Rosie Claverton grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study medicine and adopted Wales as her home. Currently exiled to London to train in psychiatry, she lives with her journalist husband and their pet hedgehog.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Every idea I have – from random plot to planned novel – has an Evernote entry. Big projects have their own folders, with snippets of plot, character notes and scene ideas. I start by dumping everything in my head into an entry, really rough ideas and some plan of how it all fits together.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I tend to be struck by one particular part or feature that I build the novel around. With Binary Witness, it was the first victim taking the bins out. For Code Runner, it’s poor Jason running across fields, surrounded by enemies. For the third Amy Lane book, it’s combining a murder with an art heist. I then decide who did it and how it was done. I figure out the major clues to the case and some idea of how to plant them. I’ve also started marking rough word count targets for when major events happen.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
I tend to keep everything digital, because I’m very scatty and tend to lose hard copies! But sometimes I need paper to work things out, usually elaborate spider diagrams. For my script projects, I sometimes use paper index cards over software, because I find everything easier to visualise that way.
How important is research to you?
Accuracy is very important to me. With my medical background, it drives me round the bend when people get basics fact wrong. I can’t imagine how infuriating crime drama must be to police – and maybe even criminals!
How do you go about researching?
Before I start a project, I try to get a background sense of what I’m doing. I’ll read similar novels to my concept and non-fiction books on the vague topics of the piece. My current novel project is very different to Amy Lane, not least because it’s set in Victorian London, so I read Ruth Goodman’s excellent How To Be A Victorian and read a few contemporary novels of the late nineteenth century, like The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope.
I then tend to research as-and-when. I’ll get to a scene in the novel and think “how do you secure a crime scene on the beach?” I fire off an email to an academic or expert, flag the section, and move on while I wait for a response. Also, I must be on several government watchlists for my search history!
As I said before, I’m all digital and I’m a magpie for collateral data. I use Evernote for random thoughts and notes and also clipping articles straight from my browser. Bigger PDFs and articles are saved to a dedicated project folder in Dropbox. Pinterest is where my visual inspiration is stored, by theme – such as “Made in Wales” for Amy Lane, or for more specific tasks, like Victorian fashions of the 1890s.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I know the beginning and I know the end. I know some of what I want to do in the middle. I have this terrible affliction where if I plan out every detail of the plot, I get bored of it – if I know what’s going to happen, why would I bother telling anyone else about it? I need to keep some mystery for myself!
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I’ve gone back and forth on this. I used to have music playlists, particularly songs that would draw me into the mood. For Binary Witness, it was “Walk Unafraid” by REM and a playlist called Jason’s Garage. However, the more writing I do, I realise that I actually work much better in silence. I also work much better without an internet connection, so I do my best work on public transport – long-distance train journeys are my favourite!
I also usually need a cup of tea on the go. There’s a reason Amy and Jason drink so much tea!
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
I try to shut myself away. I have a study space now, which is invaluable, and keeps the work separate from relaxing on the sofa or clearing clutter off the dining room table. I use the Pomodoro technique to keep myself on track – nothing but writing for 25 minutes, goof off for 5 minutes (Twitter, fresh tea, etc.), back to work for 25, break for 5, lather rinse repeat. It works well for my focus, as I’m very distractible.
What does your work space look like?
I have a bureau in our guest room, where I use my ancient laptop. The cupboard doors have some postcards from the British Museum on them and my reference books are on an adjacent bookcase. I also have a Sherlock Holmes coaster from 221B for my tea mug.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
It’s all about words, words, words on the first draft. I do a little housekeeping as I go, such as changing names or altering earlier references to things as I change them in the “present”. However, any major rearrangement has to wait until the first draft is complete. You can’t edit a blank page.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
Most of my first drafts have been NaNoWriMo novels, so I’ve kept to a word count target. I like to hit 2000 words per day, but I also know the value of taking what you can get. I have a busy day job with odd hours, so if I only snatch half an hour and eke out a few hundred words, that’s still progress. The important thing to me is to keep it turning over in my mind, being engaged with the project every day of the first draft. Even if that’s a couple of sentences on Evernote about an event that happens post-finale.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
Binary Witness and Code Runner both took thirty days of NaNoWriMo. Amy Lane #3 totally kicked my arse and took just over five months. My latest novel will probably take two, maybe three. But they’re in pretty good nick now. With every novel I write, I get better at writing them and I learn more about what works for me. I’ve also been really fortunate to work with editor extraordinaire Deb Nemeth at Carina Press, who has really helped me learn about my craft and how to make fewer howlers first time round.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I read through on computer and write notes to myself in square brackets – usually things like [what were you thinking?] My husband does a readthrough for me on an ereader, after it’s had a bit of editing. Interestingly, for screenplays, I always do a printed edit, with lots of coloured pens and highlighters! Ideally, I would do that for my novels, but think of the trees!
What happens now that first draft is done?
I don’t look at it for a month. Or, if I’m on a tight deadline, a minimum of two weeks. I need some distance from the thing and to forget things about it. When I come back to it, it needs to be a little bit new to me again, so that I can gain some perspective.
I’ve discovered that I really suck at writing the beginning of novels. Only once I have a complete first draft can I go back and bring the start into line with the rest of the thing. The latter third of a novel is my favourite part, so I try to make the rest of the book sound like that!
After a couple more passes to work out the plot kinks, I write out chapter outlines with each scene described in terms of action, POV and conflict. To give an example from Code Runner: Amy finds the murder victims on Facebook and Jason wants to go downtown (BRYN: Amy v Mystery; Jason v Amy; Jason v Bryn). This helps me make sure every scene serves a purpose and that the POVs are roughly balanced between my main protagonists. In the first draft of Binary Witness, Jason had almost double the number of scenes that Amy had, so I needed to rework quite a few of them.
Last pass before it’s ready for other eyes in chapter titles and lengths in terms of pages. Thrillers need short, sharp chapters, so Amy Lane runs from three to six Word pages per chapter, rarely two or seven. And then I’m done!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Ex-con Jason Carr has faced down the toughest thugs in Cardiff, but being assistant to a brilliant, eccentric hacker who hasn’t been outdoors in ten years has its own challenges. Still, he and Amy Lane can solve cases even the cops can’t crack. And when a corpse washes up on a beach, Jason can’t resist chasing the clues—or defying Amy by infiltrating the very gangs he once escaped.
Amy is distraught when Jason’s pursuit gets him framed for murder. He’s thrown back in prison where he’s vulnerable to people who want him dead. He needs Amy to prove his innocence. Fast.
But Amy hasn’t been honest with him—her panic attacks aren’t getting better. And now, with everything that makes her feel safe ripped away, she must stand alone, using her technological skills to expose a baffling conspiracy and a new kind of online crime. Can she clear Jason’s name before danger closes in?
I have some great authors coming up on the First Draft series.
Have a look through the rest of the First Draft authors Here. Let me know if you want to do a Q&A.