Helen Smith on Organising The Online BritCrime Festival And What Comes Next (Video)

Today, I have a bite-sized interview, but it’s not quite so bite-sized. The video is slightly over 22 minutes long, but it’s worth watching if you’re interested in BritCrime in any way. If you attended the hectic 3-day online festival in July or heard the buzz around it and wondered what you missed or are thinking about joining in with what is planned next. You’ll find all the inside information right here as I chat to the BritCrime founder Helen Smith.


Did you attend in July? Will you be attending the Christmas events? And do you think there is a place for online festivals?

Lee Child on Starting Writing After 40

I started writing later in my life. I’d had children, I already had a career I loved, and yet there was always this niggling voice in the back of my head telling me I had to write a novel. I wouldn’t be happy until I had. So as my age progressed on and I started fibbing about how old I was, I decided I needed to do something about it and I sat down and started typing. Yes, just like that. Hannah Robbins 2 has a lot more organisation about it than Shallow Waters did.

I found this short video where Lee Child talks about how he came to writing after 40. He believes it was the best thing for him.

Do you think writers need some life behind them to be able to write or can you write well at any age?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – William Sutton

Today, we have a very different first draft Q&A with crime writer William Sutton.

WilliamSuttonAuthorPhotoWorking with the ReAuthoring project and Portsmouth Writers’ Hub, William often wields a ukulele while performing; he has read on the radio, and at events from the Edinburgh Festival to Portsmouth’s Square Tower, from Canterbury Cathedral to High Down Prison.

William Sutton’s historical mystery Lawless and the Devil of Euston is republished 27 November 2015 by Titan Books. Unearthing scandal, sabotage and stink beneath Victorian London’s streets, it introduces detective Campbell Lawless. Lawless and the Flowers of Sin comes out July 2016.

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

I scribble notes, just a few words or a situation. I then usually lose these notes, or forget about them. In a moment of relaxation, unguarded, the thing comes back to me. Then I st8rt reading, looking, thinking.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Every new project seems to demand its own new method. Inconvenient, as it means blundering badly every time. But but but it keeps things fresh. There are always notebooks, diagrams, charts, sketches, and lots of wandering.

Story Structure

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Initial notes can equally be on Evernote or notebook scribble.

First draft I used to do with fountain pen: so satisfying changing cartridge. That’s now eveleved to typewriter first draft, or at least scrappy patchy ‘zero draft’.

How important is research to you?

I can’t claim to be methodical, but I do sift through vast amounts of material, images, contemporary fiction, dictionaries, histories, charts, figures. 1 love oblique research: the Richard Dadd exhibit at Watts Gallery, the Stanford 1863 map of London, the Geffrye Museum’s period rooms.

How do you go about researching?

Devil's MapOnce I’ve developed the bones of the story and the characters

I know what to go looking for. My first book concerned Victorian London’s innards. Crucial books were London Under London and The Great Stink. But images of sewers, the Metropolitan Line construction and contemporary urchins and villains helped too.

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

My old groaning files of paper are mostly ceding to virtual files. Yet on top of Evernote, Scrivener and mountains of snapshots filed on the C-drive, I still collect typed sheets of each draft in order. I love getting familiar with the draft in order to bash and slash it into shape.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

  1. Endless notes, moments, scraps of dialogue finally assembled.
  2. Typewriter: reokless attempts at scenes in rough order.
  3. Rethink. Panic. Dramaturgical crisis.
  4. Retype into a more coherent first draft, fixing narrative angles.


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

I do collate most of my notes into a single notebook, covering characters, plot, story, events, twists, moments.

I then fetishise either fountain pen or typewriter ribbons and the slowly mounting pile of paper.

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

When the magic begins, I’m still in the world as long as the story is unclear and the characters are coming clearer. Once I’ve broken through the early hesitancy, most of the first draft comes fast. Early mornings, late extra sessions, careless of mealtimes, appOintments, bins, keeping in touch.

What does your workspace look like?

