Lines”, “Plot ideas”, “Links to Articles & Websites” and “Writing tips & quotes”.

My husband is good at spotting items in newspapers that could make a good story. It’s like having my own clippings service and often sparks other ideas that become stories.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I like mind maps and flowcharts as a way of keeping track of characters, plots and sub-plots. This is probably the part of writing I enjoy most.

Then I write the beginning and end, though the beginning would sometimes already be written, having submitted the first chapters to an editor, to make sure they like the idea, before continuing. Once the beginning and end are done I’ll write the rest in sections or “scenes”, not necessarily in chronological order. It can be a bit like a jigsaw fitting all the sections together and making sure there are no logic flaws.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

I don’t have any rituals – do you have any good ones?

Items I must have: Cups of tea during the day and a glass of something cool in the evening.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I hadn’t noticed when writing short stories but I did with the pocket novel: I am in whatever world the characters live in. I can write sitting on the sofa with the TV blaring but I won’t know what’s been on and if anyone speaks to me they’ll have to try two or three times before I hear them.

What does your workspace look like?

I have a few workspaces. I write in notebooks while sitting on the sofa. I type up a few thousand words at a time on my husband’s laptop which has taken over the dining room table. But my favourite place is my reading bench in the back garden, overlooking the Leeds Liverpool Canal (see photo).

reading-bench

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I edit as I go, when I’m typing up my handwritten pages.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I am very focused on word count. This comes from writing for magazines that have very specific word count guidelines. I know that about six A4 sheets of handwriting = 2,000 words = my usual daily target.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

The pocket novel came from a Christmas story competition from last year. I’d submitted three chapters to the competition and though I didn’t win I still wanted to develop the story and its characters. So by the time I decided to submit it as a pocket novel I already had 10,000 words.

I sent off the first three chapters and synopsis again, this time to My Weekly, a D C Thomson publication. The pocket novel editor asked to see the whole novel so, with no guarantee of a sale, I needed to write at least 40,000 words. And because it was a Christmas story I needed to do it quickly.

I decided to aim for 2,000 words each weekday for four weeks (see plan on photo). I stuck to it quite well for the first couple of weeks. Life got in the way once or twice but I kept going. There’s a very supportive Facebook group of “womag” writers who helped with encouragement when I was flagging. Then I had a splurge of inspiration and energy and completed it a week early.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Every time I type up, I then email the Word file to my Kindle and read through what I have just typed. It’s amazing how many mistakes jump out on the Kindle page rather than the laptop screen. I make a note of any errors I find on my phone and update the computer file as soon as I can.

What happens now that first draft is done?

Once my (nearly) 51,000 word story was finished I emailed it to the My Weekly pocket novel editor (hoping she hadn’t forgotten me in the three weeks since we last spoke). The day after she received it she bought the novel, after requesting a couple of changes.

So what happened next was I made the requested changes (harder than I thought as I had to make multiple changes to keep the story/plot consistent).

What happens now is that the pocket novel “On The Worst Day Of Christmas” will be published as part of the My Weekly pocket novel Christmas schedule. Pocket novels are on sale for two weeks. I’m not sure who the stockists are, though our local Asda and large Tesco stores sell them.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find Tracey on her Blog | Flashbang Winning Story | Twitter

The pocket novel isn’t out yet, but I’m thrilled for Tracey about it and wanted to get her onto the First Draft series before it ended. She describes it as;

“Cosy crime meets gothic romance at the school reunion from hell”.

No More Book Blogging

books-1015594_1280Last week I wrote a short paragraph in front of a book review about the fact that I was no longer going to be book blogging.

In retrospect, I don’t think it was fair to the author to write it there, so I apologise Ed James, plus I don’t think I was particularly clear on my reasons or where I plan on taking the blog from here. So, I thought I would address it in a full post, which I should have done in the first place.

For as many years as I have been blogging, I have been reviewing books. At first, I was adamant that I wasn’t a book reviewer. I was simply sharing books, with my blog readers, which I had read and loved. But, over time, I was given books by authors and publishers, I joined NetGalley and it turned into proper book blogging/reviewing. It morphed without me having really wanted it to.

As a writer, I hadn’t wanted to give opinions on other writers’ books. I just wanted to share great books I’d read in my spare time.

With the growth of the book blogging side of the blog, I began to feel under pressure. Time was becoming a precious commodity. I had piles of books to read and then to write reviews for. And yet, I had books I needed to read for research purposes or simply because I wanted to read them for my own pleasure and I couldn’t get to them because I’d agreed to read and review other books and I couldn’t let people down. This was leading to a lack of enjoyment. Yes, the books are great that I’m being given, but the joy of choosing my own books, that had gone.

So, with the lack of time and some of the joy missing, it was already feeling like it was time to bring it to a close – and that was last year!

Roll forward to this year, I’ve released my second book, I’m going to be releasing a novella in about six weeks and I’m now working on the first draft of a standalone novel before going back to Hannah Robbins 3. You can see, I have my hands full as a writer.

And, this is what I want to focus on.

I only have limited energy every day as I battle my own body, living with a chronic debilitating genetic illness, so I have to prioritise.

