Thanks to Frances for my questions. Hope the answers make sense. How do you manage to fit a steady output of novels with a day job and young family?
Thanks to Frances for my questions. Hope the answers make sense.
How do you manage to fit a steady output of novels with a day job and young family?
Of course it also helps a lot that I love writing and would feel compelled to do it regardless – as we all did before we were published anyway. That sense of compulsion – the need to write – drives the books forwards. I also think that working a day job that requires you to talk to other people a lot (as teaching does), there is something wonderful (and anti-social) about then being able to disappear into a story for an hour a day in complete isolation. I listen to music when I write, so it’s a chance to really get my own space in a day.
Secondly, do you plan? ie do you know exactly what's going to happen in a novel before you start writing it (I have always imagined that this is essential in crime writing, although I now there are crime writers who still don't know "who dunnit" until halfway through)?
I do plan a bit – normally about eight chapters ahead. I know the first chunk of the book before I start, but don’t always know how it will end. The planning develops then as the book progresses. I find it’s useful for me in helping keep to the process I mention above – to write significant sections in each sitting, it’s good to sit down with a fair idea about what you’re going to write. That said, the best plans have to be flexible. In next year’s book, Little Girl Lost, the first draft was split into two concatenating narratives which ran alongside each other – one following the detective and the other a child for whom she was searching. One informed the second and offered alternate angles on the patterns of the first. I worked really hard on the child’s narrative, developing patterns and working on the tone of the child appropriate to her age. In the end, after two months on it, I had to accept it wasn’t working right and cut the entire thing – around 30,000 words. I believe the finished book is the better for the cut having been made. Still, I think I needed to write it, even if I didn’t use it, to help propel the other main narrative along and to give me a sense of what was happening off page, so to speak.
And no, I don’t always know who dunnit at the start, though I normally have an idea of what form justice will take at the end, even if not who will be on the receiving end of it.
And lastly, was it always going to be crime for you, or have you considered writing in any other genre?
The first thing I ever wrote (beyond Protestant /Catholic love affairs stuff that is a prerequisite of growing up in Northern Ireland) was a book called One So High about two physiatrists, one of whom is interviewing the other to establish whether he is really mad or just pretending to be to avoid prison over a crime he committed. (I’d been studying Hamlet at the time, if that helps explain it) Even in that, crime played a fairly big role, and that was before I really started reading crime. I love crime novels and the way in which a detective is able to access all levels of society in a single day and often as part of the same case. In a way, it allows me as a writer to look at how things connect and how the actions of those at the top generally create victims at the bottom. Of course The Moonstone, the first English crime novel did just that – it was ground breaking in that the criminals (both accidental and deliberate) are upper class and the victims of the book poor. That’s not to say I would rule out trying to write other types of novel at some stage, but at the moment all the ideas I have and the themes I want to explore are probably best served through a crime narrative.
Thanks for the questions, Frances. I enjoyed answering them. Now Len, for yours – I think that all our characters are parts or versions of ourselves in some way (in the same way everyone in your dreams is a version of you). Which of your two protagonists is most like you and which of the two voices do you most enjoy writing in? Secondly, you’re working on an historical novel at the moment, is that right? Care to share some details about it? Finally, comic crime is notoriously difficult to write well whilst maintaining the right balance between darkness and light – yet you manage it perfectly. What was the appeal of it? Would you ever write only the darker side, or do you find yourself naturally looking at events from a more humorous or satirical angle?
Finally, a very Merry Christmas and best wishes to you all for 2011.