Two workspaces. The analogue desk currently has the typewriter, sometimes just notes. The digital has laptop raised up, USB keyboard &mouse, often an extra screen.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I tried editing as I go and ended up taking 5 years to write a 200,000 word monster {intricate, unpublishable).

Keep getting it out: magma hot, messy, exciting.

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

First book: I aimed for minimum 500, maximum 1500 wards a day.

Now I aim more scenically to finish the unit I’m on. This tends to mean 3 – 10 typewritten pages. Less is disappointing.

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

Six months – not counting a few months of false starts as I get to grips with it. It’s just about readable to me but not to my agent. I’ll slash loose words ~ sections, tighten plot, cut and rename characters, back-engineer twists.

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

I love to read the typescript, but 1 soon type up on to computer document. Then besides re-reading onscreen and iPad, I’ll make an MP3 to listen to while driving (Natural Voice Software).

The relentless computerised voice shows weaknesses well.

What happens now that first draft is done?

First DraftNow it’s time to fix those glitches, omisions, over-egged sections, telegraphed surprises, conflated characters, historical inaccuracies. After this round of line edits & copy edits, I’ll send it to 5 – 10 friends for critique, and to my long-suffering agent, Phil Patterson.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thanks for asking. Hope you can read the old typewriter script.

You can find William at his Writers hub, Lee Jackson’s encyclopedia and The Amateur Casual’s skewed view





Lawless–Devil of Euston Square_frontA mystery in London 1859 to 1862.

Great exhibitions. Foreign conquests. Underground trains. But the era of Victorian marvels is also the time of the Great Stink. With cholera and depravity never far from the headlines, it is not only the sewers that smell bad. Beneath the respectable surface of society, a multitude of ills need flushing out.

Novice detective Campbell Lawless stumbles on to the trail of Berwick Skelton, an elusive activist who rose from humble beginnings to cross swords with London’s illuminati then vanished amidst presages of disaster, his heart broken by the darling of the East End.

The Worms – a gang of urchins – help Campbell investigate the ‘Skeleton Thefts’ mystifying society. Berwick’s trail leads to an entrancing world of music hall hoofers, industrial sabotage and royal scandal. Campbell uncovers a world of disillusion beneath the filthy cobblestones, peeling away veneers of secrecy in order to convince the powers-that-be of Berwick’s revolutionary plans. Can he track down this underworld mastermind before he unleashes vengeance on those who have ridden roughshod over him and his people?

Recently Read – Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

Genre; Crime thriller

HuntressA Thriller Award nominee for Best eBook Original Novel… Book 1 in award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff’s riveting new Huntress FBI series about a driven FBI agent on the hunt for that most rare of all killers: a female serial.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states…while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

My Thoughts:

I know Alexandra, having met her at Harrogate crime writing festival and I’ve also heard lots of great things about this book and lots of great things about her writing background, so I naturally had to read this. (She didn’t ask. It was a book I was drawn to after reading some great reviews.) So, take what you want to from my thoughts of it.

Huntress Moon starts with a bang. You are immediately drawn into the action as an undercover agent is killed, but not before you have a feel for the protagonist FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke. This shows how Sokoloff has a good balance of character and action/plot.

The novel flips between the point of view of the killer and the point of view of Roarke, giving you great perspective on both, because the killer isn’t just treated as a cold-blooded killer – though there are scenes that may turn your stomach just a little – she is treated as a whole person and as a whole person, she is multi-faceted, not just one-dimensional which can so easily happen to bad guys in novels. The kinder scenes you see her in are done with such a light touch they are wonderful to read. And I love Roarke. He’s driven but because he has a background in the BAU he tries to understand the killer he’s chasing and this makes it more interesting a read from his perspective as well. So all in all, it really is a well drawn and well-rounded novel as far as the characters go. I adored how it was done.

The tension of the novel is wound up to just the right level as you are always wondering if this is the point at which the two main characters will meet and what will that go down like. It’s a wonderful game of cat and mouse as the novel creeps to its conclusion and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

I loved this novel and will definitely be reading the next in the series from Alexandra Sokoloff.

