First Drafts With… Helen FitzGerald

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Helen FitzGerald to the blog, to discuss her approach to the all important first draft process. You can find her biography below as well.

Over to you Helen

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

“Beginning” the next book sounds like a fairly straightforward thing – it’s anything but! First I need to know what the book is about, and that’s a long, agonising process with myriad twists and turns. I mine a mixture of personal experience, news stories and (far too much) reality TV, and somehow, out of that, one particular idea will emerge.

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

I always do lots of research for my books, but never as much as for ASH MOUNTAIN. There are lots of reasons. The size of the tragedy, for one thing; I owed it to those who have suffered in fires to get my facts right. Also, the fact that it was set in a fictional small Victorian town, similar to the one I grew up in. I have friends and family who still live there. I wanted to get it right for them too.

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

If I’m writing a crime book set in the world of prisons or probation officers, I’m never off the phone to former colleagues, asking questions about anything from breach procedures to the texture of custard served in prison canteens. If the world of the book is one I’m less familiar with, I’ll do a lot of Googling and YouTubing. For every new novel, I buy a lined, soft-covered A4 notebook, and it’s always with me in case I have an idea I want to scribble down.

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

Planning and writing aren’t really two separate processes for me. From the seed of the first idea, I’ll be writing lines and pages, even though I don’t yet know where or how I’ll use them, or if I’ll use them at all. I always have a rough idea of where I’m heading with any particular story, but I don’t force myself to come up with all the answers until I absolutely have to. I like my books to surprise me, and they always do.

5. How does the draft form on the screen?

For the first 20-30,000 words I’ll write chapter by chapter, re-reading yesterday’s pages before starting today’s. When the book gets longer and more complex, I’ll sometimes open separate files where I can play around or experiment with ideas before adding them to the main body. It’s a psychological thing; by using a separate file as a sandpit, you don’t feel the intimidating presence of the rest of the text. It encourages you to be bolder.

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

I have three principal places where I physically write. In descending order of importance they are:

1.      The desk in my office, which was the front bedroom of the house and which overlooks our lovely little street.

2.      One of several cafés with comfy seats and good cappuccinos.

3.      My bed.

4.      The couch in the sitting room, probably with Housewives of Orange County on TV in the background.

5.      The kitchen table, but only if there’s nobody else in the house, because they’re noisy bastards.

Thank you for visiting my blog Helen. Finding out all about your perspective on your first draft process has been fascinating!


Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of Dead Lovely (2007) and nine other adult and young adult thrillers, including My Last Confession (2009), The Donor (2011) and most recently The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Helen has worked as a criminal justice social worker for over ten years. She is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: