10 Questions With… Drew Davies

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Drew Davies. Drew writes women’s fiction and book club reads. His new novel With or Without You is out on 31st July. I was really pleased when he kindly said yes to answering a few questions on his writing journey.

Over to you, Drew…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I loved animals growing up, so Gerald Durrell was a big favourite. New Zealand has incredible forests and countryside, but – it has to be said – the animals are pretty boring. The more exotic birds, like the kiwi, are so rare you never see them, and so mostly it’s a lot of sheep and cows. I dreamed of Corfu and a Mediterranean menagerie.

Speaking of menagerie’s, the books that still stick with my from my childhood are actually detailed picture books  – one’s like Anamalia and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. The one that stands out most is The Ultimate Alphabet by Mike Wilks – I spent days pouring over those pages. Each image depicts as many words as possible corresponding to each letter. I actually just bought the book again now, it’s so incredible…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did – I had an English accent in a small New Zealand town, so being good at English was expected! I loved writing stories. When I was 13, we had to create a fictitious short story and illustrate it. I wrote mine about a pear tree that grew in my grandfather’s garden. After I handed it in, I was called in by the teacher who said he had to mark me down because the story was obviously based on fact. I replied it was all made up, but he didn’t believe me, and my mother had to get involved. After this incident I thought, ‘hey I might actually be good at this writing malarkey…’

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I spend more time writing each day, than anything else. I also run a consultancy – search engine optimisation – which I’ve been doing for over ten years, and still love. Whereas before, writing was my side hustle, now I need to make sure I have the support to makemy business run smoothly. Fortunately, I have a great team, and everything (mostly) runs like clockwork.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Finish. That’s the toughest thing. Just get a complete first draft down. Everything can be edited and workshopped and worked on, but only if you have the raw materials. We can hold ourselves back wanting to attain perfection, but writing is re-writing, as they say – it’s always going to need more work. So get it down, look at it with fresh eyes, get someone good to help you mould it, and don’t give up!

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

Yes, I was definitely one of those kids. I loved books, I wanted to eat them.

6) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

Not hugely. I still read as soon as I wake up (after making a coffee and getting back into bed). Reading first thing grounds me. I like a combination of memoir, spiritual books and diaries. Diaries are great at the start of the day, because you realise everyone gets up, just like you, with varying levels of trepidation, and then stuff happens. Whether its Anne Frank or Michael Palin, everyone is wondering what they’ll have for lunch. 

7) Through lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I’m watching I May Destroy You, which is incredible and challenging, and feels like a very particular anxiety device for me, because Bella is a writer and has deadlines looming, as well as everything else. I tried to get into Normal People, but I think I was the only person in the planet who couldn’t. I enjoyed the novel though.

We’ve been watching more films – especially re-watching Studio Ghibli movies on Netflix. They have the right level of logic to magic ratio for lockdown. 

My favourite drama, recently, has been the HBO series Watchmen. If you haven’t seen it, you must. It’s on par with The Sopranos. 

8) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

I love Elizabeth Strout (author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton amongst many others). There’s an ease to her writing, a flow, the way character and story merge – it’s sublime. I also love how “unlikeable” a lot of her protagonists are. It’s a very fine line to tread – you don’t want to put off and alienate your audience, but you also want to create complex, interesting characters. Reading Elizabeth Strout is always a masterclass. 

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I usually go for a run around Leyton Flats. Having worked from home for a decade, I understand I have to change my energy from work mode to relax mode. I gave up drinking 8 years ago, so there’s not a beer to help me unwind – so I exercise, or have a bath, or sing while I do the dishes.  

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury hands down. The songs, that voice, and those performances! (Fun fact: I used to have a pretty decent moustache for a time, and I would often get called Freddie Mercury by drunk people on the Central Line on a Friday night).

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Drew. It was a real pleasure to interview you. I can’t wait to read your new novel!

Bio: Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London – and is the author of three novels: THE SHAPE OF US, DEAR LILY & WITH OR WITHOUT YOU.

Drew can be found at https://www.drewdaviesauthor.com

An Interview With… Miranda Jewess

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Miranda Jewess. Miranda works as a Senior Commissioning Editor for Viper Books. She very kindly answered my questions on what her job role entails – and what attracts her to a good book.

Over to you, Miranda…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?

By accident, really. After university I was applying for jobs (I nearly became an accountant) and my mum, who is a historian, had just written a book. She asked me to proof it for her, and it made me think it was something I could do professionally. And it seemed a lot more fun than accounting! So I got a graduate traineeship at a small history press. I’d always been surrounded by books, but my degree was very science-based, so it had never occurred to me before.

2) For anyone who doesn’t know what your job role entails, can you briefly describe what you do?

I run the Viper crime and thriller list, an imprint of Serpent’s Tail. Agents send me submissions, and I read them and try to buy the rights to the ones I love. Choosing the books isn’t just about whether they’re good, but also about whether they fit on the list. We want the books to all be distinct, but also fitting into the crime sub-genres that we publish – procedurals, gothic, psychological thrillers, high-concept. I also edit the books, brief covers, write copy, manage the metadata, pitch our books at sales conferences and book fairs, and generally shout about them.

3) How has your job been affected by lockdown? Have there been any limitations to your role?

I’ve been working at home since March, only going into the office a couple of times. I have a two-year-old, so before her nursery re-opened in June, it was basically impossible to do a normal day’s work. I had to just fit it in where I could. One of the biggest changes I’ve found is that I used to spend my commute and lunch hour reading submissions, and I no longer have those three hours earmarked, so I have to make a conscious effort to put my laptop down and pick up my Kindle. And it’s been very sad not to have crime festivals to go to, which is where I discover new authors and make new contacts.

4) What is your reading style like? What kind of reader are you, both professionally and personally?

I read submissions pretty quickly because many crime lovers are reading books on the go – standing on a bus or crammed into a train. And because we’re often racing through the book to get to the solution. If a submission doesn’t hold together unless it’s read very carefully (except if it’s intentionally literary or high-concept) then it may not be working. Personally I still read pretty quickly, but I try to pace myself, especially with non-fiction.

