What’s Your First Draft Like? – Sarah Ward

Today I have crime writer, Sarah Ward on the blog answering questions on her first draft process. This is a part of her ongoing blog tour which I’m thrilled to be a part of. It’s definitely worth checking out the other blogs on the tour!

In Bitter Chill blog tour

Iceland1SARAH WARD is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces, reviews the best of current crime fiction. She is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Sarah lives in rural Derbyshire where her debut novel, In Bitter Chill is set.

 

 

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

I write the opening scene. And in the two books I’ve now written it’s these passages that have hardly changed at all. The opening chapter sets the tone of the rest of the book and, I like to think, lays out the mystery that is subsequently unravelled.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I like to write about 1,000 words a day. It’s usually in the morning as this is my most productive time. And very occasionally later in the evening. Never in the afternoons. Having a word count target is a good way of keeping me going.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I write straight onto my laptop. I learnt to do this when I was writing professionally in the civil service. I’m not a brilliant typist so there are a lot of deletions as I write.

How important is research to you?

I try to write the story first and then see where the obvious gaps in my research are once the first draft is done. That said, I did some of the research up front for my second book as I wanted to make sure that the premise was realistic.

How do you go about researching?

There’s a retired Derbyshire detective I’m in touch with and a younger former policeman who I e-mail. I do some research, such as in relation to weapons, on the internet. And, as both my books incorporate elements of the past, I try to watch some TV programmes of the era.

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

I pin things onto my wall with blue tac which ruins the paintwork but does allow me to visually see colours and so on. I also take images on my phone. Seasons in the countryside are an important element in my writing and I like to remind myself what flower, for example, is in bloom at a particular time.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I write in a linear way. In other words I start at the beginning and keep going. If there’s something I don’t know or can’t remember, I put an ‘[x]’ in the text and keep going. It’s the only way I can keep to my word count. This means, however, by the end of my first draft there are lots of gaps that need filling in. But I do have the basis of something to work with for the second draft.

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

I listen to music so I need to have some headphones. I don’t think I’m able to write in total silence any more. And I drink a lot of tea.

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

I don’t think I’m ever completely transported during my first draft. That definitely happens in subsequent drafts but I think I’m just trying to get words down on the page in the first instance. I think a lot about where the narrative is going.

What does your workspace look like?

I write either at my desk which is in an upstairs study facing away from the window which looks out onto the beautiful countryside where I live. I need to keep distractions to a minimum, unfortunately. I do a lot of the first draft in a local coffee shop too. It’s nice to get out of the house when you’re sitting for hours in front of a computer.

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Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I don’t really edit as I go unless something has gone seriously wrong in the plot. Then I might go back and change something if I think the story is going in a different direction than I’d anticipated.

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

Definitely a word counter.

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

I’d say it takes around four months for me to complete the first draft.

IMG_0850In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?

The first read through is on the computer. The next one I spend a fortune on printer ink reading it on hard copy.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I give myself a week off. And then the really hard editing starts.

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

You can find Sarah on her Website, Facebook and Twitter.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

24790847In 1978, a small town in Derbyshire, England is traumatised by the kidnapping of two young schoolgirls. One girl, Rachel, is later found unharmed but unable to remember anything except that her abductor was a woman.

Over thirty years later the mother of the still missing Sophie commits suicide. Superintendent Llewellyn, who was a young constable on the 1978 case, asks DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs to look again at the kidnapping to see if modern police methods can discover something that the original team missed. However, Sadler is convinced that a more recent event triggered Yvonne Jenkins’s suicide.

Rachel, with the help of her formidable mother and grandmother, recovered from the kidnapping and has become a family genealogist. She remembers nothing of the abduction and is concerned that, after Yvonne Jenkins’s suicide, the national media will be pursuing her for a story once more. Days later, the discovery of one of her former teachers’ strangled body suggested a chain of events is being unleashed.

Rachel and the police must unpick the clues to discover what really happened all those years ago. But in doing so, they discover that the darkest secrets can be the ones closest to you.

1st Video Diary Entry For Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Neck Issues

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post, I was going to start a video diary about my journey to get a surgical diagnosis and intervention to repair my medically damaged neck.