I want to focus on my writing career. I want to write as much as I can. I want to read the research books I need to read – at will. I then want to pick up any old book, to relax with when needed. And then when I have some energy reserves back again, I can write some more. Not worry about the toppling TBR pile and the people I am letting down because I’m not getting through it fast enough.

So, what of the blog?

I’m still going to blog. In fact, as mentioned some time ago, it’s getting a whole new facelift. I couldn’t do it myself, so I had to ask someone else to do it for me, and it should be going live very soon. It’ll be a website with a blog as a part of it. I’ll blog as I do now, about three times a week – hopefully.

Monday’s will be the crime series – either the policing section or the fun facts.

Wednesday’s will be personal posts or anything of interest I want to put in there.

And Friday’s will be the writing series. Finishing off the First Draft series and then moving to the Revisions series.

But, I won’t be feeling pressured to read particular books, in particular timeframes (which I was never good at anyway) and think about how to say what I think without giving away the plot or twist or bad guy. If I love a book I’m reading, I’ll just share the love on Twitter or Facebook. I’m a natural reader. I just don’t want to do it as a role.
Are you a book blogger, do you ever feel the pressure and fancied a break?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – William McIntyre

Today I’m pleased to welcome crime author, William McIntyre to the blog to talk about his first draft process.

wmphoto1William is a partner in Scotland’s oldest law firm Russel + Aitken, specialising in criminal defence. William has been instructed in many interesting and high-profile cases over the years and now turns fact into fiction with his string of legal thrillers, The Best Defence Series, featuring defence lawyer, Robbie Munro.When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Once I finish one book, I wait until an interesting idea for a new opening chapter comes to me and then I sit down and write chapter one of the next book. After that I let my main character lead on. It’s great fun seeing where he ends up.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

With my handwriting? I go straight to iPad/keyboard. If I get bogged down in the middle and am not sure what’s going on, I resort to pen and paper to try and work out a path for the next few chapters to follow.

How important is research to you?

I like to keep things as accurate and realistic as possible; however, as I write legal thrillers from the point of view of a criminal defence lawyer, and since I am a criminal defence lawyer with thirty years’ experience, I don’t have a great deal of research to do on the law and procedure or dealing with awkward clients. I do always make a point of only writing about locations I am familiar with and, if I am not, will carry out a locus inspection and make detailed notes.

How do you go about researching?

I visit places.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I keep a notebook in my pocket for that purpose and from there transfer ideas, interesting comments I hear etc. from it to a Word document which I keep and into which I dip from time to time as I write. I also have a good memory, except for names.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

As I mentioned above, I usually write a first chapter and take it from there. I’m sure it’s a lot easier when one is writing from experience, so the old adage ‘write about what you know’ works well for me. It also helps writing a series featuring the same protagonist, in my case Robbie Munro, and where there are several perennial supporting characters. As the series goes on, I find I no longer have to wonder how characters might respond to any given situation because they have a life of their own and all I do is, in my mind’s eye, watch what they do and say, and write it down as it happens.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Other than the occasional blood sacrifice and cup of tea, no.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I’m not a great multi-tasker, but I do have one super-power which is zoning-out in order to concentrate on whatever I’m doing, with a complete disregard to what is happening around me. I think it’s called being a man. As a father of four noisy sons, it’s an ability I have found it extremely useful over the years.

What does your workspace look like?

It looks very much like my kitchen table, because that’s generally what it is.

img_1128

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I edit as I go. I write very quickly when I’m in the groove and, to be fair, as an author, my work has never been confused with that of Marcel Proust or James Joyce. My books are intended to be easy reads with a lot of dialogue and not too much by way of elaborate description or explorations into the dark voids of the human soul. Time is a commodity in short supply and I tend to write a lot in a short space of time, like a fat man with a five minute lunch break. There can also be fairly long gaps between my writing sessions, so I tend to read over what has come before to remind myself and make changes as I go. As the book grows this becomes more time consuming and so I keep a summary of each chapter that I’ve written for ease of reference.  It means that the first draft is usually pretty much the finished article up to the mid-way point and slightly less so thereafter.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I have now written eight books in the Best Defence Series. I don’t allocate myself any particular word count, but for some reason they all come out as sixty chapters long or thereby and about 90,000 words. I’m not sure why that is.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

I try and set myself a deadline of six months to have a completed first draft. It’s usually more or less the finished article story-wise.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Ereader (Kindle) highlighting as I go.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I give it to my wife to read. She then spots holes in the plot, identifies things she doesn’t like and carries out some routine censorship.  After that I leave it for two or three weeks, go back and read it over again a couple of times making changes as I go. Then my wife carries out a more thorough proof-reading exercise and I have a friend who does the same. By this time it’s usually just typographical changes being made. I then read it over several more times and am usually fed up with the story by the end of it all and just wanting to get started with the next.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find William on his website | Sandstone Press | Sandstone Press’ Facebook

Present Tense

9781910985250Criminal lawyer Robbie Munro is back home, living with his widowed, ex-policeman dad and his new found daughter, Tina. Life at the practice isn’t going well, neither is the love life he regularly confesses to his junior, Joanna. Then again, on the subject of Joanna, Robbie may be the last to know… When one of his more dubious clients leaves a mysterious box for him to look after, and a helicopter comes down with two fatalities, events take a much more sinister turn, and all of this is complicated by the rape case he has to defend.