5) How are you hooked into a story – are you hooked by the character first or the plot, or is it the pace?

I think it really depends on the book. Obviously if the first chapter is a character just sitting around making a cup of tea, then that character better be really intriguing! I probably get hooked by a good setup in the first couple of chapters, then am happy for things to slow down so I can get to know the characters. But I have no preference, it’s all about the book itself, what it chooses to emphasise, and how successfully it does it.

6) At what point do you know that you have come across something special? When do you realise that you can’t stop reading?

I read submissions on a Kindle, so I can be quite specific – I’d say I know whether the book is special by the 15% mark, because that’s when I either immediately carry on, or put it down to do something else. If it’s great it still may not be right for the list, but I’ll end up finishing it anyway, because I want to see how it ends.

7) Away from your job, do you have any particular genre of book that you read for pleasure? Through lockdown however, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

I read a lot of historical and scientific non-fiction, literary science fiction, and piles of crime. I think I’ve been reading more books for pleasure during lockdown, partly because my evenings are longer without my commute, and also because I’ve been on Twitter more and keep on seeing people talking about new books that I end up buying.

8) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I’ve been religiously re-watching The West Wing (currently on season 6). It contrasts so much with what’s currently happening in the US, where most of my family live! Also The Plot Against America, I Will Destroy You and a bit of Glee.

9) On a Friday evening when you leave your desk, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I go pick up my daughter from nursery and make her dinner. Once she’s in bed we have our own dinner and watch The West Wing! At the weekends it’s all about her. I spend a lot of time running after her in parks. She’s ridiculously fast on her scooter.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury every time. There’s a song for every mood and my god, that voice.

Thank you for your time today, Miranda, to stop by the blog. It was a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Miranda Jewess grew up in Oxfordshire and studied Biological Anthropology at Cambridge University. Her first publishing job was at The History Press, on the Spellmount military history list. She moved to Titan Books in 2012, where she worked on crime, fantasy, horror and science fiction titles, becoming Acquisitions and Managing Editor in 2017. In 2019 she was hired as the new Senior Commissioning Editor at Serpent’s Tail, and launched the Viper imprint, a list devoted to crime, thriller and gothic fiction. She lives in London.

10 Questions With… Michael Robotham

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Michael Robotham, to discuss his journey as a writer and how his novel The Secrets She Keeps went from computer screen to television screen.

Over to you, Michael…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I wanted to be a writer from about the age of eleven when I discovered the books of the late great Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and many brilliant collections of short stories. I wrote to Bradbury when I was still in primary school and he wrote back to me, sending me four books that weren’t available in Australia.

Years later I recounted this story for a US magazine, quoting Ray Bradbury, who once said: ‘Jules Verne was my father. Mary Shelley was my mother Edgar Allan Poe was the bat-winged cousin we kept locked in the attic.’ I wrote that Ray Bradbury was my literary father and Steinbeck and Hemingway were my over-achieving older brothers.

About a week after the story was posted on the website, I had an email from Ray Bradbury’s youngest daughter Alexandra. She told me that her father was now in his nineties, still living in Los Angeles and almost totally blind.

‘I read him your story and it made him cry,’ she told me. ‘Dad wanted you to know that you are his son.’

I have never been prouder to be a writer.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I think it’s in my blood. My father was an English teacher and taught me in my first year at secondary school. I grew up in very small country towns where there was only one school so I couldn’t avoid my father. He could recite Shakespeare by heart and quote from famous works of literature. We didn’t have the money to buy books, but we always had library cards.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I have been writing full-time since I was 17 years old when I was awarded a journalism cadetship on a Sydney newspaper and deferred university to try my hand at being a reporter. From journalism I went to ghost-writing. I collaborated on fifteen autobiographies for well known people – ranging from pop stars to soldiers, politicians and adventurers.

I never forgot my dream of being a novelist so in 2001, when I was between ghostwriting projects, I wrote the first 117 pages of a novel, which triggered a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002. Within three hours it had been sold into more than twenty translations and my dream of being a full-time novelist came spectacularly true. It was like winning the lottery. That first book THE SUSPECT truly changed my life.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Write, write, write and when you’re sick of writing, keep going. But if you really have to stop, then begin reading. Do so very critically, deciding why a particular scene, or character, or story works. Could it have been better? How would you have changed it? It is not the truly great novels that inspired me to write. When I read them, I want to weep because I realise I’ll never be that good. What inspired me were the books that had flaws and weaknesses. I can do better than that, I thought…and set about trying.

5) Where did you find the inspiration from for The Secrets She Keeps? Can you briefly describe your writing process for the novel?

I never use the world inspiration if it involves a crime, so I like to tell people that THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is seeded in a case that I covered many years ago. A newborn baby was abducted from a hospital in Nottingham by a woman dressed a nurse. The kidnapper had faked her pregnancy and reached the point where she either came home with a baby or her boyfriend realised she’d been lying. Abbie Humphries was missing for seventeen days before was safety recovered.

The idea had been marinating in my mind for years, but I couldn’t work out how I would tell such a story, until I realised that I should narrate it from both points of view. In doing so, I could look into the minds of two women, one who has a lost a child and the other who has stolen one.

It was perhaps the most difficult book I’ve ever had to write because I had to dual narrative, swapping between Agatha and Meghan. I had to make sure that both of their storylines progressed at the same speed and were equally compelling. 

6) How many drafts did you do before you sent it to your agent and editor?

I normally write between ten and twelve drafts before I show it to my agent and another one before it goes to my editors in the UK, US and Australia.

7) The Secrets She Keeps is currently being shown on BBC1. Did you see yourself having a role in the script? What was the process like of seeing your work from computer screen to television screen?

The novel of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS was set in Barnes in South London but the TV series has moved the action to Sydney. For me this was a bonus because I could get involved in the production, sitting in the writing rooms, storyboarding the novel and commenting on the scripts. I also spent some time on set during the filming and had my Alfred Hitchdock/Stan Lee moment, a little cameo playing ‘man in cafe doing crossword’ (hint: it’s in episode 4). I think the writers, directors and producers did a wonderful job at bringing the novel to the screen. It is fast-paced, suspenseful, and totally binge-worthy. Yes, there are probably worthier and more profound dramas to be watched, but this one is like eating a stcky, sweet calorie rich dessert because you deserve a treat.

8) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

There are so many I could name, but the most influential writers in my career have been Ray Bradbury and John Irving. Bradbury for the breadth of his imagination and Irving because he could make me laugh and cry on the same page; or drop a telling detail into a paragraph that would land like a punch to the stomach.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I don’t have weekends. I write every day, even Christmas and New Year’s Day. But the first thing I do when I leave my ‘Cabana of Cruelty’, which is what my three daughters call my office, is to pour myself a glass of wine before I start preparing dinner. My wife looks after me wonderfully, but I do all the cooking.

10) When you write, do you prefer music or silence? Do you have a favourite genre of music or band/artist that you like to listen to?

I work in silence. The kookaburras and cockatoos make enough noise. But when I do listen to music, I love singer songwriters. My daughter, Alex Hope, is a very successful songwriter producer in Los Angeles, and she’s always sending me demos of the stuff she’s writing.

My new favourites are all the ‘Bens’: Ben Platt, Ben Abraham and Alec Benjamin.

Thank you so much for your time, Michael. It has been a real pleasure to interview you. I really enjoyed the television series of The Secrets She Keeps – brilliant can’t cover it!

Bio: Gold Dagger winning and twice Edgar short-listed author Michael Robotham was born in Australia in November 1960 and grew up in small country towns that had more dogs than people and more flies than dogs. He escaped in 1979 and became a cadet journalist on an afternoon newspaper in Sydney.

For the next fourteen years he wrote for newspapers and magazines in Australia, Britain and America. As a senior feature writer for the UK’s Mail on Sunday he was among the first people to view the letters and diaries of Czar Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra, unearthed in the Moscow State Archives in 1991. He also gained access to Stalin’s Hitler files, which had been missing for nearly fifty years until a cleaner stumbled upon a cardboard box that had been misplaced and misfiled.

In 1993 he quit journalism to become a ghostwriter, collaborating with politicians, pop stars, psychologists, adventurers and showbusiness personalities to write their autobiographies. Twelve of these non-fiction titles were bestsellers with combined sales of more than 2 million copies.

His partially completed first novel, a psychological thriller called THE SUSPECT, caused a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002. Soon afterwards it was  chosen by the world’s largest consortium of book clubs as only the fifth “International Book of the Month”, making it the top recommendation to 28 million book club members in fifteen countries. 

Michael’s novels have since been translated into 25 languages and have won or been shortlisted for numerous awards including:
The Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger (won) LIFE OR DEATH 2015 (shortlisted) SAY YOU’RE SORRY 2013.
The Australian Book Industry Association ABIA General Fiction Award 2018 for THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS
The Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel (won 2005 and 2008) LOST and SHATTER.
The Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel (shortlisted) 2016 LIFE OR DEATH (shortlisted) 2019 GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL)
The Crime Writer’s Association Steel Dagger (shortlisted) THE NIGHT FERRY and SHATTER.

Michael lives on Sydney’s northern beaches, where he thinks dark thoughts in his ‘cabana of cruelty’ – a name bestowed by his three daughters, who happily poke fun at the man who has fed, clothed and catered to their every expensive whim. Where is the justice?

10 Questions With… Craig Robertson

Hi everyone, and on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Craig Robertson. Craig’s gritty Glasgow thrillers are not for the faint hearted – his latest one, Watch Him Die, sounds amazing!

I was really pleased when Craig agreed to answer a few questions on what he’s been up to in lockdown, and of course, that all important writing process.

Over to you, Craig…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I was always reading when I was a child, devouring book after book. I started my crime fiction reading early with the likes of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. But my favourite author was probably Robert Louis Stevenson. It was Kidnapped that gave me that wow factor and let me fully realise what a novel could do. It remains in my top ten list of all books.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did. And I’m happy to admit that was partly because it came quite easily to me. I was never one for doing too much studying so when a subject involved reading books, and writing or analysing stories, then I was happy that I could do well at it without having to put too much work in. But how could you not enjoy a subject that meant reading great books?

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I’ve been writing full-time for ten years now. Before that, I was a journalist for 20 years. I covered some of the biggest stories during that time and was lucky enough to travel the world and meet people from all walks of life. It was a terrific apprenticeship for becoming an author, particularly writing every day as there’s no better way of honing your craft.

4) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

It probably varies every time but as a rule, I’ll come up with a premise – something that interests me, and I think I can build a book around – then go from there. I’ll spend quite a bit of time playing around with the idea, adding bits on, working out where it might go and, most importantly, if it has enough legs to sustain an entire novel. If it has, I’ll add in themes that I want to tackle and then write it.

5) Can you briefly describe your writing process? How many drafts of your novel do you write before you send it to your agent?

Again it varies from book to book, but I’ll plot out the novel before I start. Not every detail of it but most of the plot points

I’ll only do one draft before I send it to my agent. I feel one is enough because I never do a dirty first draft, I edit as I go, don’t leave anything to be filled in and by the time I hit The End it’s ready to go. It’s a throwback to being a journalist that I need to have it right when it’s done.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

That’s a tough question as there’s so many authors I admire but if pushed to name just one, I’ll go for James Ellroy. He has a wonderful ability to create atmosphere, invoke sense of place and to give flesh to characters. His prose style is unique, sparse yet evocative, and his plots are complex but complete.

7) When you leave your desk on a Friday evening, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I rarely have a weekend as such and there’s never a point where I leave the desk and think that’s me finished till Monday. Writing full-time means just that, I never completely clock off. On the other side of that dynamic is that I’ll take a day or half-day off during the week if there’s something that I want to do. But among my favourite free time things are going hillwalking or just going to the pub for a pint.

8) What are you currently reading? Have you found that your reading habits have changed since lockdown started?