Who To Call To Your Murder Crime Scene

So, we’re still at the crime scene. It’s a long and complicated job. A lot of it depends on the murder itself. If you have a domestic murder where a spouse has been hit over the head with a frying pan in the kitchen, and the offending spouse is stood there with said frying pan making admissions, then a lot of what I’m going to say obviously won’t count. But for anyone wanting a more complex murder to write about or are just interested in how things happen, then let’s get back to the crime scene and see what we have.

Now, who you call to your scene is, as I said above, dependant on where your crime scene is and also what your crime scene is.

For instance, you will need to consider calling out the Home Office Pathologist (after informing the Coroner – who is God in all things death in your county). You don’t always need the pathologist, but if samples are going to be needed in situ then you will. You’ll also need them for complex scenes and multiple bodies. But, you will not be calling the pathologist out until you’re ready for the body to be removed from the scene. And once the pathologist has done their examination they will organise and oversee the removal of the body.

IMG_5628.2014-04-12_150350Bearing that in mind, let’s look at your scene and your body. Where is it? Woodland? decomposed? Clandestine burial? You need to assess what other experts you need to bring in. You will automatically be looking at this as a murder because it’s better to deal with it as a murder and be wrong than to deal with it as something else (old burial site) and be wrong.

So, it’s murder, you have a whole gamut of experts at your fingertips. Think soil scientists for stratigraphy and forensic ecologists. Forensic entomologists for bug activity and forensic archeologists. If you think there may be more than one body buried, think ground penetrating radar. And if your body is in such a state that you could not identify it by traditional means then you would look at requesting a forensic anthropologist. These are obviously a lot of options to think about and use but in reality they are not often used because most murders are pretty straightforward. But if you’re writing and want to make that initial crime scene a little different, then here are some ideas for you.

The next post in this series on policing will cover something else, but the timeline I’m following isn’t necessarily correct because while the SIO is thinking about this scene, they have also been thinking about a lot of other things and have been issuing instructions to their staff and other enquiries have been ongoing and these are what I will be writing about. So the actions will be running concurrent with this post.

Is this what you expected? Where would you hide a body that would make the scene really difficult?


What’s Your First Draft Like? – V.M Giambanco

Valentina Giambanco
Valentina Giambanco

In the First Draft hot seat today I have the pleasure of introducing V.M Giambanco.

V.M. Giambanco was born in Italy. She started working in films as an editor’s apprentice in a 35mm cutting room and since then has worked on many award-winning UK and US pictures, from small independent projects to large studio productions. Valentina lives in London.



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

 I start scribbling little notes on paper – always paper first – and it could be anything from a name to a situation or a question, in fact more often than not it is a ‘what if’.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

 It is not a routine as such but, inevitably, I seem to begin with scribbled notes which then develop into scribbled ‘situations’ or ‘issues’ or ‘scenes’ on a sheet of A3 paper – and by then I write in pencil because I draw all kinds of lines and connections between the various points, and I really need the A3 size to accommodate every doodle.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Pen first to write on a notebook, then pencil to do my sketches on the A3 sheet, then keyboard. Having said that, I still do my notes with pen and pencil while I’m writing the draft. If anything they become more important because I revise the previous outline in terms of what I have actually written. They are my map to reach the end of the story.

How important is research to you?

Research is hugely important in some ways and not at all in others. I never start with research. It’s always a question of starting a chapter and going ‘hang on a second, I don’t know enough about this’ or having an idea and realizing that part of the story’s developments will depend on me knowing more about particular subjects (American jails, for example, or how to land a small plane on a mountain). Also, all the science that comes within the jurisdiction of the crime writer – and there is a fair bit which, thanks to shows like CSI and others, we are all familiar with – has to be correct because readers would be justifiably disappointed if they knew a detail was factually incorrect when it could have been so easily made right.

I think that research is important because it helps to create a world that rings true to the reader, and that is the only thing that ultimately matters. I have set my novels in Seattle – an American city in the Pacific Northwest – a place I know very well and have researched extensively and yet the only thing that matters in the end is whether I have managed to make it come alive on paper.

How do you go about researching?

