As the author of the Kate Daniels series, I’m often asked about my writing regime, how (if) I plot out novels before I begin. I do, meticulously. I was taught structure by a screenwriter who was of the opinion that I should be able to describe an idea in a sentence or two. The reason being that if I ever got the opportunity to pitch to an industry professional, they would expect that of me.
The premise for my current novel Deadly Deceit was this: Two people crave a better lifestyle but only one is prepared to kill to get it. The sentence poses questions. Someone prepared to take another person’s life in order to enjoy a higher standard of living is evil, right? How evil? Is there a line over which they will not cross? Will they outwit Kate or get caught?
When I read crime I like to know from the get-go what type of book it is: cosy crime, police procedural, suspense or conspiracy thriller. I also adhere to the ten-page rule because I truly believe that if the story doesn’t grab a reader by then, chances are they won’t read on. So I drop my readers right into the action.
I don’t use software to organise research or help me visualise a book. I use a card system, the obvious advantage being that I can move them around, altering the position of scenes or even whole chapters. I end up with a murder wall. No surprise there then! I’m extremely proud that this is a technique adopted by fellow AM Heath author, Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls.
The downside of being published is the constant interruptions, the editing of a previous book, the planning of a new one, events, festivals, interviews, email, Twitter . . . it takes discipline and a conscious effort to keep writing with so many distractions.
It took years to develop a model that works for me, one that lets me focus on storytelling. Through trial and error – a lot of error! – I now know how long it takes to introduce main characters, set up a storyline, hook readers in. As the action progresses, I escalate complications. Then, just as Kate looks like she’s home and dry, I put more obstacles in her way until she’s at crisis point, before moving on to the resolution. All that takes me around a hundred thousand words, each one earning its place on the page.
I never want to write to formula but neither can I afford to ignore genre conventions. If I failed to deliver, readers will be disappointed. As a recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award in 2010 for my second novel, Settled Blood, and shortlisted only this week for the Polari First Book Prize for my debut, The Murder Wall, I can’t see any reason to change the way I write any time soon.