A little while ago I was delighted to hear from Rob Pateman, who tagged me into the blog tour on ‘the writing process.’
You can check out Rob’s answers here.
Rob and I are lucky enough to be represented by the same literary agency and we have the very same Editor at Orion in the shape of the brilliant Jemima Forrester. Rob writes as RS Pateman and his debut novel THE SECOND LIFE OF AMY ARCHER, will have its paperback release on 24th April. In case you didn’t catch it in hardback now’s your chance. The book has a fantastic premise and Rob’s writing has a real emotional resonance that will keep you turning the pages.
Highly recommended folks.
So my thanks to Rob for the nod, here we go.
WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
At the moment I’m awaiting the copy edits on my first book, THE DEFENCE, and I’m hard at work on the second book in the Eddie Flynn series. At the time of writing this piece I’m about a third of the way through the first draft of that book. There’s not much I can tell you at the moment, as it’s still very much in its infancy. I’ve been reading a lot of stories and blogs about “that difficult second book.” If you’ve read Rob’s post above, you’ll know just how difficult it can be. I did find one piece of advice on the interweb that resonated with me. It was a comment on Stuart Neville’s old blog when he posted about writing his second novel and the rather brilliant Declan Burke offered some great advice. Declan said that there is no such thing as a second book; these days, in this publishing market, every book is your first book. Incidentally, Mr Burke’s latest – Crime Always Pays, has just been released and Stuart Neville’s new book, The Final Silence, will be released shortly. You should look into both; two great writers at the top of their game. And while I’m at it, congratulations to Stuart for the recent Barry nomination for Ratlines.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE GENRE?
My books are legal thrillers set in the US. A lot of legal thrillers, and very good ones at that, begin with a murder and then an investigation with most of the drama happening around a third of the way into the book when the trial begins. Typically the hero is a high-flying corporate attorney who is whiter than white and believes in truth, justice and playing fair. The whole book is a build up to that ultimate question – guilty or not guilty.
There are half a dozen great writers that take that basic legal thriller premise and do amazing things with it. How could I hope to compete with those writers? The truth is, I can’t; they’re better writers than me.
My answer was to rip up that basic premise and start again from scratch. While I don’t want to give too much away, I can tell you that THE DEFENCE will, hopefully, be unlike any courtroom thriller you’ve ever read. I’m trying to put my own stamp on the genre by tearing up the usual narrative form. My Dutch Editor says that THE DEFENCE is like “24” with Jack Bauer as a lawyer. If I’ve accomplished what I set out to do then the book should read like a breakneck, tension-filled courtroom thriller that makes you think. There’s a ‘story within a story’ element to the novel, which I’ve not spoken to anyone about yet; it’s very subltle, but if you look for it, and you follow the white rabbit, you’ll find it. But you can just read it purely for the thrills and twists. Hopefully, at certain points, Eddie will make you reconsider what you thought you knew about the justice system, and maybe even look at things in a different light. In that way, I’m hoping that THE DEFENCE will stand up to more than one read.
I suppose the main thing about my writing that will stand out is the main character, Eddie Flynn. Eddie possesses a truly unique set of skills that hasn’t been seen before in this genre and I’m really hoping that readers warm to him.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
One day I was in the middle of a trial, cross-examining my opponent’s witness. I had a whole strategy worked out. First I would go in hard and aggressive and get the witness on the back foot. This part of the cross examination would deal with a minor, but important point in the case. After fifteen minutes of tough, quick, aggressive questioning, I relaxed. I paused. Took a drink of water. Flicked through the case file in front of me. Leaned back in my chair, fixed my gaze on the ceiling and breathed out heavily as I asked one simple question. It sounded like a throwaway question, like it was unimportant, like I was conceding something in the guy’s favour before moving on to more important issues in the case. The witness grabbed the opportunity to wrestle back control of the evidence and stated his answer firmly, unequivocally, hammering home his evidence without any prompting from me. That was the answer that sank the witness completely; he’d sealed his own fate. As soon as I had my answer I realised that I’d pretty much conned that guy. Albeit, I conned him into telling the truth and inadvertently admitting that he’d been lying in his witness statement. Only I hadn’t really conned him; I’d used a tried and tested advocacy technique that any first year advocate could perform.
Nonetheless, it struck me at that moment that a lawyer and a con artist share almost exactly the same skill set.
And words are their weapons.
Eddie Flynn was born in that moment.
My books explore the question of truth in an adversarial system of justice and whether it has a place or even a relevance. In reality, judges and juries don’t decide what is and what isn’t true – they decide whether an evidential test is met by the prosecution, that’s all. I see Eddie Flynn’s journey through the series as a quest, but he’s not looking for truth, he’s looking for redemption.
