Today’s First Draft Guest is crime writer Louise Phillips.
Red Ribbons, the bestselling debut novel by Dublin-born crime author Louise Phillips, was nominated for the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year award at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2012. Louise won the award in 2013 for her second novel The Doll’s House. Louise returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. In addition to her three published novels, Louise’s work has been published as part of various anthologies and literary journals. She has won the Jonathan Swift Award, was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, and her writing has been shortlisted for prizes such as the Molly Keane Memorial Award and Bridport UK.Last Kiss is her third novel and she is currently working on her fourth.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
It’s usually mulling around in my mind for a while before I put pen to paper, and when I do, there is an intensity and energy as the words fill the page. More often than not it will start with the voice of one of the principle characters, but there is usually be an emotional undertone that sets the story off.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I try to take a break from any previous work, allow my imagination to wonder in all kinds of directions before working on the next novel. Once I’m in, I’m hooked and apart from writing associated events, I turn into a writing hermit.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
It usually starts with pen and paper. The early stages can be delicate and I feel the work flows more freely without the use of a keyboard, but pretty soon I’m working on the laptop and once I’m using it, it will be the principle means of writing. I write little notes to myself all the time though, using a specific notebook for each story. It may be a sentence or two, or a list of questions or actions that I need to address, but the notebook is sort of like a safety net, and will be with me right through to copy edit stage.
How important is research to you?
I see it as very important, it not only adds authenticity to your story, but many times it will open up a new way of looking at it, an extra layer that you may not have perceived setting out. All my novels have been psychological thrillers, so I’ve had to do a lot of research on the workings of the human mind, and where necessary discuss various components of the storyline with psychologists working in this area. The police procedural aspects need to be right too, and again, I’ve been lucky to work with detectives involved in different roles within the police, including forensic data. Having said all that, once you’ve done your research, you need to remember that you’re not writing a ‘how-to’ manual or ‘a walker’s guide to the mountains’, you are writing a story.
How do you go about researching?
As mentioned above, I try to find out as much information as I can myself, and I always do this before I engage the help of professionals in the area. You should never waste someone else’s time with questions you can find the answers to yourself, or they may not be as willing to help you next time around. I will usually do preliminary research in the early stages, and whilst writing the novel, other questions will arise, and if necessary I’ll go on another information gathering exercise.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
The notebook is great, it catches a lot for me, but sometimes I make up storyboards of visual images that have caught my eye. If I’m out walking, I will make notes in my phone or at times record small snippets. The important thing is to have access to a means of capturing the information. It never works quite the same from memory.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
It starts with an emotional charge and is a wild thing at first, capable of going in any number of directions, but it will soon have a core that will drive it, and or a question that needs addressing. The ‘why’ of any story is hugely interesting to me, and with LAST KISS, the latest novel, one of those questions was how much nature versus nurture dictates our choices in life. As I said above, once I’m in, I’m committed and I will write every day, and somewhere around four-five months after I start, the first draft will be there, warts and all.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I like to write early mornings, and preferably knowing I won’t be disturbed. I’ve been known to move to different places to writes different characters, but principally, I just need a place that I can escape into the fictional world. I also make a point of not going online until I’ve a sizeable amount of work done – social media is far too distracting.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world exists, but it doesn’t always get a lot of attention, especially if I’m getting down 2,000 words a day. Time disappears and you find yourself at dinner time with no food in the house or other such essentials. Thankfully I have a supportive husband, and he knows I’m there to help him when he’s working intensely. I guess you find your own balance, but there is no doubt that my fictional characters are more important to me than others in the real world when I’m writing, which is why taking a break from writing is important too.
What does your work space look like?
I have a small attic bedroom that I work in. It has two small windows, a desk, a chair, shelves with reference books and other bits and bobs. I’ve worked in other places too, but mainly in the house. We live in a rural, mountain location, and I tend to start my novels in the autumn feeding through to winter, so there’s not a lot to disturb you most days other than a heck of a lot of snow and the warmth of an open fire.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I usually start by editing the work I’ve done the previous day. This gets me back into the fictional world, and I take it from there. I’ll only do a major edit of the whole work at the end. There will be a few of those, and may well involve large structural changes. It very much depends on the story and what you have at the end of the first draft.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I try to write a set word count every day. 2,000 is a good day, 800 is tricky, and around 1,300 isn’t so bad. I usually have a weekly or monthly word count, so the good days will balance out the not so good ones. At the end of the day, every story will have a word count that’s right for it, and you won’t know that until the end, but being disciplined and working to a set amount of words, although it might drive you bonkers sometimes, will also keep the writing muscles in check and will certainly help to shut out the doubting voices that most writers have.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
It takes about 4 – 5months. Some elements will be great, some not so, but you have a beginning, a middle and an end, and that is a great place to start carving out what you hope will be a story worth reading. I’ve learnt to trust the process now. It won’t be perfect at the end of the 4-5 months but it will exist. In the last novel, I had to overwrite the voice of the killer because she was a really dark character, but once I had the first draft done, I took over 20,000 words out of her narrative, making it sharper, and closer to the voice I wanted to achieve.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I will do a first read through on screen, editing as I go along. When I think I’m near the end game, I’ll print out the manuscript and work on it as a hard copy. You will always pick up things using both mediums. That’s when you think you are near finished and you send it off to the publisher, only to start the process all over again.
What happens now that first draft is done?
Well you do your edits. For me it is usually about 2-3 good edits before sending it to the publisher. It reaches a point where you have to let the manuscript go and have a good editor read through it. They will invariably see things that you might not see because you’ve been so engrossed in it and they have a fresh pair of eyes. There will be editorial changes afterwards, sometimes structural, sometimes working on a particular character, but the script will improve again. Once that’s done, it is copy edit time, and then it will go to print before being sent out to the world!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
You can find Louise on her website, Twitter and Amazon.
The Last Kiss.
In a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home.
In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck.
But what connects them?
When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.
Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?
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