I mostly use books, maps, internet and first-hand experience. For example, I needed to find out what it is like to be a police officer in Seattle and so I have spoken with a number of officers in the Seattle Police Department and have been out with them on patrol. It was an invaluable, humbling and inspiring experience and hugely important in terms of getting things right.

The internet however is a source of perennial wonder: when I was researching American prisons I could find out a surprising amount just knowing where to look – like menus, clothing, which wing was in lock-down and why, what items could be legally bought by inmates and even how to make chili in your cell.

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

Most ideas and notes are on paper because I like to be able to read and turn pages and add to them on the spur of the moment. I also use a lot of music when I write – mostly soundtracks, classical, pop/rock – and I have a folder for each book in my internet favourites where I file everything I read online from articles to pictures to music.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

It starts with the notes and then the story is turned around in my mind until I know I can find my way inside it and it feels as if I have lived there for a while. Only then I start writing and it feels like I’m trying to locate a tiny, delicate shape inside a huge lump of marble, and all I have is a blunt chisel.

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

Before I start each book I re-read all or parts of some books I love to remind myself of how high the bar is. One of them is ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ by Thomas Harris, another is the novella ‘A River Runs Through It’ by Norman MacLean which deals with man and nature and what’s truly holy. There are other books as well and the group changes depending on what kind of story I’m going to write.

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

The world does exist – and the cat wants to be fed – even when I’m ‘deep in the rushing stream of inspiration’. Although in the very last few weeks, when I can almost touch the end of the story, I tend to disappear in the cave.

What does your workspace look like?

I can write anywhere but I have a small study with a desk piled high with papers and notebooks or – depending on what stage I’m in – deliberately neat and bare. I work from a laptop hooked up to a large monitor and I sit in a proper chair because if you are a professional writer a good chair is more important than the fanciest computer.

VM Giambanco Workspace picture

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I edit as I go so that everything feels just right and when I finish my first draft it is as good as I can get it to be.

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

I like writing substantial stories (around 110,000 words and above) so I need to keep an eye on the word count to make sure I have enough time to develop the story as I wish.

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

I use all the time I have to get the first draft on paper because when it’s finished I want it to be ready to be sent to my agent to get her notes. I like the first draft to be as polished and finished as I can. Most of the time is spent working out the story in my head before it hits the paper.

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

I always re-read and edit on paper. On the screen you just miss so much and it’s important to see the words on paper because that’s where they’ll end up.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I send it to my agent, Teresa Chris, who will give me notes and after I have incorporated them in the draft I will send the manuscript to Stef Bierwerth at Quercus and then wait for her notes. I can wholeheartedly confirm that this process of waiting for notes is still quite as agonizing now as it was on my first book.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thank you for having me, I will now return to the desk – which at the moment is stacked high with all kinds of notebooks, notelets, post-its, two A3 watercolor drawing pads, two small plastic polar bears and a t-rex (don’t ask).

Thank you for taking the time to answer the first draft questions!

You can find V.M Giambanco on her Website and Twitter.

Blood and Bone

BloodAfter two years in the Seattle Police Department Detective Alice Madison seems to have found the kind of peace in her private and working life that she has not known before. However when a burglary escalates into an horrific murder she is put in charge of the investigation and finds herself tracking a killer who might have stalked the city for years and whose existence is the stuff of myth in high security prisons. Her own past comes under scrutiny and enemies close to home want her to fail as Madison and her partner hunt down a skillful, determined murderer with a talent for death, and Madison’s private life falls apart.


Cover Reveal – #CaptchaThief by Rosie Claverton

Today we are having a cover reveal – and I love these! – There is just something I love about covers. Never mind that old adage about never judging a book by its cover, that might be an allowance for people, but come on, let’s ogle those book covers, because they are fabulous!

The book cover being revealed today is Captcha Thief by Rosie Claverton. Not only do we have the cover, but Rosie is answering a few questions about her cover for us.

We also have a giveaway for anyone tweeting this post or commenting! 

You could win ebook copies of both Binary Witness and Code Runner, plus a postcard of the book’s stolen painting with lines from the first chapter! Two books! Just for commenting or sharing. 