You can find all previous first draft Q&A’s Here. If you want to do one, you have to let me know quickly as we are soon going to move to the Revision process series.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Alex J. Cavanaugh

alex-j-cavanaughI’m pleased to be able to introduce Alex J. Cavanaugh to the blog today to talk about his first draft process. As well as being a very persistent blogger with whom I have talked with for several years, he is the writer of science fiction books.

Alex  has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (ISWG). He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm, and Dragon of the Stars. The author lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

mini-alex-and-iwsg-shirt

 

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

I start brainstorming in my head. It might be months before I commit anything to paper. But I work out a lot of the story in my head first, letting it run past like a movie.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Slow and steady? Is that a routine?

rough-draftPen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I write the outline on paper first. After a while, I transfer to the computer. Once I’m happy with the outline, I start writing on the computer. Habit I picked up from NaNo. At any rate, I write as slow as I type, so it really doesn’t matter.

 

How important is research to you?

Probably not enough. I do some before I begin. But I learned with my last book that a lot of research sometimes doesn’t amount to anything. (Anyone want to know about sea kelp?)

How do you go about researching?

Google. Google knows everything.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I copy and paste into a Word file, type it into Word, or make note of the song. (I’m a musician, so music plays a big part in my writing.)

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I hate writing the first draft. I’m all about the revisions phase. So I attack the first draft as fast as I can, just plowing through to the end.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Water, Hot Tamales, and music. Sometimes the television is on. Muted, of course. That would be overkill…

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I have to immerse myself completely, so I’m rather lost.

What does your workspace look like?

Uncluttered. Might not be neat, but I can’t stand cluttered.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

The only way I can get through that dratted first draft is to plow forward without looking back. Although I do slow down to ponder just the right words more often than I would like.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I check that Word count every single day! I’m a lazy writer. I wouldn’t write anything if I didn’t have a daily word count goal.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

Usually about six weeks. Like I said, I hate writing the first draft, so I plow through it as quickly as possible. Fortunately, I also outline to death, so the first draft isn’t a huge mess when I’m done.

In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?

I like to print it out. I stare at a computer enough at work. I catch more that way.

What happens now that first draft is done?

Edit, edit, edit! After about a month or so, I let my two test readers read it. Then I edit another month. Then it’s off to the critique partners. Then more editing. When I can’t polish anymore and I start changing things back to the way they were in the first draft, I send it to my publisher. (Oh, and I don’t break it into chapters until I send it back to my publisher after their editor has tackled it. Yeah, weird, but that’s how I roll…)

Thanks for digging into that first draft, Alex.

You can find Alex on his Website | The ISWG | Twitter

Dragon of the Stars

dragon-of-the-stars-alex-j-cavanaughThe ship of legends…
The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.
But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?
One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

 

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Rachel Amphlett

Rachel AmphlettToday I’m pleased to welcome Rachel Amphlett to the First Draft hot seat.

Before moving to Australia in 2005 Rachel lived in the UK and helped run a pub, played guitar in a band, worked in TV and film as an extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant – not necessarily in that order!

She writes thriller and suspense novels and in her spare time enjoys horse-riding, skiing, going to the cinema and reading and writing.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Often, scenes will pop into my head in a random order, so I’ll jot those down in a fresh notebook. From those, I’ll develop a five Act outline – just bullet points for each scene, with wiggle room for character development.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

More so these days – I had a bit more of a scattergun approach in the past, which meant I wasted a lot of valuable time.

filePen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I start off with a few index cards to play around with scene sequence, then that gets transposed to a spreadsheet (thanks, Russell Blake!) so I can see the whole story sequence, give or take those few gaps that I don’t worry about at the beginning. Those individual scene sketches/bullet points then become my chapter folders in Scrivener, and off I go.

How important is research to you?

Very. I feel that with what I write, I’m constantly under a microscope by experts in their field. The trick is to balance the research with the storytelling though. Storytelling has to come first – after all, I write fiction.

How do you go about researching?

I’m a news junkie, and that’s where a lot of my ideas come from. If a news article references another article, that’s me off down the rabbit hole chasing original source material – I soak it up. I do like travelling, so if there’s a way to get to the places I’m writing about, or I’ve been there previously, then it’s easy to go through photographs. Google Earth is a great tool if I can’t get there in person. Talking with subject matter experts, or emailing them, is crucial. You’d be amazed how willing people are to help out and ensure you get your facts straight – and it’s a great learning curve.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Ideas go into a physical notebook or Evernote. Scrivener is my go-to writing tool, and that enables me to save a lot of research directly into my writing project. I also set up a folder in my Favourites on my computer to dump any news articles that I need to refer back to – either as a reminder about where I first got the idea from, or for checking facts.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

The first 35,000-40,000 words is fast – very fast. That’s mostly due to the fact that I have that outline set out before I begin. The next half of the book slows down because that’s while my characters are developing and I’m making notes in margins about what I need to go back and fix during the second draft. Once a scene is written, I don’t go back to it – I keep moving forward.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Not really. As long as I’ve got a computer, or a pen and something to write on, I can get on with it.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

Oh, I’m definitely lost. Ask anyone that knows me! I’m 40,000 words into the first draft of a new project at the moment, and I’m often daydreaming about the next scene I have to write, or jotting down stuff I have to look up once this first draft is done.

file-1What does your workspace look like?

