Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What do First Drafts look like?

     This post appeared originally on Rebbeca Bradley's site  http://rebeccabradleycrime.com/ in October 2013, where she asks different authors about their 'First Drafts'. Thanks to Rebecca for her interesting questions about my writing:

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

When I wrote my first novel (not published), I started with an incident (following Stephen King’s great advice) and just kept going. I had no plan and no idea where the plot was heading. I managed to get an Agent on the basis of that book, but it didn’t really work. Since then, I’ve sketched the bones of the whole story. I like to get a title early on as a focus and usually break the book into three ‘acts’ and try to think about high points at key places in the story, as well as character arcs. The Evil Beneath has two clear story-strands going on at once, so it gets pretty complex.

 Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I’m very lucky to have the whole day as a landscape for writing. I tidy away urgent emails, set up my tweets and do scraps of admin and then I’m ready. My job, first and foremost, is to get the story down. If there are sections where I need research or need to look something up, I usually mark an X and come back to it later, so it doesn’t interrupt the flow. My target is very low, 500 words a day, but I usually manage 2-3,000, so that I always leave my desk feeling I’ve achieved my daily goal.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

My handwriting has become very scruffy over the years, so I tend to go straight to keyboard where I’m faster. I have notebooks in every room in the house and one in my bag whenever I go out, in order to catch little fragments that pop up. Even when I’m not writing (watching a film, waiting at a bus-stop) the story is still buzzing away in the background and I don’t want to lose anything.

How important is research to you?

It’s easy to get bogged down in research, but it is necessary and has to be accurate for the story to work and for it to be plausible to the reader. I usually gather far more information than I need, and maybe use tiny scraps, but it’s nearly always on subjects I find fascinating (such as odd psychological disorders, or court cases with expert witnesses or forensic details). I have an online dictionary to hand and use onelook.com for seeking related words, if my brain goes numb. The Evil Beneath has a number of themes that required research: police procedural, details of the different London bridges, where bodies found in the Thames end up and so on.

How do you go about researching?

As ever, the internet is king – but you have to be careful to make sure you’re gathering information from the right country! On a number of occasions, I’ve found details (the legal system is the worst one) and thought it was based on UK, only to come across a word like ‘license plate’ (instead of ‘number plate’) and think – ‘Oops – US - not applicable’ and had to start again.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye? 

I have a folder for each novel on the PC and a manual folder too. The manual one contains related press clippings, character studies, time-lines (I’m always getting into a tangle with dates, especially if I move chapters around) and big chunks of research (such as details of court procedures, medical issues). On the computer, I have the novel itself, a list of chapters with short details of the scenes, the story outline, possible titles and research in lots of separate documents. Then there are the notebooks I mentioned earlier, which I update daily by transferring the ideas somewhere else – I hate random jottings left lying about – I want everything to have a place.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

From my outline I tend to focus on what will happen in the next scene. I see and hear it unfolding like a film inside my head, which is quite common for writers, I think. Although I have the story mapped out, I like to leave room for changes and improvements and I’m constantly thinking ‘How can I do this more dramatically?’ Often it isn’t about action, but about the order of reveals or the way something is said or missed out. ‘What if?’ Is terribly useful. I keep asking this as I go along. What if she didn’t know? What if this happened first?

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

I can’t have any music on when I’m writing and I work best if the house is empty. I have good novels to hand, written by other people (currently Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and Tideline by Penny Hancock) and sometimes I dip into it them to remind myself how writers begin and end chapters, how they avoid clichés and so on, when my mind starts getting fuzzy.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I’m completely transported and lose track of time. I love it that way – when I‘m in the flow and seem to be ‘living’ the story. Pure escapism!

What does your workspace look like? 

I have the study to myself, so I like it tidy but ready for work. My A4 ringbinder for my current novel will be on the desk, with a to-do list for the day alongside it. There’s a window on my left with a view of trees and neighbours and usually it’s incredibly quiet, which is a boon. I have a noticeboard with lots of coded passwords, social media addresses etc, a map of the world, a filing cabinet, stacks of ready-to-use post -it notes and a glass of water that I swap for the odd cup of tea or coffee, now and again.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I In the first draft, my main task is to get the story down, but I do tend to keep an eye on spelling, grammar, rhythm, avoiding clichés etc, as I go. I think the main quality of the writing needs to be there at the start – it’s hard to ‘fix’ this later – whereas it’s easier to rearrange chapters, remove/add characters or alter outcomes at later stages.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I just use the PC word counter. I try not to look until the end of the day.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

The Evil Beneath took around seven months for the first draft, but had lots of revisions and editing, back and forth to my Agent, for about another two years. I shifted Agent in the middle, so it took longer than it should have done.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I do most of the reading from the computer screen, but the hardcopy (A4, double-spaced) always throws up lots of aspects I hadn’t noticed; spellos, repeated words, sections that don’t flow or are clunky – or flaws in the plot. It gives a completely fresh context. I think it needs both.