I’m not reading anything right now. I’m close to finishing a book and won’t be reading anything until it’s done. I never like reading while I’m writing but will go back to Doug Johnstone’s A Dark Matter between finishing my new book and the next project. I’m about halfway through it and it’s excellent.

9) What are you currently watching on television? Have you found that your telly habits have changed since lockdown? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

The current watch is The Plot Against America but unless it picks up very soon then I’ll be giving up on it. The first two episodes have been slow going and episode three will be its last chance. Lockdown hasn’t really changed my viewing habits as I don’t watch much TV anyway and no terrestrial telly. But we’ve binge watched some very good stuff this summer; The Great, Mrs America, and I May Destroy You.

10) When you write, do you prefer music or silence? Do you have a favourite genre that you listen to?

I don’t often have music on when I write, partly because I find myself typing in time to the music and that becomes distracting. I don’t need silence either though. I used to write in a busy newsroom with people shouting at each other so noise doesn’t bother me. My musical taste is all over the place and pretty eclectic, but I’m a words man so it’s usually something lyric-driven.

Thank you so much for your time this afternoon Craig. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: A former journalist, Craig Robertson interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.

He is the author of eight novels set on the mean streets of contemporary Glasgow and one set on the not-so-mean streets of Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

He was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger for his debut Random, has twice been longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, been longlisted three times and once shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s a Sunday Times bestseller and an international bestseller.

Craig is a director of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival and runs the Bute Noir festival in Rothesay. He splits his time between Scotland and California, where his wife – bestselling author Alexandra Sokoloff – is from.

His new book WATCH HIM DIE is similarly split between Glasgow and Los Angeles. When police forces 5000 miles apart uncover video feed of a young man dying, they realise there is no way to identify him, no way to find him, no way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die.

10 Questions With… Gemma Rogers

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome to the blog today, crime writer Gemma Rogers. Gemma has three psychological thrillers out, and is published by Boldwood Books. I am a huge fan of her writing and was delighted when Gemma kindly agreed to answer a few questions on her writing journey.

Over to you, Gemma…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

As I child I loved Judy Blume but then my head was turned by the Point Horror series, Christopher Pike and I fell in love with the genre. Richard Laymon blew me away in my teenage years and I lapped up his books. I’d have to say the book that made me go ‘wow’ was Birdman by Mo Hayder. I hadn’t read anything so dark before and I absolutely loved how chilling it was. I wished I’d written it.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Yes I loved it. It was a subject that made sense to me, where I felt at home. Some of the texts chosen for GCSE year, i.e. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I hated, it was analysed to the point you couldn’t enjoy it anymore. However, I loved Macbeth. I think I’ve always been pulled towards darker stories.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I am currently writing full time. Up until recently, I worked in Human Resources, specialising in Visa & Compliance. A role that was as non-creative as you can get.

4) What is the best thing about your publishers, Boldwood Books? Why did you choose them?

I’d been trying to get an agent with my novel Stalker, it was the second time I’d sent a manuscript around. I’d had some interest but was unsigned, still am. I saw that Boldwood were a new publishers and had a powerhouse of experienced women behind the new company start-up. It was a no-brainer for me to send my work through and I was incredibly lucky they saw something that no one else had before and signed me to write four novels.

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

I normally start to grow a plot in my head, starting with either the ‘hook’ or the ending. Long dog walks and baths help me flesh out my ideas but I know if I can’t stop thinking about it, then I’m onto a winner. Very rarely will I get writers block, nothing a good walk can’t help me to fix.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

I admire lots of authors, the list would be endless but John Marrs for me, is such a fantastic storyteller, his novels grab you from the first page and don’t let go. They are so fast paced that you rush to devour them. I picked up The Good Samaritan whilst on holiday and it floored me. I told everyone I knew to read it, it was so deliciously dark but you couldn’t tear your eyes away.

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of interviews, court visits and note taking.

I don’t plan too much if I’m honest. I do character pages where I can get to know them, always with pictures so I can visualise them which helps me write scenes. The latest book is set in an industrial laundry so I found someone who’d worked in one before and could describe what it was like. I contacted a probation officer to check some things with them, because my characters are both on probation. It varies for every book. With Reckless I took advice from another author who holds a masters in Psychology, she helped me with anxiety and OCD that my main character suffers. Another author who used to be a teacher, gave me details on aspects of teaching so I could ensure it was factually correct.

8) When you leave your desk on a Friday evening, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

When I’m writing, I write every day regardless of the weekend. I’m pretty relaxed and not chained to my desk, I capitalise when I’m in the mood and spurred on to write a particular chapter or scene. Luckily I don’t have to force myself too often. I absolutely love it, it’s the best job in the world. However I’d be lying if I didn’t say I indulge in a few Captain Morgan’s on a Friday and Saturday night.

9) In the start of lockdown, what were you currently reading? Have you found that your reading habits have changed?

No not really, I normally find I read thrillers and then dip into something lighter, normally Jane Fallon, when I fancy a change. I read Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, then The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, both were excellent. More recently I’ve read The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, which was very funny, and I’m now reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell which is at times a tough read. I’ve read some fantastic books this lockdown. Initially I couldn’t get into my audio books, which for me is unheard of, although I believe many people felt the same. Thankfully my appetite came back with gusto. 

10) In the start of lockdown, what were you currently watching on television? Have you found that your telly habits have changed? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

During lockdown we watched Tiger King along with half the world it seemed. What a bonkers life he had! We watched films like Contagion and Outbreak which of course, were close to home and made it all feel very real. I love any dramas, BBC, ITV and Netflix but I found we were leaning towards movies. Most recently I have been watching the Jeffrey Epstein documentary which is almost unbelievable it’s so shocking as to how he managed to get away with it for so long.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Gemma. It was a pleasure to interview you. All the best with your writing!


Gemma Rogers lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog Buster. She writes gritty thrillers full time. Alongside writing her main passion is film, believing there is nothing better than a trip to the cinema and escaping into a story, hopefully one that doesn’t make her cry. Most of the Disney ones do! Favourite genres are horrors and thrillers, after all who doesn’t love a good scare?