This is my first diary entry. I won’t post all entries on the blog, they will go onto the playlist on my YouTube channel so if you’re interested in seeing them you can subscribe to be informed when they are uploaded. It will be an open and honest account. Let’s see how this journey goes.

Recently Read – Hidden by Emma Kavanagh

Hidden by Emma Kavanagh

Genre; Crime

23346669HE’S WATCHING

A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman—before it’s too late.

SHE’S WAITING

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety—both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks…

My Thoughts:

I read Emma’s debut novel, Falling, last year. I loved it and you can read my thoughts on it Here.

Emma has a wonderful way with words. They ebb and flow and you get caught up in them and move with them as they weave their way around the story. For a crime novel, it’s not all hard and spiky, it’s smooth and clean feeling and you just want to keep reading, to stay in that world, with those characters. You want to just keep turning the pages and stay with the feeling she creates.

Hidden follows several characters who have their own chapters. We see what they see and how they feel. How they are dealing with events in their lives. The shooting of a schoolboy and an ill child. With interwoven chapters like this it can be difficult to get them to marry up and work well but Kavanagh has polished this novel so that it shines. The stories of everyone involved and how they all interweave is wonderfully done. We’re talking about shootings and life, you feel the lifeblood and life-force of people as she so eloquently conveys how the loss, how death, how fear or love touches them.

I adored this book and can’t wait for the next one from Emma Kavanagh. She writes so wonderfully. If you haven’t tried her yet, you must. And the other thing is, these are standalone books. Where lots of crime novelist, myself included, write series, Kavanagh is writing standalones and this makes her standalone in place all of her own. Brilliant!

 

Recently Read – The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Genre; YA

23058402Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school, Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

My thoughts:

I can not praise this novel enough. Whether you usually read YA or not, I doubt you could fail to be moved or touched in some way by the story inside these pages and this is why I love YA because it is not afraid to talk about the difficult subjects.

This is the first chapter of the book…

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It’s simple and impactive. And in the UK it’s currently quite topical though I’d finished the novel before the story of the little boy who wants to be a girl broke.

Because of what David wrote in class that day he only has two friends in school and they are great friends to him, the type of friends anyone would be proud to call friends. It’s a story about inclusion. About finding out who you are about bravery and acceptance. And all this in the hands of children.

We have something to learn when children genuinely are going through things like this daily and we moan our jeans are too tight or the dog pissed on the floor again.

If you haven’t yet read a YA book from any of the ones I’ve reviewed, I’d really recommend this one. The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson – because who really wants to be normal anyway…

#BritCrime Programme Announced!

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the BritCrime event where several crime authors, myself included, were going to be online talking to crime fiction fans over the course of a weekend 11th-13th July. It’s held on Facebook as we thought it the easiest place as most people have Facebook accounts.

If you haven’t signed up to the event yet, you can do so Here. It’s chock full of great authors and also places to just hang out and talk crime fiction with each other.

This is a short post to let you know the programme is now live. You can find that Here. And quite scarily, I am first up on the programme, kicking off the weekend at 12 p.m. on the Saturday 11th July with my fellow crime authors, Steven Dunne, Jane Isaac and Craig Robertson. We will be talking about Serial Killer Thrillers. I do hope you’ll join us. (And try not to boo us off the platform!)

You’ll see on the programme there are conversations to suit every taste. It’s going to be such a good weekend for all crime fans and you don’t have to book train or hotel tickets to chat to us.

Will you be attending? Who are you looking forward to chatting to?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Douglas Skelton

Today I am pleased to welcome crime writer, Douglas Skelton to the first draft hot-seat.

11Douglas is a crime writer who specialises in non-fiction and fiction from the darker side of our world. His non-fiction charts the true life exploits of murderers, criminals and cause celebres. His fiction focuses on the underbelly of Glasgow – Scotland’s biggest, industrial and working-class city; with a history of tobacco barons, Victorian elegance, manufacturing, gangs, culture and the Commonwealth Games. A hard but sentimental city. A city with a fierce and abiding heart.