Were you able to have any input in the design and if not, are you happy with the results?

I sent my editor at Crime Scene Books a list of key words and ideas for imagery, along with a Pinterest board of visual inspiration. And I was wowed by the cover!

What are you allowed to say about the book right now?

In Captcha Thief, agoraphobic hacker Amy Lane and her ex-con assistant Jason Carr are solving the puzzle of a murdered security guard and a stolen Impressionist painting. But Jason starts questioning his role in their partnership and speeds off to North Wales with an ice-cold, attractive NCA agent. Amy is wrecked by that decision, and there are bad consequences all round.

I’m rubbish with titles. At what point did the title come to you?

After several previous versions had been booed off stage! At different points, the novel was called Exhibit @ and Stealth Portrait, but I really love Captcha Thief. My husband and I came up with it at the eleventh hour.

When is the publication date?

4th February 2016 – and for the first time Amy Lane will be in paperback as well as ebook!

And without giving anything away, if you could be one of the characters, who would you be and why?

I think I would be Cerys Carr, Jason’s sister – she’s come a long way since her bratty roots in Binary Witness, through the upheaval of Code Runner, and she’s now starting out as a probationary constable in Captcha Thief. I’m so proud of her!

Thanks for talking to me, it’s been great having you and I can’t wait to read Captcha Thief.

You can find Rosie on her Website, Twitter and Amazon.

What do you think of book covers, is your first impression made by a book cover?

Don’t forget the giveaway as well! 

Cath Staincliffe on Writing About Victims In Crime Fiction (Video)

Welcome to another bite-sized interview. Today I have the very accomplished Cath Staincliffe.

Cath is a Manchester based crime writer. She’s the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, ITV’s hit detective drama starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. She writes the Scott & Bailey books, based on the much loved ITV1 police series. Her standalone titles, psychological fiction explore topical moral dilemmas.

Today I talk to her about those moral dilemmas involving victims of crime.



You can find Cath on her Website http://www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk/
on Twitter @CathStaincliffe
at The Murder Squad http://www.murdersquad.co.uk/

Do you think writers owe it to victims of crime to show a more balanced view or is fiction just that, fiction?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Simon Toyne

This post was supposed to go live on Saturday, as part of Simon Toyne’s Solomon Creed blog tour, but, I made a huge error and forgot to schedule it on Friday before I went away for the weekend on Friday. (Friday was a bit of a disaster for me!) So huge apologies to Simon and thanks to him for doing the Q&A and for being so great about my messing up at the weekend.

Anyway, here is Simon Toyne’s First Draft process! Simon Toyne Author photo

Simon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy – Sanctus, The Key, and The Tower – and now The Solomon Creed series.

He wrote his first novel, Sanctus, after quitting his job as a TV executive to focus on writing. It became the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011 in the UK and an international bestseller. His books have been translated into 27 languages and published in over 50 countries.

He lives with his family in Brighton and the South of France.


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

Take a deep, deep breath, like I’m about to start walking up a big mountain – because I am.

Normally before this deep breath I’ve been thinking about it for some while, going through old ideas files and reading and thinking a lot until the grit of something lodges in my head and starts accreting other thoughts and ideas so I start believing that it might – might – over a long period of time and patience end up as a pearl. 

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Thinking. Reading. Watching things. Listening to music.

I normally know the end of a book first, the destination point, and work backwards from there. I start to think about big things like where the story should take place and who the story is about. Everything grows out of the needs of the story really. I come from a TV background so it has been ingrained in me to plan and work out the structure of things before attempting anything ‘creative’. Structure is crucial, it’s essential to good storytelling (imagine a joke with the punchline at the beginning) so I work on this as much as I can ahead of writing, working out the heartbeats of the story and trying to put them in the right order. I also start a character document and spend lots of time – probably too much because it’s fun – looking at photos to try and figure out what my characters look like. Again I think this comes from my TV background, this need to visualize things first, or maybe it goes back further than that, which is why I ended up working in TV in the first place.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?


