Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Tania Chandler to the First Draft hot seat.
TANIA CHANDLER is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. Her work was awarded a special commendation in the 2013 Writers Victoria Crime Writing competition. Please Don’t Leave Me Here is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
I start by scribbling copious notes in exercise books (or on napkins in cafes, or scraps of paper while waiting at traffic lights — ideas have an annoying habit of transpiring at the most inopportune times). I try to capture things about character, setting, backstory, images and other sensory elements.
Before I start writing, I try to have a plot outline, which I map loosely to a narrative framework (I find Nigel Watts’s ‘Eight-point story arc’ and Syd Field’s ‘Paradigm’ helpful), knowing that most of it will change during the writing process.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not yet! I’m still pretty new to this. I didn’t really plot PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE before I started writing — I allowed it to grow organically, and worried about structure later. My second book was different: I wrote the entire story outline in one day.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
A bit of both. Pen and paper for initial ideas, and the rest on the keyboard. Sometimes when I get stuck, I go back to pen and paper — writing a scene or an entire chapter by hand seems to help.
How important is research to you?
I’m pretty obsessive about accuracy, but I think the amount of research depends on the book. I didn’t do heaps of research for PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE — a bit of time in the state library looking at newspapers from the early 90s on microfiche, and more time in Melbourne coffee shops and pubs! I’ve done far more research for my second book: completed a handgun-shooting course; spent a week alone at the location (a tiny island where there is no way off after the last ferry); and made friends with forensic scientists.
How do you go about researching?
The internet is a good starting point; Google Street View is helpful to get a sense of locations. But I think I’m a ‘method writer’ — I like to see and do (to a certain extent!) the things my characters do. In most cases writing comes before research. Once I’m reasonably happy with the story, I do the bulk of the research. I dislike contacting people for information, so I procrastinate about that and leave it until last. I do some reading and googling on topics before approaching experts so I waste as little of their time as possible by having some idea or what I’m asking about.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
In my head mostly! Unfortunately, I’m not very organised and I’m forever searching for where I’ve filed things. A writer-friend once showed me their very detailed spreadsheet breakdown of scenes and characters, which I thought was a great idea, so I tried it — I don’t think I got beyond scene one. Another writer told me they entered details into internet dating services to get character images (that’s what they said it was for, anyway!) I tried that, and got one photo that I never looked at again, because I have a strong idea in my mind of what my characters look like. My friend Graeme Simsion uses an index card system to write scenes, so I bought the cards, but ended up using them to write shopping lists on (I hope he doesn’t read this!) I’ve tried Scrivener, but I gave up because in the time it took me to work out how to use it, I could have been writing. It sounds crazy, but what works for me is just knowing my story. I rewrite so many times that I almost know it by heart and I use the Find and Replace function in Word to search different sections.
I do, however, type up research notes and store them in computer files, and take photos and recordings on my phone.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
It’s like pulling teeth! I HATE writing the first draft. I try to get it done as quickly as possible so I can get onto the part I love — the rewriting and finessing.
I wrote different sections of PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE concurrently. I wrote my second novel in a fairly linear fashion, but I let the story veer from the outline and go where it wanted to.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Aside from coffee, not really. With three children and a day job, finding the time to write is hard enough. I get up at 5am to write before everybody is awake. Sometimes I work at my desk; when it’s really cold, on my laptop on the couch in front of the heater; and if I have a free day I go to a library.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Lost, absolutely! And sometimes, even when I’m not writing, I find myself drifting off, thinking about my story.
What does your work space look like?
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
First draft is about getting the words out, but I find it hard to restrain myself from editing as I go.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I don’t set myself a daily word count, and I try to ignore the word counter because it breaks my heart when I see I’ve deleted more words than I’ve written for the day. Some days I’ll whip up a 3000-word chapter, and other days I’ll get stuck rearranging one sentence.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
Everybody seems to have a different idea of what constitutes a first draft. I worked on my first two manuscripts for about a year and a half before I thought they were in good enough shape to hand over to first readers for feedback.
I alternate: screen, then paper, then screen, then paper … until I feel too guilty about trees.
What happens now that first draft is done?
Loads of editing and rewriting, and then feedback from first readers. And then more editing and rewriting …
Please Don’t Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler
Kurt Cobain stands at the top of the stairs, wearing the brown sweater. ‘Please don’t leave me,’ she yells up at him. But it’s too late; he’s turning away as the tram slows for the stop out on the street.
Then she’s lying on the road. Car tyres are going past, slowly. Somebody is screaming. A siren howls.
Sweet voices of little children are singing ‘Morningtown Ride’.
Is Brigitte a loving wife and mother, or a cold-blooded killer?
Nobody knows why she was in the east of the city so early on the morning she was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver. It was the Friday before Christmas 1994 — the same day police discovered the body of a man beaten to death in her apartment.
Fourteen years later, Brigitte is married to the detective who investigated the murder, which she claims to have lost her memory of in the car accident. They have young twins, and seem to be a happy family. Until the reopening of the cold case.
Please Don’t Leave Me Here is about loss, love and lies. It is about pain, fear, and memory. And, above all, it is about letting go.
You can find all previous First Draft Q&As HERE and if you fancy doing one then do let me know.