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

Once I have the original idea I will decide what I need to know to allow me to begin. This may entail hitting one of the many non-fiction books that litter my shelves, a trip to the library or a chat to one of my more knowledgeable friends. There may be more I need to learn but I do that as I go along.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I’m not organised enough to plot or plan. Once I have the original notion and I’ve found out what I need to know, if anything at that stage, I begin writing, see where the wind blows me.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Straight to keyboard. My handwriting is so appalling I’d never be able to read it again.

How important is research to you?

For the non-fiction, very important. For the fiction it’s a need-to-know basis. I like my fiction to have the ring of truth but it IS fiction.

How do you go about researching?

Books, newspapers, personal contacts, the internet – the usual.

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

draft2-1 webI have a sturdy bound notebook at the moment in which I jot down random story ideas, opening lines. I have another notebook in which I will jot down one-liners or bits of dialogue. My desk is also littered with post-it notes covered in scribbled bits of information.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

Very slowly. Because I don’t plan there can be a great deal of chopping and changing. I may have an opening in mind when I start but that can change if I think of something better as the story progresses. I’ll get that first draft down and really it’s merely the spine of the story. Subsequent drafts add layers.

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

Music, no matter what draft. I have to have music. I’m a big fan of film scores so that’s generally what’s in the background.

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

The outside world is there, outside my window, so I can’t really ignore it. However, when I’m really in the zone time can fly past – apart from making tea and having a comfort break. I’ve got two dogs so there has to be a certain timetable for their benefit. I have taken to logging off Facebook while writing so that I’m not tempted to see what people are up to.

What does your workspace look like?

Very messy. I’m not the tidiest of people. I work in a room filled with books, CDs and – well – rubbish that I just can’t bring myself to throw out. My office space is always a work-in-progress. My desk is constantly cluttered. I tidy it but the gremlins come in overnight and mess it up again.

workspace web

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

A bit of both. I like to get a good run at a draft but sometimes I feel something is just so badly wrong I’ve got to fix it.

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

I do keep an eye on the words and it’s good to see that you’ve had a productive day, as long as the words are satisfactory. But for me progression is a gut feeling – do I feel as if I’ve had a good day? I may have written only a couple of hundred words but I’m very happy with them, so that’s a good day. On the other hand, I may have written two to three thousand words in a day, I know they’re not perfect but it pushes the plot along and I know I can fix them later.

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

It varies. Coming from the world of journalism, where speed is valued, I like to get a first draft down in six weeks to two months. I’m not one of those writers who says that their first draft is more or less what appears in book form, so it’s nowhere ready for anyone to see. I’ve a long way to go yet before I’m in any way happy. If ever.

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

I don’t print until after the third run through of the text, so everything is done on the screen. And I don’t have an e-reader!

What happens now that first draft is done?

The work really begins. As I said, my first draft is really just getting the spine of the book down. Yes, the characters will be there, yes, there will be dialogue. But there may be sections missing. I don’t mean purposely but by the time I get to the end I may have thought of another plot twist or a neat character or a dialogue exchange or a bit of colour. These may be noted on one of the many post-it notes or just lodged in my head – always dangerous because I do forget things. I may also have some facts to check. The first draft is what I’ve hacked out of my head with a chisel and a hammer. After that I’ve got to plane it down, sand it, smooth it until it’s as good as I can make it, given my deadline. At least until the editor gets stuck in.

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

You can find Douglas on his Website, Twitter and Amazon.

Devil’s Knock

Devils-Knock-cover-11-273x400When the devil comes knocking,you either tell that bastard to get the hell away, or you invite him in.
Davie McCall has darkness inside him. A darkness that haunts him, but also helps him do despicable things to those trying to cause him and his friends harm. When Dickie Himes is killed in a club owned by the Jarvis clan, it sparks a chain of events that Davie knows can only lead to widespread gang war on the streets of mid-’90s Glasgow. The police are falling over themselves to solve the crime, but when justice is so easily bought or corrupted, Davie needs to take matters into his own hands. Davie has to contend with the ghosts of those he has failed, a persistent Hollywood actor and a scruffy dog with no name. When he finds a target on his back,  be able to suppress the darkness inside him and refuse to kill…Or will the devil’s knock be too tempting?

