Taking the first draft hot seat today is freelance editor and author Anne Coates.
All her working life, Anne has been involved with publishing: editorial assistant, press officer, production sub and fiction editor.
After going freelance, she wrote two books for Wayland: Women & Sport and Teenage Pregnancy followed a few years later by Your Only Child (Bloomsbury) inspired by parenting and only when her daughter was applying to university, Anne wrote Applying to University the Essential Guide and then University Survival Guide both published by Need-2-Know.
However Anne’s first love has always been story-telling and she has had fiction published in several magazines. Some of these stories have appeared in Cheque-Mate & Other Tales of the Unexpected and A Tale of Two Sisters both published as ebooks by Endeavour Press. These tie in with her website: The Parenting Without Tears Guide to Living with Teenagers and The Parenting Without Tears Guide to Loving Discipline.
Anne’s work-in-progress, Dancers in the Wind, was begun many years ago and it is only recently that she’s taken it out of hibernation. The crime novel is set in London where Anne lives with her family was inspired by articles she wrote about prostitutes and what would happen if …
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Often I just sit and think, imagining the world I am creating, thinking about how a character might feel about a situation, setting a chain reaction in motion.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Routines can be a good way to get you into the mood but I’m not obsessive about anything. Being a bit set in my ways, I try to be more spontaneous.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
I tend to write straight onto the computer but I always carry a notebook to jot down ideas.
How important is research to you?
Obviously some things are very important to get right – as a reader I find it very off-putting if I know something is impossible and I’d like to extend the same courtesy to my readers. My work in progress, Dancers in the Wind, is set in the early 1990s so I do check anything that may have been very different then. Listening to people talking is imperative to understanding speech patterns and the way people don’t finish sentences, or repeat themselves.
How do you go about researching?
A lot of my research is done by asking experts. I check my medical facts with doctor friends, and so on. As a journalist, I was taught to check with three sources and that has stuck with me. I’m very fortunate that my friends come from very diverse walks of life! I also check names – what were popular when that character was born. Dancers in the Wind actually evolved from a series of articles/interviews I was doing about prostitution.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
Lots of pieces of paper sometimes with just a word or two written on them (my desk is testimony to that – see below) as well as notebooks. I take photos and I search for images that I need on the internet.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Nearly all my stories begin with a “what if”. What would happen if, how would the characters feel, what would they do? And the idea germinates in my mind, accompanying me all the time, sometimes just below the surface. I think about the scenes and dialogue and when I come to write, it flows especially for short stories. For the first draft I don’t worry about checking facts or anything, I just write.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
No not really. I do like to set the scene though so I may have photos around me, music playing and things to touch – like how sharp a knife feels against my neck.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Well, the outside world intrudes sometimes but I do try to immerse myself in the world I am creating. Just as I do when reading other novels.
What does your work space look like?
A complete mess. I wish it wasn’t and every now and again I have major decluttering sessions – and then it all piles back.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
Minor edits as I go – like correcting spellings – but really just want to get the words out. I can play with them later.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
A word count can be counter-productive. I can see how it works for some writers but I’ve sometimes sat working for hours and only produced a few extra words. Also as a journalist I have to write to length so I try to avoid thinking about the number of words with my fiction.
The first draft took about four months. I just took a look at the printed out first attempt which has scribbles all over it and in fact starts in a very different way. It has a different shape now and I’m working on making sure the timeline is correct.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
One reason I always print out my drafts is so that I can move away from the computer. I think this gives you a different perspective and I see mistakes I miss onscreen. Also it’s a wonderful feeling having a thick pile of ms pages to immerse yourself in.
What happens now that first draft is done?
That’s when the real work begins. And for Dancers in the Wind, I’m now dictating the fourth draft. The third has been languishing in a drawer. When I rediscovered it and read it, almost as a new reader, some of the scenes took me completely be surprise and I’ve added a couple since – and deleted a few.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.