First Drafts With… Nick Quantrill

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Nick Quantrill. Nick is based in Hull and with his new Joe Geraghty novel coming out tomorrow, I was delighted when he kindly set aside some time to answer some questions on his first draft process!

Over to you, Nick…

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

Essentially, I start thinking about a new book once I hit the half-way point in the one I’m actually working on. I think it’s a mental thing – if I’m going downhill and working towards the final scenes, I can start to let my mind about what might come next. Usually at this stage I’ll have several ideas on the boil, but it’s likely one will start to come to the fore.

I’ll start things off by doing the initial research I think is absolutely necessary, usually via a pile of books and online sources, but the key thing is a fresh note pad and giving myself permission to doodle and think. I’ll sketch out a few ideas for scenes and try to develop the skeleton I’m going to hang the novel on. My latest is ‘Sound of the Sinners’, the fourth in the Joe Geraghty Private Investigator series.

Having last seen Joe walking away from our sharedhome city of Hull a few years ago, I immediately had questions which required answers – where has she been for the last six years? Why has he come back to Hull after leaving it behind? I also knew that it had to be a suitable jumping in point for new readers without a load of back-story and act as a fresh start.

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

Pretty much. I know of writers who mix it up when it comes to writing their novels, but I see my process as refining what’s gone before. My aim (and hope) is that I nail the planning element more efficiently each time, mainly so I don’t waste so much time and so many words when I eventually figure out how it should go. I’m probably a planner as a writerand need to have a fair idea of how the novel will play out before properly attacking it. What has been a massive help with the current work in progress is Alexandra Sokoloff’s ‘Stealing Hollywood’.

It takes the basic structure of films we all know (or can quickly watch), like ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and explains how that knowledge can be applied to a novel. It’s proved a revelation in terms of helping me refine my planning and nailing down a structure.

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

I tend to write fairly low-level research books. After writing an unpublished police procedural novel, I knew I wanted to step away from something that relied heavily on being ‘correct’. Creating a Private Investigator gave me many of the same things, but without the same deference to the law. Similarly, I’m not really interested in forensics beyond the basics, my interests lie elsewhere. The novel I’m currently working on looks at the illegal rave scene in the late 1980s and the world of podcasts.

I’m mainly researching via books, online resources and listening. Research is often a pleasure, but you don’t want it to be too much of one. To stop myself going off on a tangent, I try to only research when a specific need or question arises.

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

It’s essentially immediately afterwards. The planning element will have been an ongoing process running alongside writing my current novel, so once it’s off my desk, it’s out of my mind. I can then immerse myself in the world of the new story and hit the ground running.

Often, I’ll play around with the opening scenes for a while, the first 10k-15k. A lot of writers say that bit is the easiest, as you can often see those attention-grabbing scenes in your head. I can’t. It takes me a while to work myself into a novel and get something I’m happy with.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

From talking to other writers, I have a slightly weird system… I’ve essentially invented my own homemade, dirt cheap version of Scrivener or similar software. I break each scene down and always sketch them out on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, often right down to the dialogue.

I certainly think about them in terms of beginning, middle and end, as well as what it’s purpose is within the wider story.

I then write the scene on a separate Microsoft Word document along with a number and title eg ’01 – Joe visits the crime scene and is attacked’. Once I’ve completed the scene, I paste it into a master document containing the full novel. The reason I do this is that when I look in the folder with the individually numbered scenes in it, I’ve got an instant overview of the novel and its structure.

It makes it so much easier to move scenes around and edit, both on the go and at the end of the first draft.

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

Sadly, I don’t have news of an amazing office space to share with you. I write the bulk of my words on my laptop, which is balanced on my knee in my front room. Routine and discipline is important, as it’s like running a marathon, so it works fine for me. Usually, the house is empty when I write, so I control the environment.

Like many, lockdown changed circumstances, so I’ve had to learn how to share the space with my wife (teaching from home) and my daughter (trying to learn from home). It’s fine, and people have had to grapple with far more serious situations, but maybe one day I’ll get that amazing office space to myself…

Thank you for visiting the blog today Nick – finding out all snout your first draft process was really interesting!

Nick’s new novel ‘Sound of the Sinners’ is published by Fahrenheit Press, 28th August.



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