Instagram For Writers

typewriter-498204_1280Now, I don’t know if I have seen this post somewhere else or if I dreamt it. My head seems constantly in the clouds lately. This post could just be an amalgamation of many things I have read and practised on the subject recently. If I have directly taken work from another blog please let me know and I will change it or attribute the author.

The subject is of course Instagram for writers.

Yes, you think you have enough social networks to keep you busy as it is and you have no intention of adding another to the list. You already blog, use Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and try to find a life in there somewhere so no you are absolutely not using anything else. I know you have heard me mention Periscope a couple of times, but I’ll leave the virtues of Periscope to another day, I wouldn’t want your head to explode all over this lovely blog post would I?

laptop-601556_1280I see you on social networks, you take photographs. It comes naturally to you. You post them on Facebook and Twitter. It’s great to see your life that way, it adds more than just words. And I know how much fun it is to be able to snap away with that digital camera in your hand when you can easily delete any you’re not happy with and keep the rest. So much easier than the days of reels of 24 clicks and getting it printed out.

So, you’re half-way there. Why not just add that little Instagram app to your phone? You can add your photos at will and when adding, you get to edit and also add a colour sheen to it. (I know sheen isn’t the word but I’m having a mental block there and may not have the time to go back and find the word before the blog post goes live – the joys of real brain issues shown in real-time!) I think you will enjoy seeing the changes to your pictures, what this simple app can do for you.

I know I mentioned it’s good for writers, yet I’m still not getting to the point. Ok, ok, I’m there. Like Twitter, Instagram is absolutely brilliant for using hashtags to find your niche. For instance, if I wanted to find my niche of Cockapoo lovers on Instagram, I’d hashtag my images #cockapoo and #cockapoosofinstagram both of these in the search bar are filled with the most adorable images you have ever seen and you can find and follow as many people who you think are going to post regular images you will be interested in, by checking out their previous postings and their bio.

The same goes for writers and also for book lovers.

IMG_9883I’m currently in the middle of a writers daily challenge on Instagram and I have had more *likes* on my images than I’ve ever had by simply using the challenge hashtag.

If you’re a genre writer, use that hashtag. Popular hashtags for readers if you’re looking for readers in your genre are #books #booksofinstagram #reading #amreading etc. I have found that with the reading hashtags there is a lot of YA readers but it’s a social network mostly filled with younger than me, users! But! It is totally filled with readers. It’s completely active. get over there, engage, have fun. You’re taking photo’s anyway.

Show what you’re doing while you’re writing, where you write, what you write with, what you read, and some personal stuff that you’re happy to share (I share lots of Alfie!)

Writer or reader, it’s an active and visually appealing network. Why not give it a go? you can find me under RebeccaJBradley or click on the green Instagram circle in the right-hand bar.

Recently Read – The Venus Trap by Louise Voss

The Venus Trap by Louise Voss

Genre; Crime – psychological

23199734Jo Atkins’ sixteenth year was disastrous: she lost her dad, was assaulted by a stranger, and then had her heart broken. For the last twenty-five years, she’s believed that nothing could ever be as bad again.

She was wrong.

Now, still smarting from her recent divorce, pretty, self-effacing Jo finally gathers the courage to enter the dating scene. She meets Claudio, whom she vaguely remembers from her youth, but after a few dates decides he’s creepy and politely tells him ‘thanks but no thanks’.

But Claudio has no intention of letting her go.

Instead of never seeing him again, Jo wakes up sick and terrified, handcuffed to her own bed. She is given a week to prove her love for Claudio—or he will kill her.

Claudio, it turns out, is a man with nothing left to lose.

The Venus Trap tackles the emotional impact of divorce, the perils of modern dating and the age-old powers of lust and obsession.

My Thoughts:

I’ve heard comments that this isn’t a typical crime novel. Mostly in the vein that it’s different to what Louise writes as part of a duo when she’s writing with Mark Edwards, but do you know what? She’s a writer and writers are allowed to stray and explore and do what they want to do and this is what Louise has written and I for one am really glad she did.