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I’ve been asking myself that same question. First of all, I’m not entirely sure you can call it a ‘process’ and secondly whether it works or not largely remains to be seen. In an attempt to get something written about this, I tried to analyse what it is that I do in order to get words on a page. The first thing I do is brew coffee. I start writing around 10pm and I stop when my head hits the keyboard. Come to think of it, there’s considerably more processing involved in the brewing of the coffee than the formation of the novel.
I don’t outline anything.
I get an idea and I kick it around in my head for a long time. When I begin writing a book I will redraft and redraft until I have the beginning nearly perfect. I won’t go past the first 30 pages until I’m relatively happy with them. Sometimes that feels like you’re spinning your wheels and not really getting anywhere, but I’m happy to do that.
In my experience to date there has been no tangible pattern to the writing. For example, the first paragraph of The Defence is unchanged from my first draft. I wrote that paragraph in maybe twenty minutes and I haven’t felt the need to change it even though it was the first creative writing I’d done in 15 years. The next 30 or so pages took six weeks to get right before I could move on. With my second novel, I took two weeks to write the first page and a half and a month to get the next thirty pages right. Now I’m on solid ground I go for it and I don’t look back until the whole first draft is finished. I think if I have the beginning almost perfect I’m much more confident to just plough on, knowing that I have a strong starting point which gives a central spine to the story and also sends up a beacon for the final scenes in the book.
By the way, the first page and a half of the next book gave me – 1) a slightly different voice than the last book 2) a huge additional narrative engine that launches the reader head first into the story and will keep them turning the pages 3) With my best estimate, at the moment, working purely from what’s in my head, those 500 words set up three surprise twists and give me multiple possible endings.
So the start of this book gives me both focus on the story and the characters and yet it also allows me some freedom with the plot.
I’ve only ever written one short story, which will appear in the Brooklyn based Akashic Books latest Anthology – Belfast Noir. That story took maybe two nights. It just sort of arrived fully formed.
So that’s it. I’m handing over now to three great writers who will be posting next week about their writing process.
First up is a legend in Northern Ireland Crime Fiction – Gerard Brennan. At various points when I’m reading Gerard’s work I have to put down the book and smile, because nobody gets close to this guy for dialogue – it’s just so incredibly sharp. Every time I read him I think ‘Elmore Leonard,’ (and yes, he really is that good). Why not try out The Point, on Kindle, for free, and see what I’m talking about. And don’t forget, Gerard also has a short story in the upcoming Belfast Noir, alongside Lee Child, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR Brian McGilloway (*winks to NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR Brian McGilloway*), Glenn Patterson, Claire McGowan, Lucy Caldwell, some guy that nobody’s heard of called Steve Cavanagh, and many more…
BIO - ‘Gerard Brennan's short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime. He co-edited Requiems for the Departed, a collection of crime fiction based on Irish myths. His novella, The Point, was published by Pulp Press in October 2011 and won the 2012 Spinetingler Award. His debut novel, WEE ROCKETS, was published by Blasted Heath in 2012. He is currently working on a creative writing PhD at Queen's University Belfast.’
Follow Gerard on twitter @gerardbrennan
Next up is Eva Dolan.
Her debut novel is Long Way Home, a police procedural with a brilliant and unusual setting. The lead characters are DS Zigic and DS Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit and they get more than they bargained for when they begin investigating the murder of a migrant worker. It’s crime fiction at its best – two great ‘outsider’ characters and a brilliantly realised setting that provides for a gripping story whilst exploring contemporary issues. The writing is top class and it’s no wonder that Eva was previously been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger at a ridiculously young age. Read the first chapter and you’ll find yourself immediately at home with her dark, rich and assured prose, so make sure you check out Long Way Home. You hear that? That dripping sound? That’s talent - running out of her ears.
BIO - 'Eva Dolan writes books and plays poker and the rest of her time she just wastes.'
Follow Eva Dolan on Twitter @eva_dolan
Last up is Jason Dean.
A few years ago I read Jason’s debut – The Wrong Man, which introduces series character James Bishop. Ripping through that book in a couple of days I knew Bishop would be sticking around for a long time to come. The first chapter of The Wrong Man is still one of my favourite openings to a thriller in the last 10 years, and the rest of the book lives up to that fabulous start. The latest James Bishop short story is free on Kindle at the moment, so there’s no excuse for not checking it out.
BIO 0 ‘Jason Dean is an English author of American thrillers, who spent most of his professional life as a graphic designer before deciding to try his hand at writing. His debut novel, THE WRONG MAN - the first of a series starring his ex-Marine protagonist James Bishop - was picked up by Headline and published in 2012. This was followed in 2013 by BACKTRACK, and the third Bishop novel, THE HUNTER’S OATH, will be released in June 2014. Jason now resides in the Far East with his wife and dog and is currently at work on the fourth Bishop novel.’
Follow Jason on Twitter at @Jasondeanauthor
A final note to the above authors, who all sent me images, I'm afraid technology defeated me.