Today I’m excited to welcome crime writer Anthony Schumacher to the blog to talk about his first draft process.
Buy coffee. A lot of coffee! Once the kettle is on (if it is a book I’m working on, the poor thing never gets a minute rest) I normally dive into a first few chapters without giving it too much thought. I like to have something physical, something that actually looks like a book, and once I have that I can relax a little.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I’m a little bit like a boxer in the first round of a fight. I like to skirt around the ropes and size up my opponent before I start swinging. Once that first round is out the way… look out!
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Like I say, I’m almost blind when it comes to deep plotting at the beginning. I like to have at least two chapters on the hard drive, and a sense of feeling and location. Once that is done I often take a few days off from actual writing, and maybe then I’ll start jotting down ideas that will flesh the book out. Invariably these pretty much get jettisoned as I go along though, as I work new ideas tend to come and go to take their place. My poor editor seldom gets the book I told him he was getting!
How important is research to you?
Very, if only to fend off the pedants of the world! I once made a mistake about the brake lights of an obscure British car, about two weeks after the book came out a guy on a farm in Iowa USA, sent me a photo of his own car (the only one in the USA apparently) with the correct location of the brake light circled!
My first three books are set in the 1940’s England, so I owe it to the reader to put some time in about the landscape of the world they take place in. I’m also a tragic history buff, so the political and social aspects I find fascinating anyway. I’m guessing even if I didn’t write for that era, I’d still be reading about it.
How do you go about researching?
I read and read and read. My desk is invariably laden with history books, and obscure personal memoirs (which I often find best for obscure details.) I also watch a lot of old British film (I like to pretend this is research, but I do love them!) I can often spot details in the background of movies, or Pathe news footage, that is contemporary to my work.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I have a ridiculous complicated system that seldom works! It includes lots of clip-binders full of handwritten notes, printed documents and pictures held together with wooden clothes pegs (a trick I learned when I was a copper, they are much better that paperclips!) My agent (even though he is in New York) is also pretty good at finding me stuff and mailing it over. I also have a pretty good memory for detail. I can recall bits of research I originally didn’t think was important months after I spotted it.
I’ve no idea where I just put my glasses though!
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I beat and stomp on it. Seriously, I kick the living hell out of it until it is finished. At the beginning I may have an idea where it is going, but more often than not I don’t know how I am getting there. It can be quite scary at times (especially for my editor) but I think for me it keeps the story whipping along. I don’t feel like I am filling in gaps between plot events, I feel like I am charging into the unknown, which can be very exciting.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I don’t like to speak in the morning until I’ve started working (this may explain why I live alone!) My day normally starts with a hot shower, coffee (there is a theme here!) which I drink in the garden while staring at some weeds. Once that is out the way, I make a fresh coffee, then hit the book. I try to write at least an hour before I open the emails/facebook/twitter etc. Once I’ve done all that I’ll spend an hour looking through the papers online, and then start writing again! This second bout tends to be the longer and more productive of the day.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world is dead to me! Honestly, it just doesn’t exist at all. When I am writing I am in my fictional universe I actually see it in the front of my brain just above my eyes, I live in it.
What does your workspace look like?
A mess! I’ve just looked around my office and realised that I may need a cleaner!
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I like to charge through chunks, maybe say sixty or seventy pages, then I’ll have a quick tidy up, nothing too deep though, a bit like the office clean I’ve just guiltily done!
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I know when I’m done, it may be five hundred words, or it may be five thousand, but I don’t care. I sometimes wonder if that chasing of a set figure leads to problems with block?
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
My first book took about eight months, and my second about five. I often put the difference down to having an editor on the second, and me wanting to show off!
I kind of switch about between pc and paper. I’ll print off chunks of it and sit and read it in the garden or in a café. My second book I did the second draft read through entirely on the pc, and the third draft entirely on paper, which I really enjoyed, so I’ll probably do the same when I finish my work in progress.
I just can’t get into e-readers, it isn’t a crazy traditional hatred or anything, I just don’t warm to them.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I send a copy to my agent, who invariably says it is terrible (I think it is a cod-psychology thing) and a copy to my editor, who invariably says it is amazing (see above!)
Then I go the pub and try to rekindle old friendships with people who haven’t seen me for months.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
The pleasure was all mine!
In this crackling alternate history thriller set in the years after World War II—the riveting sequel to The Darkest Hour—London detective John Rossett joins forces with his Nazi boss to save the commander’s kidnapped daughter as the Germans race to make the first atomic bomb.
With the end of the war, the victorious Germans now occupy a defeated Great Britain. In London, decorated detective John Henry Rossett, now reporting to the Nazi victors, lies in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds. Desperate to avoid blame over the events that led to the shooting, his boss, Ernst Koehler, covers up the incident. But when Koehler’s wife and daughter are kidnapped by American spies, the terrified German turns to the only man he trusts to help him—a shrewd cop who will do whatever is necessary to get the job done: John Rossett.
Surviving his brush with death, Rossett agrees to save his friend’s daughter. But in a chaotic new world ruled by treachery and betrayal, doing the right thing can get a man killed. Caught between the Nazi SS, the violent British resistance, and Americans with very uncertain loyalties, Rossett must secretly make his way out of London and find Ruth Hartz, a Jewish scientist working in Cambridge. Spared from death because of her intellect and expertise, she is forced to work on developing the atom bomb for Germany. Though she knows it could end any hope of freedom in Europe and maybe even the world, Ruth must finish the project—if she, too, wants to survive.