Yes, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, anything by Wodehouse, Pride and Prejudice, the latest Discworld novel and I usually find a great writing book at the Winchester Writers’ Conference.
How many drafts do you produce?
Regardless of what I’m writing, at least three. I need to get the story down first, then edit it for sense and structure and make sure I’ve got the story right, before going through it for spelling mistakes, grammar and so on. Novels take more drafts as there’s so much more material to keep on top of so obviously need more work. Editing for story structure and sense is really important here. For scripts, I need to be able to “hear” the voices in my head once I’ve got the script prepared. It has to “feel” real.
When writing, do you “see” images or “hear” voices first?
I hear characters speaking. I heard Eileen’s strident voice before “picturing” her. I think of my creative mind as being like my parents’ old huge television set where the sound came in first, followed by the pictures, you had to give it time to warm up before getting those pictures and sometimes you needed to give the box a clout on the side to make sure the pictures did come through. To date I have not yet had to whack myself around the head to force through my “internal vertical hold” but I suspect that may only be a matter of time! Having said that, I think hearing voices is great for dialogue writing and you can get a good idea (though not always the right idea) of how someone looks from how they sound. Most of the time you’ll be on the right lines but there will be an exception to the rule that stumps you from time to time. Seeing pictures I suppose could give pointers as to how someone is likely to speak but doesn’t allow for people who’ve “bettered” themselves (or are seeming to put on a false front).
Do you have fixed routines for writing?
Generally I write in the evenings (and use odd times during the day to catch up with professional reading, emails and son on). I find I switch into “writing mode” as if I’d never left it. I think it would be easy to let your writing go if you don’t put particular slots of the day aside for writing. And I have found the more I write, it’s easier to get ideas, to trigger other ideas and it is a joy finding potential new markets. Things that would once have taken a few weeks to sort out, I can now do in under a week. Being at the computer promptly is crucial for me – there’s always loads to do.
Do you write directly to screen or does a proper pen and paper have to come into your work somewhere?
It depends on what I’m working on. Short stories do tend to be written directly to screen. For novels, I like using a pen and paper and use this as a chance to just write the story, switching off my internal editor. I use the typing up as my first edit, to delete the unintended repetitions (there are always some!), to start checking that my story structure makes sense. Poems I often draft on a scrap piece of paper. Scripts I tend to do direct to screen. I can see the advantages of direct to screen but wouldn’t want to lose the physical act of writing altogether.
Do you write daily?
Generally, yes. I don’t always do a stint on all the things I work on in one go but I like to make sure I’ve written something. I like to take time off for holidays, certain family birthdays, including mine (!), but at least I can plan my writing around these and I usually end up doing more in the few days before these events and again afterwards so my word count probably averages out to much the same number as if I did write on a strictly daily basis. I also think because I “allow” for holidays like this I find my writing routine easy to stick to.
What part of a story/novel/script do you enjoy writing the most? The first or final drafts?
I must admit I feel a certain amount of relief once I’ve written the first draft as I know I then I have something to work with and knock into shape. I know I overwrite so I know a lot will have to come out but there is satisfaction to be had “feeling” your story tighten up as you get rid of repetitions, tighten up the prose and so on. What can be tough is knowing what is the final draft. There can be a temptation to keep working on something and never let it go out into the big bad world! I love coming up with the idea in the first place and then getting it on to paper, editing is a joy for the reasons given above, but coming to the end is satisfying and sad at the same time as I know I’ve then got to move on. Having said that, it opens up the door to getting on with a new story and enjoying the writing experience all over again!
What type of writing do you like most – short stories, novels or scripts?
I love all of them and for ages I found short stories almost impossible to write given the confinements of word counts (at least with novels you do have some room to expand your characters and plot). It is when I realised, having read this, that a short story is only meant to capture one moment in time I found I could write these and am delighted I’ve had a few published on the web, been shortlisted in Writers’ News for a few and been commended at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. I love reading short stories too – when there isn’t time for a novel but you need a reading fix, these are ideal. I love with novels being able to explore my characters’ motivations and back stories more as long as these propel the plot along. I also enjoy ending chapters on cliffhangers! Scripts I adore as I’ve always enjoyed writing dialogue and I love listening to radio scripts. I love the way radio can take you anywhere and everywhere without having to leave the house and would love to write professionally for it.
How long does a short story take you to write?
It depends on the short story! Some will just flow out, others I need to have several drafts to get right but I aim to get at least one story out a month to meet the deadlines for Writers’ News/Writing Magazine competitions. I usually try to get another story out too if I can either to Shortbread or one of the many festival and other writing competitions. If I wasn’t writing other things, I could get more work out but given I can only write part time I’m relatively happy with this. I would, of course, like to do more but without losing quality.
How long does a novel take you to write?
Ages is the simplest answer! I do several drafts. I think two years is probably a good estimate. As with short stories, I could almost certainly speed this up by not writing so much other material (though I must admit I enjoy writing my blogs and putting in background and other material not in the novels themselves). I think it vitally important not to rush the drafts’ stages. What matters is getting the story right. When you get to the point you really can’t think of anything else to add or take out, then there’s the time to start submitting to the market and test the water.
Do you find writing conferences helpful? If so, why?
Yes! Some are more helpful than others as it all depends on the courses/talks they’re offering but I’ve not been to one yet where I came away feeling it was a waste of time. I’ve always learned something new. It’s also lovely meeting other writers, finding out what they do and talking about what I do. It’s great I suppose to have a truly sympathetic ear. While family and friends are very supportive (and I know I’m lucky there), only another writer will understand the frustrations of having lots to write and not enough time, or having the time and your wonderful ideas suddenly don’t seem so great after all. Also being able to talk about what part of a story you found most difficult or the most enjoyable to write really only means something to those who also write. And given writing conferences also promote books (especially the creative writing ones), there’s much to enjoy there too! Those that run competitions are helpful as if you manage to be Commended or to win it’s not just a boost for the ego, it looks good for the writing CV too.
Who is your favourite character in other authors’ works?
Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series because the character goes from being a hopeless drunk to a brave, decent commander and married to the lovely, sensible, equally decent Lady Sybil (who is one of my favourite female characters). Also because Sam Vimes has such a clear sense of right and wrong and tries to be a decent copper despite politics trying to get in the way and he is doesn’t fear Vetinari.