I’ve been invited to take part in the Writing Process blog tour by the brilliant Claire Fuller. Claire’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, will be published by Fig Tree/Penguin in the UK in 2015, and by Tin House in the US. You can find her blog post on the writing process here.
Here are my answers…
1) What am I working on?
For the last few months I have been working intensively on my second book, a murder mystery set on the Kent coast in 1851. It focuses on a group of visitors to the town of Broadstairs, and their relationships with each other over a long hot summer. When bodies start to be washed up on the beach, the visitors’ lives and secrets start to be called into question. It’s not a straightforward murder mystery – the relationships of the central characters are particularly complex – and I love depicting passion wrapped up in Victorian repression.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I try not to judge myself against other authors – that way, madness lies – but if I was to define what I’m trying to do, it would be to give historical fiction emotional intensity and urgency. I don’t write about real people – my characters are all fictional – and I don’t plot in advance, so I go where the characters take me. I hope that the intensity I feel when writing will seep into the reader’s experience too. In short, I really want to sock it to the reader – and I don’t want them to want to put the book down. For this reason, I’m very selective about the quantity of historical detail I use – because I don’t want to break the reader’s sense of empathy or entrancement. Ideally, the reader should feel that they have been transported, and are inhabiting the character’s world, but in a natural way.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I think most writers would say they don’t choose their stories, the stories choose them, and I feel the same. Much as I would love to write gritty contemporary stories, the past just has too much of a hold on me (for now, at least). The idea for a story normally comes through pretty strongly when I’m working on another one, and I leave it to simmer for a while in the background. Very often, the historical period and setting are clear to me very early on, as are at least two characters. Once the idea is there, I wouldn’t want to write anything else.
4) How does your writing process work?
I hesitate to call it a process, because that sounds like something methodical. Step 1: I convince myself that I will be the complete mistress of my material, and will write the perfect novel straight off, with precision (rather than haphazardly, like ‘last time’). Step 2: I write 30,000 words, read them, and throw them away because they’re dead on the page. (In fact, I had two false starts on my current book – not both 30,000 words, luckily). I console myself with wine and pizza, helpfully provided by my husband, who has seen this coming. Step 3: The real start of the writing process. I start again and write a first draft, wildly, joyously, and with no idea what’s going to happen next (normally at this point characters start falling in love with the wrong people, arguing with each other, and bumping off strangers – this is, strangely, reassuring). Step 4: I revise the first draft repeatedly, until I feel it’s ready to go to my agent and editor. This is the longest phase, I find. Then, it’s over to them for feedback…
Next week you’ll have the chance to read about the writing process of the wonderful Vicki Jarrett. Vicki’s debut novel, Nothing is Heavy, was one of my favourite books of 2012, and was shortlisted for the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award. If you haven’t read it yet, you should! Over to you, Vicki…