Uncluttered – the complete opposite of my brain during a writing project! It’s just my computer, printer, a tidy pile of articles to read about publishing and marketing off to the left next to the printer, my diary, and a rack of miscellaneous paperwork on my right. Sometimes there’s a dog there as well, ensuring complimentary bits of fluff end up between the pages…

file (1)

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I’m getting better at leaving the editing to last. If I need to look something up or think of a plot point, or I’m lost for a character name, I’ll just put [XXXX] and carry on. It took me a few books to get into that habit – it used to be too tempting to go off and look something up, but then of course that breaks the writing flow and makes it harder to get back into it.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I have to write around a myriad of other commitments so I keep a spreadsheet (yeah, I know – nerd!) with a note of the date I want to finish the first draft by, and what my daily word count is. I’ve got formulae in it that changes what my daily word count needs to be based on progress to date and that deadline date. That way, I can see where I need to put the effort in leading up to the deadline. It really helps to keep me focused.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

I aim for 8-12 weeks for the first draft, and that’ll be pretty much done apart from going back and filling in those [XXXX] spaces.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Paper. I only read on eReader once I’ve had the manuscript professionally edited and all the formatting has been done. I always pick up different errors on eReaders and paper, so it’s a good exercise to carry out before publication.

What happens now that first draft is done?

<Cracks open beer> Oh, sorry – you mean writing-wise?

I’ll put it away for a bit, then do the first ever read-through from beginning to end and work out what doesn’t work, or what needs clarifying. I probably do that a couple of times before I give it to 2-3 people who are experts and/or trusted beta readers that don’t pull any punches. When their comments come back, I’ll do another edit or two and then send it off for a professional edit. At the same time, it goes online for pre-order for 4-6 weeks. Of course, by then I’m already working on the next first draft of a new project…Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thanks for having me on First Draft, Rebecca!

You can find Rachel on Facebook | Twitter | Mailing list

Behind The Wire

Behind the Wire Cover LARGE EBOOKDan Taylor is trying to keep a low profile when an old friend contacts the Energy Protection Group seeking his help.

The man’s daughter is alone in North Africa, and her life is in grave danger.

Thrust back into active duty, Dan soon realises that getting Anna to safety is only half his problem. The forensic accountant holds the key to preventing Western Sahara from descending into chaos, and exposing the puppet masters behind an imminent coup d’etat.

With a group of militants in pursuit and willing to do anything to stop him, Dan must draw on old survival skills and luck to make his way across the desert landscape and ensure Anna and the evidence she has in her possession reach safety.

Behind the wire lies a secret – a secret that people will kill to protect.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Harry Bingham

HB in hatI’m excited to be able to introduce today’s first drafter as he really knows his stuff about the publishing industry as well as being an author and his answers made me smile.

This is Harry Bingham’s 25-word biography;

Forty-something. Married. Kids. Oxfordshire. Runs The Writers’ Workshop and Agent Hunter. Used to be a banker. Now a full-time writer. Likes rock-climbing, walking, swimming. Done.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do

I’m a crime writer, and my contract basically requires me to write a book a year. I generally start writing that book in September or October, so my August is spent thinking, “I have absolutely no ideas at all. All the ideas I have are terrible. I’ve written the last good book I’ll ever write. I should fake my own suicide and retrain as a gardener or a physio or a freelance assassin in a small country a long, long way away from here.”

By approximately the last day of August, I realise I haven’t sorted out my visas, that faking my own suicide might be uncomfortable, and that maybe – just maybe – I have the seed of a possibly-non-terrible idea. Then I start working.

Do you have a set routine approaching  it

Aside from the panic? Not really. I grope around after ideas. I hang onto the not-so-terrible ideas I have. I start working a bit with those ideas – bits and pieces of research, maybe some note-taking, definitely plenty of long country walks and day-dreaming.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard

Aaargh! Hate pen and paper. It’s the keyboard always for me. I’m a massive self-editor and I hate my own hand-writing: two massive reasons for avoiding what is basically a medieval technology.

harrys-very-boring-first-dr

How important is research to you?

Oh. It’s very, very important – sacred even. I honour and esteem research so much that I do it only in the tiniest, most homeopathic amounts.

How do you go about researching?

Well, as I say, I’m not big on research. So: I fool around a bit on Wikipedia. A book or two. Maybe a conversation with someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. And that’s it. For the most part, I prefer to let my imagination rule the roost. I want to avoid obvious, significant errors, but for me the flavour and feel of the book is way more important than technical faithfulness to Real Life. (After all, if Real Life were so good, wouldn’t it have an agent by now? Huh? Huh?)

I should say that although I technically write police procedurals, really I write unprocedurals. My detective main character isn’t especially interested in procedure and is perfectly happy to ignore it if it suits her. So the freedoms I take are very consistent with my character’s attitudes too. That’s either remarkably lucky . . . or I chose the right character to work with!

