Can you describe your writing style in less than fifteen words.
What’s your typical writing day like?
Deal with needful business first thing and get it done (or procrastinate … big time). Go to the writing space in my head and pick up where I left off. Break for a walk every day, rain or shine; out over the fields and up an old tree-arched lane – about 3 miles. On the walk I can ponder aspects of the story I’m working on or just ‘be’. Write in two hour chunks then stretch, make tea, smile. Keep track of time – my computer speaks the time every fifteen minutes to help me keep track. My aim is to write 4-5K words per full writing day. When I’m on a roll I can do more. If I side track into editing or other stuff it can be much less. Better focus and productivity comes from practise.
Do you outline before beginning a new book or do you start writing with an idea and see where it leads?
I start with an idea. The story appears in my head and I watch it like a movie and can rewind, slowmo and alter things on the fly. Twists, turns and unexpected events emerge and change everything.
At a certain stage I use an outliner to help me review and sort the timeline or structure. Towards the end the strands must come together. The Angels’ Share was a complex, introduce-a-world story and at the end, before publishing, I finally used the outliner to confirm and tweak the structure. The short chapter length (154 chapters in total) reflects my aim to guide the reader through the story.
When a person from the film/TV business became interested it became clear how essential the outline/timeline is and, interestingly, how there could be other dramatic events happening on the periphery of the story, essential to drama, which emerge and can be linked to the structure.
How do you approach editing?
My editor, Gale Winskill, engages with my writing on behalf of my readers. She keeps me on my toes.
For DarkArt my aim is to avoid dramatic cutting by discussion with my editor early-doors and writing in a, now, much more familiar and practised style. I have a Finnish reader who reads and feeds back to me; because English is her second language her focus is her engagement with the story; what helps and what hinders … most helpful.
When Gale’s feedback is in I have to read through her report on the story and deal with all the edits from the front. That adds up to around 4 to 5 days per revision.
It’s hard not to edit every time you read your work, even if it is published. There should be a final proof read before publication. I have excellent helpers for that (thanks Meg & Ali).
How many words do you aim for in your first and last drafts?
The honest answer is more than 70K because much shorter than that doesn’t seem enough.
The Angels’ Share came to 112K when it went for its first copy edit. It was 70K afterwards. It grew back to 80K over a period of time. That was my first effort. You may say: ’42K words cut, how awful!’ Right. With it came a painful discovery: beautiful descriptive text, wondrous side-steps into blind-alleys of purple prose mean nothing when the story disappears in a descriptive fog.
My target for DarkArt was 70K; the pre-edit draft manuscript is currently 82K, it may go up to 84K as another element is creeping in – I’ll know over the next few days. I’m telling myself it’s pretty good. Gale will let me know in a couple of weeks.
What’s your ideal writing atmosphere?
Sitting quietly and uninterrupted in a peaceful place, on a comfy seat with the option to listen to creative music. (Sacred Treasures III is a great album). Once I’m writing the music becomes unobtrusive.
More recently, using my iPad and a bluetooth keyboard (text only) works well for me and, with an automatic Internet copy, saved text is available to my production machine for later assembly.
I’m starting to think I can write anywhere and now successfully cope at the kitchen table with my wife wandering and banging about. Perhaps this is to do with practise.
Putting it together I use Scrivener as my ‘assembly’ word processor. The feel is more business-like. It adds a measure of control and flexibility not available in standard word or document processors.
What’s your favourite book?
The Third Eye by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa – the atmosphere caught me as a child and still has me yet.
Which book has influenced you the most?
Voodoo River by Robert Crais springs to mind with its humour, tension, characterisation, evil baddies, love interest, pace and a likeable hero.
But in the thriller genre many names spring to mind as influential: Robert Crais, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, John Sandford, Raymond Chandler to name a few.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m due to finish DarkArt, next in The Angels’ Share series. 30K of my Celtic/Roman adventure AnkhArran awaits completion. My first Wee Work-Book – Save Money; Buy Time is due for release.
The big task is developing a website to promote and sell writing. I’m working with a psychology/maths PhD who has a strong interest in social networking and the web. The first iteration of a new concept will be out shortly.
Can you tell us about it?
DarkArt is the next in The Angels’ Share series. It picks up straight after The Angels’ Share. The action widens to include France, Belgium and the USA.
It starts tough and gets tougher, with a touch of morality, betrayal, friendship, redemption and a spot of sex. There are nasty villains.
Which character in fiction would you like to meet?
Which three things would you like to take with you if stranded on a desert island?
An Internet connected laptop, a guitar and loads of dry matches for cooking the abundant sea food and vegetables.
Which one of your characters is your favourite?
Please let me have two, male and female: Sam Duncan as a strong, caring, honest representative of an older generation who will stand up and get in the face of the bad guys; and, Eilidh Duncan as a feisty and capable woman who is prepared to stand up for herself and survive in the toughest of situations. The growing relationship and discovery between these two, as equals, across a generational divide and in huge danger, is a key element in my stories.
Who would be your ideal dinner guests?
Sam Duncan, Eilidh Duncan, George Clooney, Robert Burns, Boudicca, Raquel Welch, Craig Hill, Jo Brand
Five tips for aspiring writers?
1. Write, write, and write— you gotta kiss a lot a frogs before you find your voice
2. Believe — you do have a story to tell and it’s great!
3. Trust your flow — when it comes you’ll know; the words throw themselves at the page as you immerse and laugh, cry, rage and fear with your characters
4. Ask and listen to advice — different perspectives and expertise help ground you, even if you don’t agree
5. Set goals — you won’t hit them all, but you will get somewhere
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