First Drafts With… Kate Simants

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime and psychological thriller author Kate Simants to the blog.

Although I’m fairly new to Kate’s novels, I was delighted when she agreed to answer a quick question or three about her writing process and how that all important first draft is written.

Over to you, Kate…

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

I tend to have a vague seed of an idea, though I couldn’t really isolate where they come from. Generally absorbed from the world, is probably the closest I could come to explaining that part!

Then there’s a series of ‘what ifs’. So, taking an example off the top of my head – the blood-chilling story that was in the news a little while ago about the policeman who was working undercover with the climate activists and ended up having a long relationship with one of the activist women who had no idea he was a cop. I’d fire a load of what ifs at that and see what sounded most interesting. What if another officer knew that woman personally, or they were a family member? What if a major climate event changed someone’s mind? What if the policeman killed someone during the undercover work; what if the activist did? What if one of the activists knew? What if they all knew?

I do this with as many questions as I can think of, even if they seem inane – no-one else is going to see this so it doesn’t have to be in any way well-written. Then it starts to coagulate around certain themes.

At the same time, I’m thinking about character. Personally I can forget a plot of a book I’ve loved in about a week, but memorable characters stay there forever. So I get thinking about what got my characters to where they are, what they want, what’s important to them, and most importantly, how they have to change.

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

I certainly don’t have a rigid structure for how I go about writing but I suppose as creature of habit we’re likely to replicate previous patterns.

I do like to stress-test the initial idea and see what I can do to it to make it come alive, but it’s also very organic always. I do have to rein in the research a lot of the time though – I used to be a TV researcher so I have a tendency to get very deep into things. There’s a fine line between meticulousness and procrastination.

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

Both of my published books, Lock Me In and A Ruined Girl, contain a lot of research that I had done in my day jobs. Specifics of the police work in Lock Me In needed fact checking, but I had worked on Crimewatch UK and other police-based shows and so I’d already absorbed a lot of the feel and culture of the police.

A Ruined Girl involved children’s homes, which is something I’d done an undercover documentary on, so again, I’d been there, worked inside children’s homes, and that ticked a lot of the research boxes. The lead character in A Ruined Girl is a probation officer though, so I had to track down a source or two – but as it turns out I knew quite a few ex-probation officers who were willing to help.

You do have to be willing to put yourself out there a bit with research, making phone calls and asking for people’s time, but readers (especially, dare I say it, crime readers) expect you to know your stuff, so it all pays off!

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

Depends on the deadline! At the moment I’ve gone through a few outlines before settling on one, and I’m straight down to it. Like a lot of working parents I’ve lost a huge amount of time this year because of coronavirus so now the children are back at school, I’m glued to my laptop.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Once I have an outline, I make a chapter plan. I know loads of people who swear by software like Scrivener but I haven’t quite found the time to properly try it out, so I create this plan on a spreadsheet.

I do this partly so I can see the trajectory of it clearly and to make sure I don’t dawdle on the page – if a character has to meet another character and discover a piece of evidence within one chapter, I can allocate say 1,500 words to the scene and aim for that. It helps me with pacing.

I don’t necessarily plan out the chapters of the entire thing before I get started but I like to at least have a clear idea of what happens and when in the next handful of scenes.

Usually I go back and edit as I go, but I think that maybe takes too long, so the plan this time is to just write to the end and then go and make it sound nice! I think it’s part of the joy of it to experiment a bit with process too – how do I know I’m doing it right unless I try out other methods?

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

At my kitchen table. My house is tiny so there’s no real room for a desk just for writing, but my table has a view to my little garden and that’s fine.

In the last year or so I have forced myself to become a morning person – I’d tried for such a long time to write in the evenings after the kids were in bed but it never really worked, so now I use the other end of the day. I’m up at 5.45, which makes a huge amount of difference.

I make a cafetiere of coffee, start a session on my internet blocker (I use Freedom), put some music on, and get going.

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog this morning Kate. Finding out all about your writing and your draft process was really interesting!

Good luck with your writing! 🙂

Bio: Kate Simants is a writer of psychological thrillers and crime fiction. After a decade working in the UK television industry, specialising in investigative documentaries, police shows and undercover work, Kate relocated from London to Bristol to concentrate on writing.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University (2007) and another in Crime Fiction from the University of East Anglia (2018), where she was the recipient of the UEA Literary Festival Scholarship. Her first novel LOCK ME IN was shortlisted for the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and is published by HarperCollins.

Kate won the 2019 Bath Novel Award with her second novel THE KNOCKS, which is published by Viper under the title A RUINED GIRL (released August 27th 2020). Kate’s agent is Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates.

One thought on “First Drafts With… Kate Simants

  1. I enjoyed reading this brief interview with Katie Simants. In particular her view on character;
    “So I get thinking about what got my characters to where they are, what they want, what’s important to them, and most importantly, how they have to change.”
    I would agree since many authors work on and write about a major character that drives a whole series of books, one example being Rebus.
    I think readers fall in love with the character more than the plot.
    Great interview.


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