My thinking is quite non-linear so I tend to splurge it all out and chop and change things a lot during the process. If I did it on paper it would be very wasteful and I would destroy too many trees and permanently smell of glue – and those days are behind me now.

How important is research to you?

Research is as important to my process as a chair is, in that it helps immensely but the reader shouldn’t even be aware of it.

How do you go about researching?

Normally I need to research something specific to help me shape the story up front, but then I research things as I go along as the story throws up new things I need to know. The new book is set in Arizona, for example, so I went there for a week, driving around, taking photos, talking to people, just getting a sense of the place and experiencing what it smelled and sounded like. You can look up pictures of the desert on the internet and even drive down the interstates with Street view but you have to go there yourself to know what the desert smells like in the rain.

One tip I would pass on to other writers, something that has helped stop me from being distracted by the potential rabbit-hole of research, is to make stuff up. If I’m in the flow of something I will switch to CAPS and make up what I hope the truth about something might be then I go back and check it later. Often my educated guess is pretty close to the truth. Sometimes it’s way off and the truth is much better. Occasionally the truth is really dull and so I stick to the thing I made up, possibly embellished by a few baubles of truth. I have a Post-It (one of many) on the wall of my office with a Tom Stoppard quote on it that reads – ‘Just because it’s true, doesn’t make it interesting.’

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

Everything goes onto my laptop. I don’t use Scrivener or anything like that, I organise everything myself.

The first thing I do is create a new folder with the working title of the book and put it in the ‘NOVELS’ folder that sits on my desktop. Into this new folder I create three other new folders, one named ‘RESEARCH’, one named ‘DRAFTS’, and one named ‘OUTLINES’. ‘RESEARCH’ fills up first with photos and documents and notes, everything really that isn’t a draft or an outline.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I’ll create the first outline document and keep adding to it until it has a rough shape (by which I mean a beginning, middle and end). Then I duplicate it and start adding to the new version. I always reach a stage when I kind of know the beginning and know the end and am a bit hazy about the middle and this is generally when I start writing. I open a new document, call it Draft 1 and give it a date and start work. I aim to write about 1,000 words a day (which is 3 pages of double-spaced, Time New Roman 12 point). This is enough so that each day the story will move forward.

I start each day by duplicating the previous day’s work and renaming it with that day’s date. This means if I cut something, or get stuck, or lose my way I can always go back to a date when I knew what I was doing. And everything is automatically backed up to iCloud just in case I spill tea on my laptop.

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

I try and stick to the 1,000 words a day thing when I’m writing. My first drafts tend to end up at between 120-140,000 words long, so I know it should take me 140 days to produce a first draft – roughly 5-6 months including weekends and time off for good behaviour.

The only items I need are my laptop and food.

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

If you saw me in the middle of a book you wouldn’t be using the word ‘magic’. Writing is a craft and a discipline and I find it quite hard. If any magic happens it does so in the mind of the reader, and only if I’ve done my job properly.

Writing is hard. Not ‘eking-out a-living-on-a-third-world-landfill-site’ hard but still hard. I’m a relatively gregarious animal and you can’t write a book without spending a lot of time alone and sinking into yourself, and I find that difficult. Like most people I’m always trying, and largely failing, to strike a balance between work and life. If I’m working I tend to feel guilty that I’m not spending more time with my family and if I’m having a lovely time with my family there’s always a small voice in the back of my head whispering ‘you should be writing.’ Having said all that I am also aware that I am the luckiest bastard alive to be able to earn a living from doing what I do, so I should probably shut up.

What does your workspace look like? 

My Desk on teh mezz at Cafe marmaladeI have an office with a big desk and shelves filled with books but I tend to work better if I convince myself that I’m actually bunking off so I don’t seem to spend that much time there. Lately I have got into a routine of dropping my two eldest kids off at school then spending the day in a lovely cafe in Brighton called Marmalade, which is conveniently owned by my friend Tania. I sit in the corner and they let me plug in and turn a blind eye to the fact that I make a flat white last for hours. I have lunch there too. It’s like an office with great coffee and good food. Nick Cave lives round the corner and he pops in sometimes too. I’ve noticed he favours the same table as me. Steve Coogan and David Dimbleby have also turned up from time to time – though never together.