How do you store everything: ideas, research, images?

Um. I could store “everything” in a teeny-tiny matchbox and still have room for a complete boxload of matches. I’ve often enough started a novel without anything at all by way of research. If I do any at all, it stays in my head.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape.

Hmm, not an interesting answer here. I sit at my computer and write stuff and my book just gets bigger. I’m not a particularly fast first-drafter, but I am a steady one. I move sequentially, from chapter 1 forwards. I just use MS Word. No mind-mapping for me. No Scrivener. No corkboards and post-its and coloured pins. No spreadsheets and interesting software things or moody music playing in the background.

I literally just write. That’s sadly boring, I know.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

No. It’s just work and I get on with it. I’m very flexible as to where and when that work takes place: I just grab what time I can. The one real essential for me is tea, I have a mug by me now, and can easily drink ten mugs in the course of a working day.

 Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

While I’m actually writing, then the outside world feels a lot less real than the fictional one on screen. But as soon as I put my work down, I’m back in the real world. I’m certainly not one of these authors who just disappears for three months. Aside from anything else, I have four kids so the chances of my escaping in that way are fairly minimal.

What does your workspace look like?

HB-workspaceEr. I have this amazing Flexi-Space which can go through about a million iterations. Right now, I’m working in the garden, which I do pretty much whenever the weather isn’t too hostile to forbid it. Often enough I’ll be outside in March, very well-wrapped, writing until my fingers lose all sensation. But I sometimes work on my lap in the living room. Or at the table in the kitchen. Or on a train. Or at a coffee shop in town. Sometimes – and yeah, I know this is crazy – I actually write in my office. Not often mind you, maybe only three or four times a year.

Harry working flexibly.
Harry working flexibly.

 

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I edit as I go. That’s mostly because ugly or intrusive sentences haunt me until they’re fixed, and bits of bad plotting or clunky text just stop me seeing the way forwards. So typically, I’ll start a working day by editing the stuff I wrote the day before. That editorial work loosens up my writing muscle, so when I do start to make forward progress, I’m already limbered up.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

No, I’m not really bothered about progress. Mostly, I know that if I put in the hours, a novel will come out at the other end. If I’m at a sticky patch in terms of my plotting, or if I have to go back and correct various bits of plot logic that have got into a tangle, my word count won’t change much for a week or so. That doesn’t mean I’m not making progress. It just means that the progress I’m making can’t be measured in terms of words. All that said, I do know whether I’m at 60,000 words or 100,000 words – and watching that progress tick upwards is always nice!

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

I’m not a particularly swift first drafter. I suppose the whole draft may take six or seven months to emerge. That’s quite slow, I think, but I do also run a couple of businesses (Agent Hunter, which helps new writers find literary agents; (Rebecca butting in here, this is great, I used and reviewed Agent Hunter way back Here) and the Writers’ Workshop which offers things like editing and writing courses). Those things do inevitably call for my time and attention even while I’m writing, so those six or seven months comprise something like four months of actual writing plus too-many-weeks of outside distractions.

And one asset about the way I write is that my first draft is always in good shape. All that editing and re-editing as I go means that there’s not a whole heap to be done after I hit the final full stop. I probably do three or four careful read-throughs, each one of which will tighten the plot, cut our surplus text, adjust some language – but really do nothing profound to the story itself. Then it’s off to my editor and agent for their comments.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Computer screen. I’ve tried paper, but it doesn’t seem to run any decent word processing software and I find it hard to make edits. It’s been years since I’ve actually printed out one of my novels.

What happens now that first draft is done?

Freedom! It’s pretty rare that I get major edits back from my publisher. Most of the issues are tweaky things that I can do in a week or so. So for a few months, my year turns away from writing and I’m focused on my other activities, my family and of course the business of publication itself.

You can find Harry at HarryBingham.com | Writers’ Workshop | Agent Hunter.

The Dead House

houseThe fifth in the acclaimed series featuring crime fiction’s most unusual and engaging detective, DC Fiona Griffiths

When the body of a young woman is found in an old ‘dead house’ – the annexe where the dead were stored before burial in medieval times – of a tiny Welsh church, it seems that past and present have come together in a bizarre and horrifying way. For DC Fiona Griffiths, the girl – a murder victim whose corpse was laid out with obvious tenderness – represents an irresistibly intriguing puzzle, given Fiona’s unusual empathy with the dead. And when her investigations lead her to an obscure and secretive monastery hidden in a remote valley, she finds that the dead girl is far from the only victim of a sinister melding of modern crime and medieval religious practices. Only Fiona is capable of putting the mismatched pieces together in this disturbing puzzle, but immersing herself in this dark and obsessive world could threaten her fragile grip on her own sanity.


You can find all previous First Draft Q&As HERE. The series is coming to a close soon and we are changing to the revision process, but there is still time to get your first draft Q&A done if you fancy. Do get in touch if you want to do it.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Claire Seeber

Today I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Claire Seeber to the First Draft hot seat. (Which I have filled for another few weeks, before it finally gives way to the revisions process, to come you will be pleased to hear.)

seeberClaire Seeber is a Londoner who started professional life as a (bad) actress and became a documentary maker, a journalist and a writer of, so far, psychological thrillers. The Observer said of her first novel: ‘a disturbing debut’ whilst The Guardian called it ‘powerful’…she keeps writing whilst also studying psychology and (trying to) to manage a home of slightly feral kids and animals. Luckily she’s got a very nice partner to help too.