When not writing or working, she loves exploring different country walks with Buster. The greener the better. Getting out in the fresh air helps her plot future storylines and characters. It’s excellent thinking time. She drinks lots of tea while she writes and is partial to all things sweet.

Second Drafts With… M. R. Mackenzie

Hi everyone, and kicking off the first of my new interviews into a writers second draft process is crime writer M. R. Mackenzie. Michael is based in Scotland, and is the author of one of my favourite novels Cruel Summer. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Over to you, Michael…

1) What do you do once you have finished your first draft?

Celebrate… and then almost immediately feel at a lose end and start developing feelings of guilt. I find that, particularly with first drafts, I speed up more and more the closer I get to the finishing line. As a result, the last few chapters tend to get written in a blur of frenetic activity, so when I finally type “The End” I’m used to churning out vast quantities of words per day, and it takes me a while to recalibrate my brain.

2) How long do you tend to leave your draft before beginning your reading of it?

It varies, but in an ideal world I like to put it to one side and work on something else before coming back to it. That’s not always possible – my medium term goal is to be able to write two books a year, and I suspect leaving a draft “on the shelf” for that long isn’t going to be feasible if I want to achieve that – but I do think it’s a good idea to put the first draft aside for as long as possible in order to be able to back to it with fresh eyes. I know from past experience that, if I come back to it too soon, I haven’t achieved enough distance from it and either can’t clearly see which parts need to change or am too precious about what I’ve written and am reluctant to make even the changes that I know need to be made.

3) What is your revision process like for your first draft?

The first thing I do is re-read the entire draft. My goals at this stage are twofold. First, I need to refresh my memory of what I actually wrote. Second, I want to experience it as a reader, without my “editing hat” on, to get a feel for how it reads, what works and what doesn’t. At this stage, I try to avoid going in with my red pen and making changes to dialogue, description etc. That sort of noodling will come later. For now, I try to look at the big picture and figure out what needs to change (and how). Because of this, instead of annotating the actual draft at this stage, I write down my observations and ideas in a separate document, concentrating on the major stuff – “this character is redundant, cut them”, “this scene is boring in its current form, re-write it”, “this plot development isn’t believable, think of something else” – rather than things like “I’ve used the word ‘exclaimed’ too many times”.

4) When you have decided you need to do a second draft, what do you do?

Depending on how radical a reworking I’m going to end up doing, I may or may not write a fresh outline to reflect the revised plot. Also, whether I write a new outline or not, I create a to-do list containing all the major changes I need to make in as close to the order in which they occur as possible, which I can then tick off as I implement them.

5) What is your writing process like for your second draft?

I start with a blank document on one screen and my first draft on the other and begin to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. This probably isn’t the most efficient way to do things, but it forces me to really think about what I’ve written and what works in its current form versus what needs a rethink. My first drafts tend to be quite messy because I write fairly quickly and try not to be too precious about the wording (because chances are it’ll change anyway), so it helps to create a clean copy as opposed to trying to perform surgery on an existing document. It also forces me to cut unnecessary words and simplify overlong phrases. I tend to overwrite, and as a result my first drafts tend to be far too long. With each successive draft and re-read, I’ll end up finding more words that I can cut, sanding it down over multiple passes until it’s as tight as I can make it. Of course, if I end up with a sentence, a paragraph or a dialogue exchange that I think I got right the first time (and stranger things have happened!), I’ll copy and paste it from the first draft.

6) Do you write in a different place when you are writing your second draft?

I tend to write all over the place anyway – in my bedroom, in my office, on the sofa, and (pre-lockdown, at least) on trains and buses – and that pattern tends not to change between drafts. One thing I do like to do, however, is change the font. It’s partly a semi-superstitious thing, but I do think the font has an impact on how I approach my writing. For my first drafts, I use a utilitarian font like Arial or Helvetica, and I find that this encourages me to get the words down quickly without paying too much attention to how they look on the page. With subsequent drafts, though, when I’m starting to refine things, I’ll switch to a more visually appealing font (Sabon LT is my favourite at the moment, and is also what I use for the paperback versions of my books) and that will make me start to pay more attention to the individual words.

Thank you for your time and for stopping by the blog, Michael. It was a pleasure to interview you. Finding out all about your second draft process has been fascinating.


M.R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has an MA in English and a PhD in Film Studies.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent producer and has overseen Blu-ray and DVD releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion, and regularly provides video essays and liner notes for new releases of cult films.

His debut novel, In the Silence, reached #2 in Amazon UK’s Scottish crime fiction bestsellers chart.

First Drafts With… Sarah Linley

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Sarah Linley, to discuss how she tackles that all important first draft process.

Her debut novel, The Trip is a psychological thriller set in Thailand, Cambodia and the Yorkshire Dales. It was published by HarperCollins in February 2020.

Over to you, Sarah…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I usually have the idea ticking over in my head for months, sometimes even years, before I start writing. First, I test whether it has ‘legs’. Is there enough story to sustain a 300-page novel? Is this a subject I feel passionately enough about to devote my time to? Novels can take years to get to publication stage so you have to find a plot and a set of characters that you will still care about by the end of the process.

Once I have settled on my story, I then plot out scenes usingindex cards. Different characters and plot lines have different colours and I shuffle them about until they’re in some sort of order (which will change). Some of the index cards will be empty at this point. I try not to over-plan because then I lose some of my passion for the project. 

Then I start writing. 3,000 words per week for 30 weeks = a 90,000 first draft (I usually fall short of this and my first drafts often come in closer to 75,000 words). I break this down into four to six sessions a week and schedule them in at the start of the week. I’m pretty disciplined with my word count!

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

Yes, so far, but it is early days. My first book, THE TRIP, was very much led by the setting. My second novel, which is yet to be published, was an attempt at writing a book with a very tight time frame (it takes place over one weekend) and the one I am writing now is much more character-driven. However, the process of actually writing them has been the same.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

I start off with very light research – asking the question is this possible? I start collecting news items of interest and following Twitter accounts etc. on the subject. I might do some online searches as I’m writing but that’s about it. 

