First Drafts… with Maggie James

Hi folks, second up today on First Draft series is psychological thriller writer Maggie James. Maggie sets all her novels in hometown of Bristol, and joins me to chat about her first draft process. Over to you, Maggie.

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

I start with pen and paper, writing down a one-sentence idea for the plot. For example, ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes, my first novel, began with the following idea: how would it feel to discover as an adult you’d been kidnapped as a child? Pretty angryand confused, I’d say! And so the character of Daniel Bateman came into being. I then needed to answer the following questions: who kidnapped him and why? (Enter Laura Bateman…) What led Daniel to discover the truth? How does the story end? What is the central theme?


Once I have the initial idea I make notes, seeking to expand that first sentence into a paragraph, a page,two pages, and so on, until I have the basic outline for the story. I then set up a file in the writing software I use (Scrivener) and split my notes between chapters; I also type up some ideas about my characters – age, interests, temperament, etc. I keep working on all of that until I’m ready to start writing, or until I’m sick of plotting! Often it’s the latter. I do find that once I get going, I tweak the original storyline anyway, so planning in great detail would be a waste of time. I do, however, think I need to plot more tightly with future novels.


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

I find it evolves with each novel. ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’ was written pre-Scrivener, and I used an Excel spreadsheet to guide me – a line for each chapter, and a tab for each character. Very rudimentary! I first used Scrivener for ‘The Second Captive’, and it proved a godsend; I’ve used it ever since. I can structure my files however I wish, and have my manuscript, notes and research files all in one place. I aim to get more streamlined and efficient with my writing process, because I don’t spend enough time plotting, which means way too many weeks editing the mess that results.


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

It depends on the novel, but I’m lucky in that I don’t write historical fiction, or some other genre that requires masses of research, because it’s not my favourite way to spend time. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I’d rather be writing or editing. If I know any experts in the field I’m researching, I’ll ask them; ex-police officers I know have proved very helpful when it comes to police procedure. Otherwise I turn to Google and see what comes up; I try to ensure that any information I use comes from a reputable source. There’s a lot of crap on the Internet, as we all know.


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

Straightaway. When I’m on a roll with a book, I want to get stuck in as soon as possible. I don’t see any point in waiting.


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

As I’ve mentioned above, I use Scrivener to write my novels, and that won’t change anytime soon. By the time I start to write, I’ve split the plot over thirty chapters, or thereabouts, so I know what to include in each one. Helps prevent the dreaded writer’s block! I write in a linear fashion, starting at chapter one and working my way through until the end. I aim to write a chapter, or around 2-2,500 words – whichever comes first – per day.


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

I’ve always been lucky enough to have a spare room at home that I can use as an office. I’ve recently moved house, so that’s not a reality at present while I get sorted, although it soon will be. In the meantime, Iwork every day on my seventh novel by sitting at my living room table or propped up in bed, typing on my laptop.

Thank you for your time Maggie, and for visiting my blog, it’s been a pleasure.

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