 

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

It depends really on whether I am writing to a deadline, or ‘for myself’.  Since my first book LULLABY was published, I’ve mainly written books that I’ve been under contract for – and that affects how I approach the first draft.  But the two times I’ve written books out of commission, it’s been a very different experience.  More, um ‘organic’ shall we say!  Or perhaps free range sounds better 🙂

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Er…a brief synopsis usually for my editor…then she says ‘Not so much’; then I sigh/ cry/ pull my hair out.  Only joking.  No, not really a set routine…I tend to just try to get pen to paper as it were any old where and begin!

ClairePen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Bit of both!  I often start a novel in a notebook – I always have one on the go and I have to have a particular kind of A4 ringbound book, and a different colour for each new book.  Ooh just the thought of it makes me giddy.

How important is research to you?

Good question!  I don’t like to have out and out factual errors in a thriller – but I have definitely been known to make stuff up!  If I didn’t make it up, then it would take me years!  And I can get a bit carried away with research once I get started.

How do you go about researching? 

Asking people in the know.  For FRAGILE MINDS, handily, there’s a senior policeman in my remote family, who kindly let me barrage him with questions.  For NEVER TELL, my neighbor and friend’s a barrister & he helped out re the court case (and was horrified when I occasionally ignored him!).  And of course, a bit of Google never goes amiss!  For a much more historical book I’ve been writing, I’ve read A LOT of books too.  But I have to be careful to not then shove lots of unnecessary research in just because I think it’s fascinating.  It might not actually help the story!

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Note books/ magnetic boards/ pulling articles out of papers/ bookmark stuff on the computer & never look at it again!

How does first draft take shape?

I just write and write and write.  Then I look at it and think ‘My, what a load of old baloney’  then I pull stuff out.  I have brainwaves in the bath/ on the bus/ walking the dog sometimes, and I’ll think ‘Oh of course!’

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

My brain is quite helpful to have with me though sometimes it goes missing in action!

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

Yes I can get lost most definitely, though I have to get away from the internet etc.  And my children!  Nothing bursts the creative bubble quite like my little darlings 🙂

What does your workspace look like? 

Cluttered!  I am not a super organised person though I’m working on it, really!

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out? 

Both – depends on the deadline…always a little editing, but sometimes much more as  I go along, sometimes just getting the story down and then going back in proper detail

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

Oh God I hate the word counter!  But it is both the writer’s enemy and our friend, don’t you think?  Editors have a word count expectation and if the book’s too short, you’re in trouble!

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

The fastest I’ve ever done it is for The Stepmother I think as I was writing full-time for a few months.  In the past the writing time has been more spread out between child-care and doing TV jobs (given that up now!)

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Definitely on paper; I don’t even own an Ereader (note to self: must rectify). I think you spot more mistakes on paper!

What happens now that first draft is done?

I collapse in a big heap!  Sometimes I ask someone else to read for errors/ plot holes.  Then I give it to my editor, cross my fingers, try to keep breathing etc.  And finally I start draft 2!

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thank you for having me – it’s been great fun!!

You can find Claire on her Website, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Stepmother
stepThe perfect wife. A fairytale family. Don’t believe your eyes…
Jeanie and Matthew are a happily married couple who both have teenage children from previous relationships.
No one said it would be easy to raise a blended family under one roof but Jeanie and Matthew are strong. They will make it work.

And whilst Jeanie’s step-daughter Scarlett rejects her, Jeanie will just have to try harder to win her over.

But Jeanie has a past. A terrible secret she thought she’d buried a long time ago. And now, it’s coming to the surface, threatening to destroy her new marriage.

Someone is playing a terrifying game on Jeanie and she must put a stop to it once and for all.

After all, a fairytale needs a happy ending … doesn’t it?

A compelling, dark and twisty psychological thriller that will grip fans of Behind Closed Doors, Between You and Me and The Teacher.

 

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Mark Leggatt

Today I’m pleased to welcome Mark Leggatt to the First Draft hot seat.

hires head shotMark Leggatt is the author of Names Of The Dead, The London Cage, and The Silk Road, a series of international thrillers which weave fact and fiction across the globe. He was born in Lochee, Dundee and currently lives in Edinburgh.

A former specialist in Disaster Recovery for oil companies and global banks, his career has taken him around Europe, especially Paris, where he lived for a number of years.

European history and modern global conspiracy lie at the heart of his work, and are the backdrop for the adventures of former CIA technician Connor Montrose. Mark’s writing is based on his travel and interests, beginning in London banking IT, where he lived and worked for three years in both the East End, and West End of London, before returning to Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh, Mark’s career turned to IT Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity, which took him to Paris on a three month contract, which turned into a three year stay. Initially living in a fin-de-siècle hotel near the Opera in Paris, this was followed by a hotel de particulier in Versailles. Weekends and evenings provided the ideal opportunity to take in Paris profonde.

