I used to tell people that I had ideas for maybe forty novels, but a few years ago I was advised to stop doing this. “You don’t want everyone to think that you’re churning them out like some kind of production line,” I was told severely. “Every one should be hand-crafted and ripped from your soul.”
But they are – trust me on this. Yes, I have a word target each day, calculated from how many words I want to achieve each month, but that doesn’t mean I just dash off any old rubbish purely to fill an empty space. I can’t work like that.
I know there are the theories that say you can fix a page but you can’t fix a blank page, but I’d rather have it more or less right the first time. Once I’ve imagined a scene, written the dialogue and the action, it’s like I’ve cut the grooves in a record and trying to go back and make major changes to existing words just scratches the whole thing into an unintelligible mess.
Like I said: clean, simple, and right (ish) the first time.
So, I do agonise over every sentence, every line, every word and chapter break and scene. I plan and re-plan the sequence of events, the major plot points, and even after I have my writing outline sorted, there’s still room for total left-field changes.
I just had one of those with the new book, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten. My original plan was for a bus hijacking.
What I’ve just written is a helicopter crash.
(And I don’t mind telling you this, because I’m only a third of the way through writing the book. By the time I’ve finished it and it’s been through the production and publishing process, you’ll have most likely forgotten. Hell, I’ll have most likely forgotten.)
And in that synergistic way things have of happening, it just so happens that for many years I’ve known somebody who was a rotary wing pilot before he retired. Not only that, but he survived a very nasty crash-landing in Australia. I called him up and he talked me through it in wonderful, atmospheric detail.
So, when you read the pilot’s name as Capt Andrew Neal in DIE EASY you’ll know he really exists and has the skills to match.
And maybe it was something to do with the fact that the pilot went from being just an invented name, an actor playing a part, to someone I actually knew, but he instantly rounded out into a very real person. One of those cameo parts that steals the scene. Not that the character of Andrew Neal matches the real Andrew in many details, although I did borrow one of his real experiences as a throwaway line.
This seems to be happening a LOT at the moment. Another character has gone from a bimbo to a MENSA-level businesswoman. She’s just made my main character, Charlie Fox, an offer she will find it very hard to refuse.
I never saw that coming. It certainly wasn’t in the outline.
But I’m damn glad it’s happened.
For me, these organic changes are a sign that the book’s coming to life under my fingers, that parts of the story are weaving back in on themselves and getting stronger. I may not analyse to quite the same amazing degree that our David does, but I hope the overall effect is the same.
These are real people to me. I care what happens to them. I’m thoroughly engaged by what’s driving the bad guys. The good guys are never entirely good, all the way through. Light and shade. Bright and dark.
I admit, though, that I get a little nervous when things are going well. It’s like the two cops in the squad car in the middle of the graveyard shift and one says to the other. “Boy, it sure is quiet tonight …”
But at the moment, the new book is humming along and the best I can do is cling on for the ride – at least while the going is good. And yes, I did hit my 35,000 word target by the end of October. Woo-hoo!
Because I know, come the final page, I’ll be absolutely convinced it’s the worst thing ever written. Not just the worst thing I’ve ever written, but the truly worst thing. Ever.
The writer’s life – one day up. One day down.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
This week’s Word of the Week is carphology meaning fitful plucking movements as in a delirium, from the Greek karphos straw, and logeia gathering. Also floccillation which has a more specific meaning – the fitful plucking at the bedclothes by a delirious patient.
Next week, by the way, I am appearing at:
- The Wordpool festival in Blackpool, first at the Palatine Community College at 11:30am, then at Moor Park Library at 2pm, and finally at the Central Library with Meg Gardiner and Jenn Ashworth at 7pm, all on Monday, November 7th.
- At Meltham Town Hall (1:30pm) and Slaithwaite Library (7:30pm) with Lesley Horton and Penny Grubb for two LadyKillers events on Thursday, November 10th organised by Kirklees Libraries.
- I am interviewing the remarkable Martina Cole at the 4th Reading Festival of Crime Writing at 5pm on Friday, November 11th.
- And finally, I will be teaching two workshop on crime writing with Lesley Horton at Huddersfield Town Hall on Saturday November 12th (again for Kirklees Libraries) starting at 9:30am. Oh, and I’ll be trying to get a bit of scribbling in as well …