First Drafts With… Mary Torjussen

Good evening everyone, and today in the First Draft series, I’m delighted to welcome fellow Liverpool writer Mary Torjussen.

Mary has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University, and has written two psychological thrillers to date!

She then joined me to have a quick chat about how her novel begins as that first draft.

Over to you, Mary.

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

For each of my novels the idea for the beginning and the end of the book have come at the same time. I always talk to one of my writer friends, Fiona Collins (her latest book is You, Me and the Movies) about the idea for a while and thrash out a possible plot. She and I met online a year before we got published, then we both received contracts within a couple of days of each other. We each swap outlines and drafts as we’re working.

Sometimes an idea can’t go any further, so I make a note of it in case something occurs to me later. So I always know the opening scenes and know the closing scenes (though the latter can change so that what I thought was the close is actually a couple of chapters before the end) and have to start to work out what would happen in the middle of the book. I like to throw every kind of obstacle at my heroine – psychological, financial, emotional and practical. If she’s isolated from friends, all the better! 

Once I have a broad idea of the story and the problems the heroine will face, then I started to map out the chapters. I went to a workshop with Sophie Hannah a few years ago and she said that she tends to write a page per chapter, outlining what will happen in that chapter. She said she showed this document to her sister and they’d talk it through to check there was enough tension and that the timeline worked. I thought that was great advice and I do this now. Anything can be written on that page as it’s just notes at that stage, so I write down what happens in the chapter, what we learn about the characters, whether there’s a cliff-hanger – if there is then I tend to play around with the wording at this point, the location, the date/time, the weather maybe. It means that when I come to write that chapter I’m less likely to freeze up at the thought of a blank page. I keep hold of that document and as I’m working on the book I tend to add notes to pages – in red ink if they are chapters I’ve already typed up.


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

Yes, I’ve followed this process for every book. Of course the plot can change, though, but usually it’s what happens in the middle of the book that changes.

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

When I was writing The Girl I Used to Be I spoke to Graham Bartlett, who was the Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove police, who advises Peter James and other authors on their novels; he was a great help. 

The heroine of that novel, Gemma, worked as an estate agent, so when I had queries about what she’d do in her daily work, I asked for help from estate agents on an online forum. 

At another point I needed to find out something about probation officers so asked again on a forum; the woman who answered is now a great friend of mine – her name is Caz Finlay and her first book is out in June 2019.

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

Once I have got the story planned out, I write very quickly, but I have to admit if I can’t get it planned, it can take ages to get going. I think I should just start writing anyway – I always plan to do that but it doesn’t happen!


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 


I have a page-per-chapter of plans handwritten beforehand, then I create that document on Word. I’ll type up the chapter heading and then type up the notes I’ve made for each chapter. This gives me confidence as it means I have about eighty pages before I’ve actually started. Every writer seems to need a way of avoiding that blank page and that’s mine!


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


I like to write the first draft in my local library. I like the quiet buzz of conversation and knowing people are around. It means there are no distractions and I can’t use my phone. Once I’m editing, I’m happy to work at home; it’s a different process as I’m trying to correct something, rather than create it, so I need to be able to concentrate in a different way. I also read the drafts out loud, so that has to be done when I’m on my own in the house. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to hear a sentence. I love audio books, so am always aware of how it will sound to the listener. When I’m proofreading I use my Kindle and find it much easier to see errors that way.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Mary. It has been a real pleasure to find out all about your first draft process.

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