Mark returned to Edinburgh for a number of years. Missing the sunshine, they moved to a village outside Toulouse in the South of France, where the proximity to an airport served as a base for a number of international contracts in Disaster Recovery. It was at this period that Mark spent more time in other European capitals, including Den Haag (The Hague), Amsterdam and Berlin. They then returned to Scotland once more, and have settled in the Marchmont area of Edinburgh.

In September 2012, Mark won an entry to the Bloody Scotland Crime Festival, and was invited to deliver a pitch to an audience and publishing panel. Since then, he has appeared at Bloody Scotland and Thrillerfest in New York in 2015,  2016 and Glasgow’s International Literary festival Aye Write! He is the Debut Author Programme Membership vice-chair for the International Thriller Writers. 

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Go to my list of ideas that I keep on my laptop. I carry a paper notebook with me at all times, and jot down anything that I think might lead to a story, then I add it to my files. Today, I wrote down in the back of a taxi “Hidden messages in Renaissance paintings from Lorenzo de Medici, and the clues to the hidden & priceless Medici paintings by Leonardo, Botticelli and Michelangelo that didn’t disappear in the bonfire of the vanities.”  It might be total rubbish, but then again it might lead to something else, like hiding a code in a painting. It’s a bit Dan Brown, but I’ll keep it and maybe use it in a scene.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Once I have a basic idea I want to use, I write it all out in larger notebooks, and just keep writing about the subject, and jot down anything that comes into my head. Just the act of writing it out can make great ideas appear out of the blue. If I don’t write an idea down, I’ll forget it. Sometimes in seconds, and it is very annoying. This is my favourite and most exciting part, as it’s when I discover the story.  It takes a while to get a full plot, but it works really well. And at the end, you’ve got a plot that you’ve been over a hundred times, and you know it works.

IMG_2249Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

At first, I write with old fountain pens. No special reason, except I love it!  Once the synopsis is done, (usually about 5000 words), I dictate it into my laptop using voice recognition software, because I’m a terrible typist. When that’s done, then I sit down to write the book with a fresh box of pencils.

How important is research to you?

It is very important to me, as I base my fictional stories around hard fact. For example, my latest work The London Cage, is about a building that actually exists, and satellite weaponry that’s still up there in near space. But you’ll have to read the story to find out… My first novel, Names Of The Dead, featured the little known involvement of Swiss banks and stolen Holocaust wealth. I did a lot of research for that, but only a small percentage made it into the book. But I had to do all the research to find out which bits were relevant to the plot. If it wasn’t relevant, I left it out. But none of it is ever wasted.

How do you go about researching?

When I’m not writing fiction, I like to read history books. For example, I’ve just been given a copy of “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” by Giles Milton. It has given me a fantastic idea for a story I’ve added to my list, around MI6 and SOE betrayal during the last war. But I also use online research and first-hand accounts. For example, in “Names Of The Dead”, I had several scenes in Casablanca. Well, I’ve never been there, but I worked in France with people from Morocco, and they were able to give me a personal account of the city, the geography and the people. And Google street maps are very handy!

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Notebooks. Lots and lots of notebooks. I have a Field Notes notebook I carry with me at all times, or if I’m walking the dog, I make notes on the voice recorder of my iPhone. I write a diary every day, and write down anything that comes into my head. If it’s a good idea, it gets added to the list of ideas on my laptop.

IMG_2486

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

It starts off with an idea in a notebook, then gets added to my laptop on the list of ideas, and then when I’m deciding my next book, I pick my favorite and start writing about the idea in a larger notebook. I riff on the idea, what it could be, where it could go, and keep going until I have a one-page plot. Then I’ll just keep writing in my notebooks until I have a detailed synopsis. Then I’ll type it up and go over it until I’m happy. When that’s done, it’s time to get the pencils out and write the story.

IMG_1438Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Every draft starts with a vintage Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602; possibly the best pencil ever made. No reason, really, I just love it!

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I’m totally lost in writing the book. If the doorbell goes, you have to peel me off the roof.

What does your workspace look like?

A chaotic mess, and that’s just how I like it!  An empty desk means an empty mind.  I have all my pencil and pens around me, scribbled notes, pencil sharpeners, notepads, index cards, ink and the sound of rainfall playing on my headphones if it’s noisy outside.

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Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

Get the words out. The endless editing can wait. When I’m lost in the story, there is no thought of editing, only the next word.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I use a spreadsheet to track progress, so I can see that the chapter lengths are not too uniform and the plot is balanced through the book.

300 page 1st pencil draft The London CageSo, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

A fabulous mess. A ton of paper filled with scribbles, ready to be dictated into the laptop. Getting the plot right can take a few months, then add 2 months to write the first draft, and 3 months to edit it. I have a very busy day job, so it’s early morning, nights and weekends.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

First off, I read it on the screen, and when I’m finished editing it a million times, I put on my head phones and use MS Word to read it out to me, and for the very final edit, I print it out and get the pencils out again.

IMG_2382What happens now that first draft is done?

Endless, endless editing!  I’ve learned when it’s time to stop, but the editing takes far longer than the writing. All the magic might happen in the first draft, but the real work happens in the editing.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

 

You can find Mark on his Website, Amazon, and Waterstones.

