Please give a warm welcome to crime writer Clare Chase, who is going to delve into her first draft process today.
Clare writes women sleuth mysteries set in London and Cambridge. She fell in love with the capital as a student, living in the rather cushy surroundings of Hampstead in what was then a campus college of London University. (It’s currently being turned into posh flats …)
After graduating in English Literature, she moved to Cambridge and has lived there ever since. She’s fascinated by the city’s contrasts and contradictions, which feed into her writing. She’s worked in diverse settings – from the 800-year-old University to one of the local prisons – and lived everywhere from the house of a Lord to a slug-infested flat. The terrace she now occupies, with her husband and teenage daughters, presents a good happy medium.
As well as writing, Clare loves family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books.
Clare’s debut novel, You Think You Know Me, was shortlisted for an EPIC award, and chosen as a debut of the month by Lovereading.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
I love this stage! I begin when I’ve just got the first tiny hint of inspiration: a thought that makes my scalp prickle, and which I know will lead to something good. I start off by scribbling down notes by hand, thinking round and round the idea and where it might take me.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not really, but once I start writing, I have certain set ways of tackling problems. For instance, if I’m stuck on a bit of plot, I find it helps to do a mindless chore whilst I mull things over. It’s thanks to this that our bathroom occasionally gets cleaned, for example! (It would probably be in a better state if I wrote more than one book a year…)
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
For the actual drafting, straight to keyboard. However, I do use pen and paper for the initial scribbling mentioned above, and for putting plot points on to Post-it notes too.
How important is research to you?
It is important, but I usually get the story down first, and then work to fill in the gaps. This is occasionally a mistake. I’d got 15,000 words into my latest novel when I felt uneasy, and cross-checked a point that was crucial to the plot. It turned out I’d created a master of a Cambridge college who was around ten years older than the retirement age most of them impose. For various reasons, this character has to be that age, so I am now re-writing those 15,000 words!
How do you go about researching?
I use the internet a lot, and personal contacts, as well as simply wandering around Cambridge, soaking up the atmosphere. I do think in some ways being very familiar with my setting is a danger. If I describe a place in town from memory, I’m apt to think I’ve got it right but then find I’ve missed subtleties. Re-visiting the specific setting, at the right time of year, whilst I’m actually focused on writing about it, makes a difference.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
These days, I use OneNote. Since it came free with my copy of Microsoft Office, I’d had it on my laptop for ages, but hadn’t ever investigated what it did. I now use to it save clips from the internet, images and so on. It can be good for plotting too, since it has a facility for dragging text around the screen in blocks, a bit like digital Post-it notes.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I normally do quite a lot of plotting and thinking before I start, so it comes together fairly quickly. In my case, having an idea of where the plot’s going seems to relax me, and allows the intuitive side of my brain to start firing. This often means I have entirely new ideas as I go along, and my initial plans certainly aren’t set in stone.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Not really. The only thing I find indispensable is very practical: my mini laptop that I cart around with me, ready to snatch any writing opportunity that presents itself.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The latter. The hours disappear and afterwards I feel the same as I do after a really refreshing sleep. (I have tried writing instead of sleeping though, and that doesn’t work!)
What does your workspace look like?
Although there’s a study in our house, I invariably find myself working at the kitchen table. It’s in a lovely light room, and that makes me feel more energetic. (Plus, the study floor slopes, and the office chair sometimes slides backwards unexpectedly, which is distracting!)
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
For preference, I just get the words out. However, if I get stuck, going back over part of the previous day’s writing and making some tweaks can get me back into the right frame of mind to carry on.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I normally map out the chapters I think will make up the book (with plot notes), then write them on my calendar – say a chapter per weekday – and try to stick to my timetable.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
It would normally take two or three months, assuming I get a clear run. (But that’s not including the lead-up – when I’m plotting – which takes just as long!) Essentially, the first draft is very similar to the one that goes off to my publishers, though I always polish it as much as I can before anyone else reads it.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
All of those! I read on computer screen first, thinking that it’s a waste to print the thing out when I haven’t already double-checked everything. However, as soon as I do review the manuscript on paper, yet more typos leap out at me. And then finally, I read the novel again on Kindle. This somehow helps me to see it as a book, and spot any bits that need more work.
What happens now that first draft is done?
My husband is usually the first person to read the novel. He’s brilliantly robust when telling me what he thinks, which is handy… I know it’s valuable, so I grit my teeth and thank him very politely. After that, I send the file off to my publishers, Choc Lit, for review, first by their reading panel, and then by their editor.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Thank you, Rebecca – I love your blog and it’s wonderful to have the chance to feature on it!
A Stranger’s House
When Ruby finds her partner has done the unforgivable, she has no option but to move out of their home. With nowhere else to go, a job house-sitting in Cambridge seems like the perfect solution.
But when the owner of the property, Damien Newbold, is found murdered, Ruby’s new job takes an unnerving turn – one she can’t resist investigating herself.
Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and seems determined to put a stop to her sleuthing. Is he simply worried for the welfare of a member of staff, or is there something altogether more complicated – and potentially dangerous – at play?
If you’ve enjoyed this first draft Q&A then you can find previous ones Here.
If you are interested in doing a Friday first draft process Q&A then please let me know. There are slots available. I’d love to hear from you. Contact me Here.