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Answer: In my very first (unpublished) novel, I had no plot or plan at all and just started writing.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