Steve Coogan's back
Steve Coogan’s back

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

At first I edit as I go then, too much probably. Then, when the deadline starts to press, I sink into the word mines and chisel as many of them out and as fast as I can until it’s done.

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

Word count is a pretty good way of keeping tabs on progress, though this doesn’t always work out. I tried writing ‘Solomon Creed’ in a slightly different way to the trilogy. The main character is very complex and I was spending far too long thinking about him and his story in the abstract so I decided to try writing it out without a detailed outline to see where it would take me. Where it took me was to a first draft that clocked in at 182,000 words. I ended up re-writing 65% of it and delivering the book very late. Fortunately I have a very understanding editor and agent, though my wife and family lost me for a good while. I think I’ll outline the next one.

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

It takes around five to nine months and it needs a lot of work. Another of the Post-Its I told you about in that office I rarely go in says ‘The first draft of anything is always shit.’ Hemingway said that. Another says ’90% of writing is re-writing’. You can see why I never go in there.

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

I work mainly on the screen but the final edits – copy edits and maybe the very last rewrite – I’ll do on paper. Something weird happens to a book when it gets committed to paper. It changes a little, becomes more solid, which prompts you to read it differently. As a general reader myself I find it much easier to abandon a book I’m reading on Kindle than I would a physical book. Doing a draft on paper is essential. I quite like scribbling on it in red ink too. It makes me feel ‘proper’.

What happens now that first draft is done?

Re-writes. Lots of authors hate re-writing but I love it. It’s when the book gets good, or at least less awful. It’s when you’re dealing with the whole thing rather than tiny bits and so it starts to make all kinds of sense. At least you hope it does. This is also the time when I realise just how many times I use the word ‘just’ – see, another one just slipped in. And another…

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thanks for asking. I will now have something to refer to when I start the next book to remind myself how I do it.

You can find Simon on his Website, Facebook and Solomon Creed Amazon.


Solomon Creed by Simon Toyne

Solomon Creed final UK coverThe first in an electrifying new high concept series from Sunday Times bestselling author of Sanctus, Simon Toyne. Perfect for fans of Lee Child and Stephen King.

A plane crash in the Arizona desert. An explosion that sets the world on fire. A damning pact to hide an appalling secret. And one man bound to expose the truth. He is Solomon Creed. No one knows what he is capable of.

Not even him.

When Solomon Creed flees the burning wreckage of a plane in the Arizona desert, seconds before an explosion sets the world alight, he is acting on instinct alone. He has no memory of his past, and no idea what his future holds. Running towards a nearby town, one name fires in his mind – James Coronado. Somehow, Solomon knows he must save this man. But how do you save a man who is already dead?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Tania Chandler

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Tania Chandler to the First Draft hot seat.

Tania Chandler


TANIA CHANDLER is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. Her work was awarded a special commendation in the 2013 Writers Victoria Crime Writing competition. Please Don’t Leave Me Here is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.


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

20150817_121349I start by scribbling copious notes in exercise books (or on napkins in cafes, or scraps of paper while waiting at traffic lights — ideas have an annoying habit of transpiring at the most inopportune times). I try to capture things about character, setting, backstory, images and other sensory elements.

Before I start writing, I try to have a plot outline, which I map loosely to a narrative framework (I find Nigel Watts’s ‘Eight-point story arc’ and Syd Field’s ‘Paradigm’ helpful), knowing that most of it will change during the writing process.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Not yet! I’m still pretty new to this. I didn’t really plot PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE before I started writing — I allowed it to grow organically, and worried about structure later. My second book was different: I wrote the entire story outline in one day.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

A bit of both. Pen and paper for initial ideas, and the rest on the keyboard. Sometimes when I get stuck, I go back to pen and paper — writing a scene or an entire chapter by hand seems to help.

How important is research to you?