What happens now that first draft is done?

A bit of celebrating is absolutely necessary, don’t you think! Then I ask my husband to read it with red pen in hand. He doesn’t particularly like crime novels, so he’s a fairly tough audience, but he reads quickly and always gives me useful feedback; he won’t pull any punches. Then I re-read and re-write on the basis of what he’s suggested, before deciding whether to ask another reader for feedback - or risk sending it to my Agent…

You can find AJ Waines at her Website, Facebook and Twitter
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AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Guest Post by Author TB Markinson

Time for another Guest Post and a very warm welcome to TB Markinson...

It’s odd. Usually when I sit down to write, words pour out of me. I love telling stories. When I started writing Marionette I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to continue Paige Alexander’s story. Since completing the book I’ve been asked by many people why did I write this particular story. And each and every time I draw a total blank. 

That’s not completely true. I just don’t know how to explain it. You see, Paige is a lot like me, but when I say that people automatically assume that the work is autobiographical. It’s not. I am not Paige. However, I started college in Colorado in 1992. So does Paige. At the time, Colorado was in the midst of battling over Amendment Two, which involved whether or not gays and lesbians should have equal rights. Paige is also dealing with that as well. I was not out during my freshman year of college and went to great lengths to hide the fact that I was a lesbian. So does Paige in Marionette

The similarities end right about there. I didn’t want to write a memoir—maybe someday down the road, but I haven’t lived enough in my opinion. However, I wanted to ground the story with issues that I’ve been through to make the story come alive. 

There’s another reason I wanted to write this story. Back when I was nineteen, I started penning my first novel. That’s when I discovered Paige. Marionette is the second book that I’ve published, but it’s the first book that I completed. Sort of. Back then I had no clue about writing a novel. I would just sit down and write and didn’t consider the big picture: the story. Having ideas is wonderful. Stringing those ideas into one story is a completely different ballgame. 

After I published my first novel, A Woman Lost, I pulled the original Marionette out of a drawer and read it. And I laughed a lot. Not at the story, but at my writing. It was hideous. Except for Paige. I liked her a lot. I decided to shred most of what I had written but I kept Paige. It turned out to be fortunate that I kept the draft of this novel for two decades. It has been a long time since I was a teenager. Having the original manuscript helped me capture the voice of a teenager who has just left home and is figuring out the world on her own. It goes to show, don’t ever give up on your ideas. You just may need time to let them percolate in your head. Hopefully you don’t have to wait as long as I did. But I’m glad I did since I like how it turned out. Luckily the critics agree.

Praise for Marionette:

"The ending was definitely shocking and unexpected." -- This Girl Reads A Lot Blog

"I read Marionette in one sitting. Then I went back to read it again for this review and was just as delighted the second time." -- Reviewed by Jo Bryant for Blog Critics

"You know how sometimes a book just slowly creeps up on you and before you know it, you are right there, in the moment and the rest of the world has disappeared? Marionette by T. B. Markinson did that to me!" -- Tome Tender Blogspot

"The novel is full of dark humor and realistic, smart dialogue. This is an intelligent first-person novel that includes both suspense and romance." -- Lynn Kear, author of Black-Hearted Bitch

About the Author:

T. B. Markinson is a 39-year old American writer, living in England, who pledged she would publish before she was 35. Better late than never. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in England, or taking the dog for a walk. Not necessarily in that order. T. B. has published two novels: A WOMAN LOST and MARIONETTE.

Follow TB: Goodreads * Making My Mark * 50 Year Project  * Facebook * Twitter

Thanks, TB, for appearing on my Blog - we wish her all the very best with her books. Please share using the buttons below!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Good Cop/Bad Cop Routine – Does it really exist?

We're all familiar with the 'Good cop, Bad cop' routine portrayed in TV and film, such as Martin and Saga in The Bridge, Dalziel and Pascoe, and Jack Burns and Sidney Fenton in WPC 56. 
But in reality, do those ‘bad’ cop interview techniques exist? Are they purely fictional?

In the 1990’s, 600 video and audio recordings of real-life police interviews were examined in a comprehensive piece of research by The Home Office Police Research Group. Although 64% of these interviews were judged to be conducted competently, this left 36% which were not, citing the following categories of failure:

1.     Ineptitude:

Police officers conducting interviews were sometimes found to be ill at ease, nervous or lacking in confidence. Some were unfamiliar with the evidence and had not read the written statements connected with the crime committed. Insufficient grasp of the legal evidence needed to prove the offence, continual interruption of suspects and over-reaction to aggressiveness or provocation were also spotted. So - 'Good Cop, Naff Cop'...

2.    Unfair questioning or unprofessional conduct:

A small number of cases showed the interviewer adopting ‘an unduly harrying or aggressive approach’ – here we go, the traditional ‘bad cop’ approach - particularly where young offenders were involved. There were also cases in which suspects were offered unrealistic inducements to have ‘offences taken into consideration’ or told they would receive unrealistically long or short sentences, either as a threat or as an inducement. Sound familiar?

3. Angling for a Confession:

Many officers placed too much emphasis on obtaining a confession employing techniques involving leading questions, allegations and repetitive questioning. In addition, the tone adopted was often one of extreme scepticism. However, confessions obtained in this manner were often inadmissible or unsatisfactory, as the officers ultimately failed to elicit any supporting confirmatory evidence. There were many instances, for example, of an interview being brought to a premature halt as soon as a confession was obtained. An example of 'Good Cop, Daft Cop'?

False Confessions

Image: the Mirror
False confessions are more common than we might assume – up to 20% of criminals undergoing prison sentences claim they have made a false confession at some stage during police custody, according to forensic research carried out on 2011.

But not all voluntary false confessions are due to the aggressive bad cop approach. Here are a few of the reasons suspects claim they’re guilty:

  • A pathological need for attention – usually notoriety – resulting from low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
  • A self-sacrificing motivation to protect the real perpetrator, especially in teenagers – either to protect a friend or to avoid being ostracised by a gang.
  • Blind faith in the system – a belief that the truth will always emerge later…or hope that their lawyer will sort it all out.
  • Finding the situation too stressful - a pressing desire to have the interview over with.
  • Fear of what the officers may do (fuelled by TV and fictional accounts).
  • Health issues – a drug addict will go to the station and want to confess to get out as quickly as possible.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also predisposes suspects to make false confessions.
Since the 1990's, new regulations have forced the police to clean up their act and it's clear from the list above, that the eagerly awaited confession may not be a result of any Good Cop/Bad Cop tactics in real life, although it does continue to thrill us with intimidation, confrontation and drama in fiction!

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AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

How does an Idea become a Novel?

I'm delighted to appear as a Guest Author to discuss how ideas become novels on TB Markinson's site, today.

You can find the post HERE - with a *Giveaway*!

AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Ask the Author...

Thanks to everyone who took part in my 'Featured Author Q&A' on Goodreads, on Friday. I had some excellent questions, so I thought I'd share a few of them here:

Question 1: I can tell from reading your books (I have started the 2nd) that you use your skills as a Psychologist. My question is, have you ever been totally at a loss for words/direction in the middle of a project? If so, what do you do?

Answer: I usually map out where the entire story is going first, so that I don’t have that horrible situation where suddenly none of the loose ends will tie up! I like to have several different story threads going on at once, so I can’t afford to come adrift. On the smaller scale, I’m often in a situation where I can’t find exactly the right word in a sentence, so I just put X, and then go back and fill it in later. Generally, I’m very lucky in that I don’t seem to suffer from writers’ block. I also like problem-solving, so when I come across a section in my plot where I think ‘Oh, no – that isn’t going to work…’ I quite like the challenge of having to wriggle out of it somehow.

Question 2: I visited your website, and in the behind the scenes part, there is this photo collage on the left that really drew me. I saw you had a photo of the full outfit of the 1st victim, and also some paper sheets with some sort of plan and schema. So I was wondering how you went about it : did you have a complete plot planned out before you started writing and then checked lines and boxes as you went along ? or did you build and modify the plan along the way ?
Answer: In my very first (unpublished) novel, I had no plot or plan at all and just started writing. That story got me an Agent, but it didn’t go on to sell, because it didn’t really hang together!

Now, I tend to have a method of writing that seems to work for me, as follows: I usually begin with a single hook or concept (with The Evil Beneath, it was the visual image of a woman’s corpse in the Thames and then the sudden shock when I looked carefully and saw she was wearing my own clothes). That was all I had at the start, but I was really excited by that idea. I tend to think of the structure in three acts and get down a general outline for the whole thing with high points marked in towards the end, then I do outline various key scenes. I do profiles of my main characters and a list of any research I need to do (although this mostly crops up during the writing itself). I like to have a title early on and even a mini ‘jacket blurb’ (even if both these change later on) – as a focus for the real essence of the story.

Question 3: I'm curious how you balance giving clues without giving it all away too early in the story?

Answer: I think it’s all a matter of judgement. Personally, I try to reveal enough to keep the reader’s interest, but not so much that I give too much away. I also try to keep things ambiguous, if possible. I often find I alter the order of events/scenes to give the most dramatic outcome. The order of reveals is key.

It’s useful to keep going back inside the story to try to see it from the reader's point of view – that’s quite hard when you know what’s coming as the writer! After the first draft, I always go back through the story several times with a specific view to looking at it afresh and asking ‘what does the reader know by this point?’ ‘What is still unresolved?’ ‘what sort of questions would the reader be asking?’ This is very helpful in checking the clues and reveals.

Question 4: The tying in with the bridges on the Thames was a good idea but where do you get ideas like that? Do they just pop into your head or do you spend hours searching for stuff?

Still from my Whitefox Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/LsaZ21g4RAE
Answer: The starting point was simply the idea of a woman's body lying in the Thames. I was walking in Mayfair with my sister at the time - nowhere near the water - when it did literally pop into my head. Like a lot of writers, I see images in a clear visual way and I knew she was underneath Hammersmith Bridge. Because I love London and the areas south of the river, in particular, I knew I wanted to set the story there. The idea of different bodies under different bridges was the next idea and it went on from there.

Question 5: Who are your favourite authors (fiction) not your psychology books and how much time do you get to read if you’re writing a lot?

Answer: My favourite authors at this moment are Nicci French and new authors, such as Penny Hancock and Samantha Hayes - both the last two have written cracking psyche thrillers, which are my favourites. I also like US writers, such as Kathy Reichs, although at times books by the same author inevitably can get a bit formulaic.

I read every day and try to do focused, analytical reading when I can - by taking a writer I admire and working out how do they do twists, endings, openings, setting etc - because I feel there is so much to learn.

Question 6: What about the police in the book's, do you just have a general idea of how you want them to be or do you have police contacts or know someone you base it on?

Image: HertsPoliceUK
Answer: I never really set out to write a 'police prodecural' with 'The Evil Beneath' (most of my other books don't have much police material)- and I'm afraid I know nothing about the police and just have to scrabble around on the net for research! 

Question 7:  I notice that in both The Evil Beneath and Girl on A Train both leads are female, was that a conscious decision to have women as the main character? Do you ever sneak a character into a book that is you? You know like Hitchcock always had a small part somewhere in his movies.

Answer: Yes - I did want the lead characters to be women - I suppose I'm more in touch with a female psyche, especially as I like the 1st person. Plus, I liked the idea of a woman taking things on. The characters aren't based on anyone I know - they have aspects of me (especially the psychotherapy aspects), but my leads are generally more extrovert, feisty and risk-taking than I'd ever be. Maybe they're more who I'd like to be? Not sure...

I like your Hitchcock idea - Maybe that's something for the future.

Questions 8: If you have 3 in the pipeline and 2 out already that is quite a few in a short time. Do you ever dry up, get writers block, or once you start does it just seem to flow?

Answer: I've been very lucky that I don't seem to suffer from writers block (I'm just writing a blog post about it for the Crime Writers Association, as it happens!). But, as a psychotherapist, I've worked with plenty of creative people who have suffered writers block. I think the key is to be really excited about the story you want to write. On the few occasions when I've got a bit stuck, it's usually because there's something wrong with the plot or it's not compelling enough. I usually just get the story down and the writing itself can sometimes take as little as 9 weeks for a first draft, once I've got the outline worked out. After that there's lots of revisions, re-writes and notes from my agent to work on. That goes back and forth and takes longer than the original text.

Thanks again, to everyone who took part. If you enjoyed this post, please SHARE using the buttons below thanks!

AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train