First Drafts With… Tim Weaver

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Tim Weaver to the blog today. Read on as he answers my questions on that all important first draft process.

“Here’s Tim on a research trip to Torcross, Devon, which provided the inspiration for the village that his character David Raker grew up in.”

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

I’m just editing my first ever standalone at the moment, so the process for that has been slightly different, but with the David Raker series, I generally start with the idea for a mysterious and unexplained disappearance. I try to challenge myself (and Raker, as the missing persons investigator) by making the disappearance easy to pitch but difficult to solve: so, in Vanished, a man disappears on a Tube train; in Never Coming Back, a family vanish in the middle of making their dinner; in Fall from Grace, a man goes to the back of his house to fetch firewood and never returns; in No One Home, a whole village disappears overnight. At the beginning, I have no idea how or why that person or people have vanished, or how – I tend to just figure it out as I go.

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

Yes, generally I’ll stick to the same process for each book, as described above. There soon become big differences between books, though, not just in terms of the actual storylines themselves, but in how easily (or not!) the plot comes together. That’s the downside with not planning: there’s a lot of experimenting, and sometimes you have no idea how well, or how badly, an idea is going to work until you get there.

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

I usually spend a month researching and 10 months writing. Research is a big part of the process for me – talking to experts, reading books, making notes, travelling to different places, taking photographs – but I also make sure not to let it define the experience too much. What I mean is, research is important because, without it, your reader will have a hard time believing the world you’re presenting them – it needs to feel realistic, believable, like it exists (even if it doesn’t) and characters need to behave in ways that makes sense within the context of who they are and what they do. But, in a work of fiction, and especially in a thriller, your number one job is to entertain, so you have to strike the right balance. If you pour too much research into your novel – and it can be tempting, believe me – it starts to feel more like an instruction manual.

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

As I said before, I don’t plan, so once my research is done, I start writing. After the research phase, I’ll have a little more insight into the vague direction I’m heading – perhaps even where I might eventually end up – but not much other than that. Not planning, as discussed, can be stressful, but I think the positives far outweigh the negatives: in my opinion, characters don’t come alive until you’ve got them on the page, thinking and interacting, and that organic process of just letting them go and flourish, not only improves them but improves the plot. It’s easier to surprise the reader – especially important in a thriller – when you’re busy surprising yourself.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

There’s no magic bullet for me. I write, chapter by chapter, in a linear fashion. I take longer than some writers to get to a first draft, because I can’t move on from one chapter until I’ve got the previous one as good as possible, but it means my first draft tends to be a little more up together. But not perfect. Never, ever perfect. Completing a first draft of your book is only the first baby step on the road to a finished version. But I love working with my editor after that. It’s hard work but very rewarding.

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

At my desk, in my office at home. I can’t write on trains or in cafes. I can only work at home. I like quiet, so don’t listen to music, and I try to write from 9am to 5pm every week day. That picks up a bit when you’re closing in on deadline, but generally I try to do a fairly ordinary working week, and try to achieve 1500 words per day. Until Book 4, Never Coming Back, I worked as a journalist during the day (and sometimes night!) and that was very hard: during those years, I just grabbed hours where I could.

Thank you for taking part in my First Drafts interview today, Tim. It’s been a pleasure.

Bio: Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of the David Raker missing persons series. His novels have twice been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and he’s been nominated for a National Book Award and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He also wrote, presented and produced the chart-topping podcast, Missing, about why people disappear and how they are found. He lives in Bath and is currently putting the finishing touches to his eleventh book, which will be his first ever standalone novel.

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