It most definitely is crime. Jo is handcuffed to her own bed when she wakes up and it’s not a sex game gone wrong. Claudio, the man she went on a date with is threatening to kill her if she doesn’t prove her love for him in a week.

Jo knows Claudio from way back when she was at school. He’s a part of her history so the novel looks backwards at Jo’s history, how she got to where she was, to dating a man who would have her tied to a bed threatening to kill her and very obviously willing to go through with it if she doesn’t do as he says. It looks at relationships and how we react during and after them. Domino effects. All while Jo is locked up and wondering if she is going to get out of this situation with her life.

To find out if she does or if the effects of her life and her decisions lead her to a sticky end, you will have to read The Venus Trap yourself. I loved it and tore through the pages very quickly. My reading mojo is most definitely back!

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – Craniocervical Instability – A Diary

IMG_9979Some of you will know from following me on social media (Twitter and Facebook) that I went to an Ehlers Danlos Syndrome conference in London at the weekend. It was organised by the Ehlers Danlos Syndrome UK charity and was about craniocervical instability. Some top Dr’s from the United States came over to talk to us and included in those Dr’s was a top neurosurgeon who specialises in craniocervical instability in EDS patients.

 

It was an interesting talk, but – I knew everything they had to say because I’d googled it all to death anyway and I’d watched Dr Henderson (neurosurgeon) speak on the subject on YouTube video’s at other conferences that were recorded.

Dr Henderson giving his talk.
Dr Henderson giving his talk.

What I and many other people there wanted, was some one on one time with these people – not a medical appointment, but at least the chance to be heard or to ask a question. My question was about whether my MRI images had even made it over to the states yet. They were supposed to have been sent in November last year.

I managed to grab Dr H for a brief 1 minute between talks and ask him and I don’t think it has got to him, so while I’ve been patiently waiting, thin air has been wafting about. And while I’ve been patiently waiting, I feel I’ve been deteriorating.

So, my plan is this. I’m going to have my summer holiday then focus my efforts on finding a US Neurosurgeon to look at me and assess me and see what is happening. Before I go away I’m going to take my collar off for an entire weekend and I’m going to record all my symptoms as they will flare up massively without my collar to help support my head. I know I will be really ill. I’ll be in a lot of pain, probably vomiting, passing out and I’m wondering if any other neurological symptoms will show themselves as I allow my head to move around at its own will on my neck.

I’m also going to keep a diary now. From now through to feeling well… In the form of a written diary, in a notebook, on here and also a video diary which I will put up on my YouTube page under a specific link. It won’t always be pleasant, but it may be helpful to others who will be going through this. I’ve a long hard journey/battle ahead of me, but I have little quality of life, so I need to fight and resolve this part of my EDS trouble if I can.

I hope you won’t mind the occasional diary entries here.

Recently Read – Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson, Translated by Quentin Bates

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson, Translated by Quentin Bates.

Genre; Crime

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Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights. ‘Is King Arnaldur looking to his laurels? There is a young pretender beavering away, his eye on the crown: Ragnar Jónasson’ Barry Forshaw My Thoughts: I read this while still struggling with my reading mojo but was starting to get it back again and this was yet another great book to have picked up. If you like cold and claustrophobic settings as I do, then this might just be the book for you. Jónasson does a wonderful job with placing you right there in the small snowed in town, so even if you read this while sitting in the sun you will feel the chill of the book seep through you. Ari Thór is not your usual know-it-all detective, but a young, just out of school uniform cop that turns up in a small town and wants to do his best. You feel his nerves and his unsettledness at his new surroundings. I liked that it was done this way, it gave the genre a different feel. Ari Thór may even have had natural instincts about some of the things he saw but he was in a small town, new on the job and had to answer to his boss who had been doing the job a lot longer. Ari Thór also foolishly gets a bit tangled personally in what is happening, but you can’t blame him because he feels so isolated and new. And along with all the crime is the constant falling snow. It’s incessant. This is a great read and I’m definitely interested to see where Ari Thór goes next. With thanks to the author and publisher for my copy of the book. You can read Ragnar’s First Draft process Q&A Here.