First Drafts With… Holly Seddon

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Holly Seddon. Holly is one half of my favourite podcasts for authors (link below), and I was delighted when she agreed to come and chat about how she writes that all important first draft.

Over to you, Holly…

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

It always starts with a fairly simple idea. ‘What if… x’. In the case of my latest novel, The Hit List, the initial spark was ‘what if you found your name listed as a target on a murder for hire website?’

When I think an idea has potential, I immediately share it with one of my best friends – and Honest Authors co-host – Gillian McAllister. We always talk through our ideas and help each other check our workings out! If we were at school, it’s fair to say we’d have been separated by now because we chat constantly. But all that chatting about our ideas genuinely improves them. 

Then I start to flesh the idea out, thinking about characters and setting. In the case of The Hit List, I went through a wide range of possible protagonists but realised that the real drama would come from it happening to a very normal person. So rather than a hacker (one of my first ideas), it was eventually Marianne, a secondary school teacher.  

I always go through quite a few outlines, often there’ll be *something* missing, but it’ll take a while and a lot of iterations to find what it is. Then I start to draft… always hoping that I’ll get it right first time. 

I never get it right first time.

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

No, it’s an evolving thing. Partly because I learn the tricks of the trade, partly as I am governed by deadlines and partly because every book is different, with different challenges and possibilities.

Writing during a pandemic with home schooling and a house constantly full has been a whole new thing… I’m hardly alone in this, but it’s definitely impacted everything including how and when I write, and how much headspace I can get. 

Currently, for the first time since writing my debut before I had an agent, I’m getting to the end of draft two and I’ve still not shown a soul. Not one chapter, nothing. Ordinarily I’d have shown my agent chunks along the way but for this version, I’ve just really wanted to get my head down and get it done. So I feel quite vulnerable and scared but if I pull it off, I think I’ll feel all the more proud. And if I don’t, I’ll ask you to take this blog post down and never mention it again. 

(I’m joking.)

(I’m mostly joking.)

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

Well. I am a frustrated historian and a former journalist, so I can very easily lose myself in research. To prevent this, I basically don’t research during the first draft except the absolutely necessary bare bones. There’s also little point learning intricate information about e.g. a particular character’s job when it could so easily change between drafts. Research is a treat saved up for editing! (God, I sound like such a dork.)

In terms of research techniques, it really varies, but as I live in the Netherlands and write about the UK, it’s mainly done online. I have subscriptions to various library services, The British Newspaper Archives, things like that but if I’m stuck, I appeal for expert help on Twitter as sometimes there’s no substitute for asking a human some specific questions.

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

I’m always bloody writing. It’s how I understand the world and how I develop my ideas (for books and just in general!). I try not to go off half-cocked and start on a draft before nailing the outline (even though the outline will always change) but I’m always writing something. My outlines often take the form of prose too, and sometimes so do my notes to self.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Slowly, slowly, with lots of false starts and then fast. I generally get some way into a first draft and then realise something is not working and start again. I have to just accept this because it happens every time. Sometimes it happens more than once, and it’s unfortunately a crucial part of the process for me. I can’t fully understand an idea until I’m inside it, but only then can I see its faults. 

Once those false starts are out of the way – and the realisation they’re wrong is always accompanied by some light crying and heavy drinking – the draft tends to come together quickly. I write every day, generally around 1,000 words but sometimes more. I write chronologically, I can’t skip around. And it’s fairly polished but everything will always need editing.

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

In bed! We have a lovely office that my husband is mostly using at the moment as he has a lot of calls and online meetings, but even when it’s free I still prefer to write in my bed. Like Barbara Cartland.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Holly. I can really relate to your writing process of false starts – I’m exactly the same!

Bio: Holly Seddon is the international bestselling author of TRY NOT TO BREATHE, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES and LOVE WILL TEAR US APART. THE HIT LIST will be published in August 2020 in ebook, and April 2021 in paperback.

After growing up in the English countryside obsessed with music and books, Holly worked in London as a journalist and editor. She now lives in Amsterdam with her family and writes full time. 

Alongside fellow author Gillian McAllister, Holly co-hosts the popular Honest Authors Podcast. You can find her on Twitter @hollyseddon, Instagram and Facebook @hollyseddonauthor.

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