When I have a first draft, I let it rest for four to six weeks and then I will do more indepth research. I will visit the places I am writing about, read books on various subjects and arrange some interviews with experts. This is always fun! I do this again after the second and third draft, the research becoming more focussed on each round. 

I usually find that after the third draft I am ready to let people look at it. I use beta readers and I might approach the experts I have already interviewed to read the whole thing. People are very generous with their time. I am usually doing research all the way through the process. I write contemporary fiction, but it is still surprising how much you need to research, particularly medical detail and police procedure. 

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

Sometimes the words just come to me and I get the itch to write so I have to sit down and get it down on paper. Other times it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. I don’t wait for inspiration; I have set times in my weekly calendar that I devote to writing and I switch the internet and my phone off so there are no distractions. And I don’t leave my desk until the words are written. I set quite low targets – maybe 500, 600 words so it doesn’t feel too daunting. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Slowly! I use word and I have an excel spreadsheet where I record my word count and the percentage of the book that has been written. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction to watch the word count creep up and know I am getting closer tocompletion. The percentage helps me to keep track of pace and check that I am not going too fast or too slow. I don’t always write scenes in order. If I’m struggling with a scene, I will skip it and come back to it, so my first drafts are really messy.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

Before lockdown, I liked to go to libraries and cafes to write. A library with a café is perfect! I particularly like Leeds Library because there is a beautiful café and an art gallery as well. But I’m not fussy, I will pretty much write anywhere! I wrote part of The Trip perched on cardboard boxes because I was moving houses at the time and I have been known to write in my car before or after work.

Since lockdown, I have been pretty much confined to my home study. I have pictures all over the walls of things that inspire me. I am desperate to go to a library again though!

Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you Sarah. It has been a pleasure to have you on the blog today.

Bio: SARAH LINLEY lives in West Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity in Bradford.

She spent two years backpacking around South-East Asia with her husband. Their travels inspired her debut novel, The Trip. When she is not writing, she enjoys walking in the Dales with her dad and his dog. You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @linleysarah1

10 Questions With… Sophie Bane

Hi everyone, this evening I’m delighted to welcome Sophie Bane to the blog. Sophie is a crime writer, and resides in Leeds with her family.

As a fellow subbing writer (where you are preparing your very much loved novel for agents, although mine is now back at the drawing board until I get it right), she was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me.

Over to you, Sophie…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I was a big Roald Dahl fan when I was younger, and before I knew he wasn’t the most pleasant person! Matilda was my favourite, but having read it since I started working in children’s services, it’s really very dark.

The first book I remember really, really loving was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I lost count of how many times I borrowed it from West Heath Library (RIP)…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I absolutely loved it, it was easily my favourite subject. Until I got to A Levels, and my teacher managed to make one of my all time favourite books, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, dull. I still don’t know how she managed it… That gave me a bit of an epiphany, and I decided I didn’t want to do English at university because I didn’t want to turn reading into work, I wanted to keep it as my stress relief and my escape.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

Absolutely. I write a lot of documents, and quite a few require synthesising information from different sources, and simplifying complex information, which is really helpful – at least, it is by about draft three, when I’m more willing to think ‘that’s over-written, lose those three sentences’. It can also help with the content of my writing. I work in children’s social care, and some of the things I read through my work give me a better understanding of things like the dynamics of exploitation, and how trauma can affect people, which is very useful for writing – I hope – compassionate and authentic crime fiction.

And the benefits are mutual – I can type really quickly when I’m in the writing ‘zone’, which means I can keep up in meetings and take nearly verbatim notes. Very useful during inspections, when you want to capture absolutely everything that’s said! 

4) Are you on the lookout for an agent? If so, how is your submission process going?

Yes, I’ve just started doing my research. I finished the final edits and read-throughs about a fortnight before COVID-19 lockdown, so that threw me quite off course; my daughter’s nursery closed and my wife is a keyworker, so I ended up trying to juggle childcare and my day job for a few months, and it just wasn’t possible to commit to anything else. Now I have a bit more time, I’m reading through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and working on a spreadsheet (I do love a spreadsheet!) of agents to approach. I came up with my one-line pitch/ tagline the other day as well, so feeling pretty good about that.

I’ve had a bit of practice with pitching, as I did Dragon’s Pen at Harrogate a few years ago with this novel, and got some really useful feedback and encouragement, particularly from fellow Pen victim Sarah Linley (I recommend her debut, The Beach – exactly what I wanted it to be from the pitch!). I’ve done a few more drafts since then, and got a manuscript assessment through the Crime Writers Association, so I hope that what I’m submitting now is much tighter. I also got rid of the prologue in italics – thank you to David Mark for that advice!

It’s such a shame that Harrogate can’t happen this year, I always get so much inspiration from it, and encouragement and support from writers I’ve met through the festival – Mark Billingham, Mari Hannah, David Mark and Elizabeth Haynes. Crime writers are generally awesome people, it would be great to join their gang at some point!

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

Not really. I think my best ideas come from little throwaway thoughts, rather than big concepts or themes. The novel I am about to submit was initially sparked by a tiny, two paragraph newspaper report I read while on my gap year – lots of ideas come from the ‘what if…’ thought. I think once this one is out for submission, I might read through all of my paperwork from my MSc – I studied Investigative and Forensic Psychology, and was constantly frustrated that the really interesting cases or research studies weren’t the ones I had to write essays about, so I might go back and see if anything makes me go ‘ooh, that’s a story!’ I do enjoy books which take real-life cases as inspiration – Alex Marwood does that brilliantly.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?

This is really difficult, because I have so many favourites and so many that I like for different reasons, and it changes over time as well. I don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out!

I had a big Erin Kelly phase last year, which I really enjoyed. I like her style of writing, and her books often fit into my favourite sub-genre of ‘secrets from the past coming back to bite you’. That’s the sub-genre of The First Cut, the novel that I’m about to start submitting. It’s set in Birmingham though, so the characters are a bit less posh… For a city that is so well represented in other forms of the arts, Birmingham seems to punch below its weight with crime novels set in the city. I’d like to see that change and, in a few years time, to be on a festival panel on Brummie Noir. It’s about time!

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)

I’m definitely more of a pantser than a plotter, and it wasn’t until about draft three of my current novel that I had the realisation that I needed another villain, and had already half-written one in one of my minor characters. I find that really satisfying though, to let things percolate and then think ‘ah, but what if they did this…’ It probably means more drafts, but it keeps me more interested throughout each one.

I’m not really drawn to writing police procedurals, and I think they probably require the most research. I prefer to write whatever serves the plot and the characters the best, and then check out whether what happens is plausible afterwards. Sometimes I find out that it isn’t and then there’s a bit of swearing as I rewrite, but it generally works for me.

8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?

I just finished The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, which I enjoyed. I am a sucker for a death row story as I find the inhumanity of the whole system horrific, and the book also looked at the after-effects of trauma, which interests me a lot. I haven’t seen the latest instalment in the Halloween film series, but that covers the same kind of themes, and I listened to an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis who was talking about how her character left school on 31st October, a completely normal day, and by 1st November all of her friends had been killed. I like stories that explore the impact of these extreme situations, rather than the horror being the point.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

The very first thing is to pick my daughter up from nursery and walk her home, usually as she chatters all the way! Then when she’s in bed, have something comforting and easy for tea, and pick something similarly comforting and easy on TV. My wife and I both have fairly demanding jobs which, when combined with looking after a toddler, leaves us knackered by the end of the week, so Friday nights, boring though it sounds, are just for unwinding and switching off.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

This one’s not even a question – Freddie, always Freddie. I’m a huge Queen fan, I have all of their albums, all of their solo albums (including Roger Taylor’s other band, The Cross – fairly obscure) books, DVDs, and I think I even have a few VHS tapes somewhere. I think Freddie was the greatest frontman there ever was, and I’m sorry we never got to see him grow old disgracefully and turn into a proper National Treasure, swapping outrageous anecdotes with Judi Dench on the Graham Norton Show.

My mum is a big Rod fan, and she once convinced me to go and see him at Elland Road. Worst gig I’ve ever been to! He was like the Kenny Everett parody version of himself, but for about two hours and without the humour… No thanks!

Thank you so much for your time Sophie, it was a pleasure to interview you! I wish you all the best with your submissions! Good luck!!

Bio: Birmingham born Sophie Bane lives in Leeds with her wife and daughter, and works in local government. She would like to turn Brummie Noir into A Thing, and is about to start submitting her Birmingham-set debut The First Cut to agents. She first started writing this on her gap year, but it has turned into a Trigger’s Broom of a book and bears no resemblance to those first terrible, incomplete drafts. She had the pretentious notion of beginning the very first attempt at the book in Stanley Park in Vancouver, and copying the inscription of the bench she was sat on into her notebook, so that it could be included on the dedication page when (not if – teenage arrogance) the book was published. However, in a fitting metaphor for the idealised version of writing versus reality, she forgot to bring a pen. She is now more realistic, and carries more pens.

First Drafts With… Joseph Knox

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Joseph Knox. Joseph is the author of Siren (one of my new favourite reads of this year) and I was delighted when he agreed to answer a few questions on that all important first draft process.

Over to you, Joseph…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

Going into a book, I usually undertake as long a period as possible of just reading, watching films, and listening to as much music as I can get. I’ll read everything, from thrillers to pop science, watch everything, from melodramas to gross out comedies, and listen to everything from opera to ultra-aggressive rap.

I want to get as many new ideas into my head as possible, but also I want to try and spark things that might already be in my head. Scene ideas often come to me during emotional music, which is an embarrassing admission, but a true one. During this time, which might be weeks or months, I’ll make an insane amount of notes. These might be vague plot ideas ‘what if a guy was in the boot of the car?!’ or ideas for cool-sounding lines or dialogue. They might be descriptions or they might be scene or setting ideas. And although I’m reading, watching, listening, these ideas might come from anywhere. For example, when I was in Germany in 2017, I was told about an enormous new airport that was fully built but not yet operational. Apparently someone had to go around the entire complex every day flushing the toilets to stop them from going stagnant. I’d already made a note a few weeks before about wanting to use an old hotel as a setting, but now I connected that with the idea of a large abandoned building. The result? Smiling Man is set in a large abandoned hotel. 

Slowly but surely these notes reach a tipping point where they kind of just start spilling onto the page. From there I move really slowly, rewriting a first sentence or paragraph until I’m blue in the face, then I inch forwards bit by bit. Weirdly I don’t really look at the notes I made unless I paint myself into a corner and need an idea. It’s a great safety net to have because very often I’ll look at them and go ‘Oh yeah!’

One funny thing that’s been true about all my books: I always start with what I’m certain is the first scene, but it NEVER is. I always need to go back afterwards and add usually two or three scenes before it – but of course I find that out later…

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

It’s always different for me. My first book was written across eight years, in evenings, lunch hours and weekends, around a busy day job. The second was written mainly in a four-month sabbatical I took from work. That was thrilling because it was the first time I’d ever been able to write like a job, but I still had the security of my job in the back of my mind. For the third I quit my day job, and had a horrible time writing it.

The pressure that this was now my work really got to me in a weird way, and I ended it gutted and worn out. I then wrote a fourth book while travelling the world trying to recover. Ha, I was subsequently told that this book was so negative that it’s publication would end my writing career – so it remains in a drawer! It helped me recover, though. It got all my weird fear out onto the page harmlessly and cleared the decks for me to write my new book. That one started completely differently too, because I’d just had eye surgery to address a longstanding sight problem, so I began writing it as recorded voice notes until my eyes were strong enough for the screen.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

Really, it’s just the note process I outlined above. Of course I have to look things up as I go – and I’ll often try to buy factual books dealing with the things I’m writing about (for example, in my first book the detective goes undercover, so I read books about that).