I’m pretty obsessive about accuracy, but I think the amount of research depends on the book. I didn’t do heaps of research for PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE — a bit of time in the state library looking at newspapers from the early 90s on microfiche, and more time in Melbourne coffee shops and pubs! I’ve done far more research for my second book: completed a handgun-shooting course; spent a week alone at the location (a tiny island where there is no way off after the last ferry); and made friends with forensic scientists.

How do you go about researching?

The internet is a good starting point; Google Street View is helpful to get a sense of locations. But I think I’m a ‘method writer’ — I like to see and do (to a certain extent!) the things my characters do. In most cases writing comes before research. Once I’m reasonably happy with the story, I do the bulk of the research. I dislike contacting people for information, so I procrastinate about that and leave it until last. I do some reading and googling on topics before approaching experts so I waste as little of their time as possible by having some idea or what I’m asking about.

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

In my head mostly! Unfortunately, I’m not very organised and I’m forever searching for where I’ve filed things. A writer-friend once showed me their very detailed spreadsheet breakdown of scenes and characters, which I thought was a great idea, so I tried it — I don’t think I got beyond scene one. Another writer told me they entered details into internet dating services to get character images (that’s what they said it was for, anyway!) I tried that, and got one photo that I never looked at again, because I have a strong idea in my mind of what my characters look like. My friend Graeme Simsion uses an index card system to write scenes, so I bought the cards, but ended up using them to write shopping lists on (I hope he doesn’t read this!) I’ve tried Scrivener, but I gave up because in the time it took me to work out how to use it, I could have been writing. It sounds crazy, but what works for me is just knowing my story. I rewrite so many times that I almost know it by heart and I use the Find and Replace function in Word to search different sections.

I do, however, type up research notes and store them in computer files, and take photos and recordings on my phone.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

It’s like pulling teeth! I HATE writing the first draft. I try to get it done as quickly as possible so I can get onto the part I love — the rewriting and finessing.

I wrote different sections of PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE concurrently. I wrote my second novel in a fairly linear fashion, but I let the story veer from the outline and go where it wanted to.

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

Aside from coffee, not really. With three children and a day job, finding the time to write is hard enough. I get up at 5am to write before everybody is awake. Sometimes I work at my desk; when it’s really cold, on my laptop on the couch in front of the heater; and if I have a free day I go to a library.

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

Lost, absolutely! And sometimes, even when I’m not writing, I find myself drifting off, thinking about my story.

What does your work space look like?

A mess!


Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

First draft is about getting the words out, but I find it hard to restrain myself from editing as I go.

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

I don’t set myself a daily word count, and I try to ignore the word counter because it breaks my heart when I see I’ve deleted more words than I’ve written for the day. Some days I’ll whip up a 3000-word chapter, and other days I’ll get stuck rearranging one sentence.

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

Everybody seems to have a different idea of what constitutes a first draft. I worked on my first two manuscripts for about a year and a half before I thought they were in good enough shape to hand over to first readers for feedback.

20150820_112635In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I alternate: screen, then paper, then screen, then paper … until I feel too guilty about trees.


What happens now that first draft is done?

Loads of editing and rewriting, and then feedback from first readers. And then more editing and rewriting …

You can find Tania on Twitter, Facebook and her Author Page.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler

9781925228250_72dpiKurt Cobain stands at the top of the stairs, wearing the brown sweater. ‘Please don’t leave me,’ she yells up at him. But it’s too late; he’s turning away as the tram slows for the stop out on the street.

Then she’s lying on the road. Car tyres are going past, slowly. Somebody is screaming. A siren howls.

Sweet voices of little children are singing ‘Morningtown Ride’.

Is Brigitte a loving wife and mother, or a cold-blooded killer?

Nobody knows why she was in the east of the city so early on the morning she was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver. It was the Friday before Christmas 1994 — the same day police discovered the body of a man beaten to death in her apartment.

Fourteen years later, Brigitte is married to the detective who investigated the murder, which she claims to have lost her memory of in the car accident. They have young twins, and seem to be a happy family. Until the reopening of the cold case.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is about loss, love and lies. It is about pain, fear, and memory. And, above all, it is about letting go.


You can find all previous First Draft Q&As HERE and if you fancy doing one then do let me know.