Today’s first drafter is crime writer Alison Gray.
She studied literature at St Andrews University and loves to read both new and established authors. She has read and enjoyed in her time, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Higgins Clark, Elly Griffiths, Sophie Hannah, Camilla Läckberg, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo, Patricia Cornwell, Harry Bingham, Sarah Sheridan, Michael Ridpath, Stieg Larsson, Lars Kepler, Ann Cleeves, Fergus McNeill, Mari Hannah, Kate Rhodes, Danielle Ramsay, Ken McClure, M J McGrath, Michael Robotham and Steve Mosby, to name just a few.
And she has recently discovered that she loves sitting in the front row at productions of Shakespeare, especially by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Propeller theatre companies as she feels it’s the next best thing to being on stage herself!
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
When I first think about writing something new, I hold the idea within me for some time letting it ripen. During this time I am absorbing things from around me which will work themselves into the story. After an indeterminate time (it could be hours or weeks or longer) I’ll just sit down and begin writing.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I’d love to have a set routine but I can’t seem to manage it. Whenever I start a routine for anything, within a month or so it has slipped away from me so I find it is just better to go with whatever is in the moment. I seem to work better that way.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
I’m a straight to the keyboard writer. I don’t know if I could be a writer now if I had to use pen and paper. Writing longhand is labour intensive and when I think about the Brontës writing entire manuscripts in minuscule writing in teeny tiny books, I find it quite amazing we ended up with such wonderful stories Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
How important is research to you?
Research is very important to me but not for the first draft. The most important thing for me in the first draft is the story flow and momentum. I will keep a list of things that I need to check as I go along, so that I can do the research later.
How do you go about researching?
I make a list of what I need to research while writing the first draft, so I will work my way through the list, ticking off things that are easier to research first. I’ll begin by researching these things on the Internet to find out the answers myself. When I have more complex things to research relating to plot or procedure, I’ll try and find someone who has the knowledge to talk to about it. For Hibiscus Fruit, I contacted an organisation of ex CID officers in London with questions relating to the plot and also an ex-police officer in Northumberland.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I’d love to be organised and know exactly how and where to file everything for a project, like images, cover ideas and links to articles, but also things that I create around the story, like backstory and character bios and a mindmap of story associations. I create a folder on the computer for the story and underneath it have separate folders for storing various things.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape
The first draft is written in waves. I always begin by reviewing what I have written the previous day, perhaps making some changes to it so that it is easier to read and then I continue on further. By the time I am about 50% of the way through I have usually begun several lists of things to watch– things that need research, continuity points, plot points and also new things that occur to me in relation to the plot or characters or setting that I will need to go back to later and insert as appropriate. I usually take a couple of breather periods during first draft writing because it is very intense. When the draft is around 80% complete, the writing becomes even more intense and I write the remainder as far as possible without stopping because of the momentum of the story.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
No. I just need undisturbed time and my computer.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
When I’m writing hours can pass and I don’t know where they went to so lost for a period of time is a pretty good description.
What does your work space look like?
I set up a desk in a small room on the way to the garden. It is very comfortable and has a lovely view.
However, it’s such a nice spot that everybody wants to use it now!
So I often end up sitting on my bed writing on my laptop instead. Visualise a Tracey Emin style bed and superimpose me with my laptop on top and you’ll get the picture!
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I do change things as I go but the most important thing for me in the first draft is to keep the story moving along, so my focus is on that.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
Some days I write a lot and other days not so much. If I had to do a certain number of words in a day I would probably begin to worry and it would be counter-productive. I do measure overall progress by word count in association with story development. I’d worry, for example, if I told the whole story in 50,000 words or if I had written 20,000 words before anything happened.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
I can write a first draft quite quickly if I don’t do anything else. But I prefer to take a breather or two during the writing because it is an intense process and ordinary life has its own demands. So it is more likely to be around six months by the time the first draft is finished. It is always in rough shape at the end. There are things to research and adjustments to make.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I read it through and make annotations on the ereader and then repeat the cycle. I never print my work these days. It takes too long and is too costly on paper and ink. I tend not to keep drafts to go back to but to keep working on the same one until it is completely finished. I used to have Arch Lever folders but now all the work is held on a hard drive.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I take a break and do something completely different. I need a bit of separation before I come back to it afresh. The first draft is only the beginning. But I usually celebrate too – whether it is to go and see a play, go to a writing conference, buy something I’ve been wanting for some time, or just to have an ice cold beer.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Thank you very much for having me on your blog.
On leave from her job in Newcastle upon Tyne, following the death of her lover, DS Abby Foulkes is on Skiathos with their young son, Johnny. But just as they begin to relax, Johnny finds human bones in a wood near a Greek monastery on a hillside above Skiathos town. It isn’t long before Abby discovers that this isn’t the first set of bones to be found. When someone disappears from the Hibiscus Fruit hotel where they are staying, Abby is drawn into the mystery.
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