I can’t really effectively research before writing because I don’t have a plan. I usually have an idea for the opening, perhaps some scenes along the way and a sense of the ending, so I wouldn’t know what to look up ahead of time.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

With my first book I was working on it for most of my twenties. With the second and third I had tight deadlines, so once I had my notes, I was straight into them. For my latest, I took a long break – hoping to refill the well so to speak. It worked because my latest book was surprisingly much more fun and easy to write. It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but sometimes it’s helpful to walk away for a while.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

I never write a First Draft per se. I know (and envy!) a lot of writers who write a first draft as fast as possible and then begin fixing it afterwards. That’s a great way to work because it’s much easier to fix something crap than it is to come up with something brand new. I just can’t do it. So I write a first sentence and rewrite it until I think it’s the best I can do, then the next, etc etc. Once the chapter’s finished I’ll rewrite that as well, just making it as smooth as possible. I’m much more interested in tone and atmosphere than plot – so that’s the feeling I’m trying to create. That’s the feeling that inspires me to keep going. I find that when I just plough on with ‘then this happens, then this happens’ I lose interest. My slow drafting process is a way of convincing myselfthat there’s something true there. If I do that, I can work on it endlessly. It means I rarely deliver a first draft in the conventional sense – my first draft might take six months rather than one – but usually what I end up with is close to the finished article. My editor now trusts me to work this way, knowing that he might not see early pages, but that when he gets it there will hopefully be less work for him to do.

It’s all about where you want the inevitable stress. If you can deliver that first draft, some of the pressure’s off and you’ve got something to fix/work with alongside your editor. For me, I would much rather be delivering something as close to finished as possible because I want them to see the work with fresh eyes rather than my jaded ones that have read a hundred different versions of the same story. The problem is, that means it’s all on your head – and you live alone with the fear that it might be rotten until they finally read it.

As ever with writing, there’s no right or wrong way. It will be nightmarish and joyous all the same.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I really like to have somewhere to go and write. Sirens was written in a million different coffee shops and lunch hours etc, but Smiling Man was written in the offices where I worked, after hours. Sleepwalker was written in a library and my new book was started in a hotel room I rented (so I could just focus on it all day every day for a couple of weeks to get it off the ground), I did write the majority of it at home during lockdown though. In all cases, I’ll work on it at home in the evenings/weekends as well. It’s just sometimes good to have a routine of leaving your home for a place of work, of sitting with other people to kind of guilt you into not lying around doing nothing.

As this interview shows, though, I’m still pretty much just winging it and making everything up as I go along. My fundamental writing advice is to remember that that’s what everyone is doing!

Thanks Ellie, and keep going with your own stuff! No problem Joseph, it was a pleasure to have you on the blog today – thank you for your time.

Bio: Joseph Knox was born and raised in and around Stoke and Manchester, where he worked in bars and bookshops before moving to London. He runs, writes and reads compulsively. His debut novel SIRENS was a bestseller, published by Transworld in the UK in spring 2017. It is the first in a series featuring Detective Aiden Waits. THE SMILING MAN, published in March 2018 also by Transworld is the second in the DC Aidan Waits series and is a Sunday Times Bestseller.

The Resident… A Q&A with David Jackson

Hi everyone, continuing my new interview approach, I’m speaking today to David Jackson about his upcoming novel, The Resident. With one week to go until this book is out, I was delighted when David agreed to answer a few questions.

Over to you, David…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

I read many years ago about a woman in Japan who sneaked into someone’s house and hid in his closet. The owner discovered his secret resident only when he set up security cameras to find out why his food kept disappearing. It was one of those things that stuck in my mind as a brilliant seed for a novel. My original idea for THE RESIDENT was to have someone hiding in an attic, who then witnessed a crime taking place in the house below, but I quickly decided that it would be much more interesting to turn that person into a serial killer, and to follow his exploits as he moved through an array of connected attics and played games with the occupants living beneath him.

2) How did you create your main character Thomas? Did you enjoy writing him?

THE RESIDENT is the only book I have written entirely from a single point of view. Usually, I like to ‘head-hop’. That presented its own challenges, but it also had the benefit of allowing me time to explore Thomas’s psyche in much greater depth than I would otherwise. What I hope the reader will find in Thomas is a fully-rounded character who, despite being a serial killer, has a vulnerable side and a tragic past that may even provoke some sympathy for him.

3) The book is different from your Nathan Cody series. What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

Each one of my previous books has been part of a series, which has pros and cons. Although a series book gives me a ready-assembled set of characters to play with, it can also be limiting in terms of what I can do with them. And while loyal fans will usually be eager to read the next instalment, there are many who are reluctant to pick up a series book if they haven’t read the ones that came before. THE RESIDENT gave me an opportunity to try something new in the form of a standalone, and to be honest, I found it incredibly liberating. I think I have built upon a strong premise in THE RESIDENT, and I hope that readers will enjoy it at least as much as my earlier books.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

For my research, I broke into an abandoned house and I spent a long time living in my attic. Believe it or not, both of those things are true. The trespass into a derelict property happened when I was very young, and perhaps the less said about that the better. And when I say I’ve spent many hours in my attic, that’s only because we have a loft conversion which is now my study. Aside from that, not much research was required. Oh, except for finding out about the decomposition of corpses. . .

5) How does your writing process for the Nathan Cody series differ from the writing process for The Resident?

It doesn’t, really. I plan it out, I write it from start to finish, one draft, and then I send it to my editor – who promptly rips it apart and sends it back.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, but I’ve never tried it. I use Word for the actual writing, but at the planning stage I’ll use Notes for my initial musings and then PowerPoint to lay out a storyboard.

Thank you for your time David, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your upcoming novel. The Resident will be released on Thursday 16th July.

Bio: David Jackson’s debut novel, Pariah, was Highly Commended in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Awards. He has written a string of internationally published crime thrillers since then, including the bestseller Cry Baby, nominated by Amazon as one of their Best Books of the Year. The Guardian newspaper said of his work: ‘Recalls Harlan Coben – though for my money Jackson is the better writer’. When not murdering fictional people, David spends his time as a university lecturer or giving writing workshops. He lives on the Wirral with his family and a cat called Mr Tumnus.

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