The London Cage

markA man who doesn’t exist discovers a weapon that doesn’t exist. The retreat of the glaciers has revealed a Cold War secret that should have lain buried for centuries, with the power to bring down the communications and defence systems of every country on the planet. Including his own. He is faced with the choice of betrayal or survival, but either way, he’ll lose.

Then an old man tells you, “If I had the choice between betraying my friends and betraying my country, I should hope I have the guts to betray my country.” Your country needs you, but if you give up the secret, your friends and those you love will die.

The second Connor Montrose thriller from Mark Leggatt is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.

 

 

 

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Elizabeth Ducie

Today I pleased to welcome Elizabeth Ducie to the first draft hot seat.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Elizabeth was born and brought up in Birmingham. As a teenager, she won a holiday to France, Spain and Portugal for writing essays and poetry in a newspaper competition. Despite this promising start in the literary world, she took scientific qualifications and spent more than thirty years as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing a number of pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal along the way. she returned to creative writing in 2006 and since then, has written short stories and poetry for competitions — and has had a few wins, several honourable mentions and some short-listing.  She is also published in several anthologies.

Her debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was published in 2014.When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Both Gorgito’s Ice Rink and Counterfeit! were started during November, as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) projects. So I sit down on 1st November, full of enthusiasm, check my rough notes and go for it. I will be doing the same thing this year when I start work on Deception!, the next in the Suzanne Jones series.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I use a dedicated notebook for each novel to record ideas, list plot issues, paste pictures of my characters etc. I use a flip chart and coloured pens to mind-map story lines, plot holes etc. But my work in progress always goes straight on to the laptop.

Mind-maps

How important is research to you?

I write transnational stories, set in countries other than my own, and in some cases with an element of history in them. I believe it is disrespectful to get the facts wrong. I therefore make sure my research is as good as it can be.

How do you go about researching?

For thirty years plus, I worked in the international pharmaceutical industry and travelled to more than fifty different countries during that time. I was mainly working in Russia and the Former Soviet Union; Latin America; and sub-Saharan Africa. These are the locations in which my novels as set. So the initial research was carried out on the ground, by observation of the day to day lives of the people I met. But once I start writing, I use books (both fiction and non-fiction), the internet and museums to get more detail as I need it.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Like most writers, I carry a notebook with me always. I often stop to jot something down, even if I don’t know where it will become useful.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I use Scrivener in the early stages. Each chapter is one scene and they tend to be relatively short; not James Patterson-short, but rarely longer than two thousand words. I write them as they come to me, and then use the index card view to swap them around if I think they fit better in a different order. The writing’s not very good at this point. It’s definitely more about quantity than quality at this stage. At some point, I might realise I need to develop my character studies in more detail, but that could be at the point where I am writing version two or three.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Not really. But I am very much an early bird and try to get my 1667 words (the NaNoWriMo daily target) done as soon as I get up. If it’s going well, I will then keep going. But if I’m struggling, I will put that down as a successful day and d something else instead.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I’m easily distracted, so try to shut out the outside world, but it often intrudes. If I’m finding it especially difficult to concentrate, I will put the headphones on and play classical music loudly to block out everything else.)

What does your workspace look like?

I’m rather spoiled for space. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful writing room in my garden where I can shut myself away to write. I’m writing this in July and the view from the windows is glorious. But in November, it tends to be warmer in the house, so I will often work on the dining room table, or on the top floor landing where we have a small study area. And of course, as it’s a ‘write every day’ sort of project, I will also work in libraries or at Exeter Writers group meetings – wherever I get the chance, really.

Workspace

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

Definitely just keep getting the words out. As I said before, it’s about quantity, not quality, at this stage.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I’m a very numerate person and word count is important to me, both as an indication of overall purpose, but also as a way of structuring the book. The chapter lengths are fairly consistent. And I also tend to divide the book into different parts, in the same way that a play is divided into Acts. The lengths of these are not necessarily the same, but there will be some sort of mathematical progression in there. I use the word counter in Word or Scrivener, and then record everything in a detailed spreadsheet.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

By the time November is over, I have at least fifty thousand words written. I will carry on for a few more chapters, until the story is finished. That may be done in a couple of weeks, or it might take a couple of months. It will be pretty rough; there will be plot holes that need filling. Sometimes there are whole storylines that are written and inserted further down the line. But the overall story arc, with the main milestones, will be there.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I use all three at different times in the writing of the book, plus I have the computer read it to me via pdf. But at this early stage, I stay with the computer screen and work from there.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I will put it away for a couple of weeks at least. That gives me time to forget some of the detail and think about something else instead. Then, when I return to start editing, it will be relatively fresh and I have more chance of picking up the problems that need fixing.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find Elizabeth on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Counterfeit

COUNTERFEIT_FRONT_150dpiFake medicine kills. No-one is safe.

Regulator Suzanne Jones’ mission to stop counterfeiting in Africa becomes personal. But her investigations bring danger ever closer. In Uganda a factory burns; Suzanne’s friend goes missing; and in Swaziland and Zambia, children die.

Who is supplying the fake drugs? What is the Eastern European connection? Can Suzanne stop the counterfeiters before more people die?