Today’s guest on the First Draft series is crime writer Linda Huber.
Linda Huber grew up in Glasgow, where she trained as a physiotherapist. She spent ten years working with neurological patients, firstly in Scotland and then in Switzerland. During this time she learned that different people have different ways of dealing with stressful events in their lives, and this knowledge still helps her today, in her writing.
Linda now lives in Arbon, Switzerland, where she works as a language teacher in a medieval castle on the banks of beautiful Lake Constance.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
I leave the first idea in my head for a while, have a good think about it, maybe make some notes. I like to be clear about my characters before I start writing so sometimes I jot down a few things about them too. Everything else can easily be changed if necessary, but people are central to how the plot develops.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
No. I write for as long as the text is flowing, and when that stops, I stop. I usually have several different projects on the go – one of them is generally on a roll at any given time!
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Keyboard. Except for those ideas you get in the middle of the night. They go in a notebook, and if I’m lucky I can still read what I’ve written the next morning!
How important is research to you?
The location always needs some research. I like to set my books in places I’ve been to, but often I still need to find out things like the names of rivers or hills, how long it takes to drive to town, that kind of thing. Otherwise, I tend to write about what I know. Part of The Cold Cold Sea, for instance, is set in a school – I’ve worked in several schools so I know enough to make it realistic. Hospital settings are fine too, my first career as a physiotherapist helps me there.
How do you go about researching?
A visit to the book’s location is always fun, but if that’s not possible, Google maps, especially street view, is fantastic. The www can help with a lot of things, and for others – police procedure for instance – I have a small army of unfortunates who regularly get ‘What would happen if…’ emails and phone calls.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
Notebook and camera first if I’m out and about, and then it goes into the computer. Each novel has a huge file with all the bits and pieces I’ve gathered along the way. A lot of it never gets used, but if I need it it’s there.
That’s always been a bit different. For The Paradise Trees, I outlined every chapter before starting the actual first draft. Then of course when I did start, the characters changed things quite a bit as we went along! The Cold Cold Sea almost wrote its own first draft; I don’t think I made any notes at all till I started revising and editing. The two I’m working on now are somewhere in between these two extremes.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Coffee. I rarely sit down to write without a mug under my nose. I can’t tell you how many keyboards I’ve ruined. I’ve changed to a laptop now but I still use a keyboard, and the laptop sits on a box so that the screen’s at the right height (and the whole machine is out of the danger zone…).
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
If the magic is really working I can get lost for hours at a time. It’s always weird when you sit down at 8.00 to write, and then five minutes later you check the time and it’s 11.30. Great feeling!
What does your work space look like?
At the moment I’m in a temporary flat where I don’t have an office room. The word cramped comes to mind. I’m looking forward to getting into the new flat where I’ll have my lovely big table to spread myself out on again.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
That depends. If I’m on a roll I keep writing, otherwise I usually read through what I wrote the previous day and alter anything that jumps out at me.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
The word counter on Word is quite useful, especially when it is the first draft and you want to keep different sub-plots etc in balance. In The Cold Cold Sea I was able to see quickly that one sub-plot was way too wordy first time round.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
I honestly can’t say how long it takes. I have several novels on the go at once so it depends on whether or not I manage to get the 1st draft done without getting stuck and moving on to something else. Months, anyway, if not years.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
Computer screen. If I’m trying to work out anything complicated, like who was where when for how long and would this work, I’ll print that section and cut it up for each scene/character. But for general editing I stay on the pc.
What happens now that first draft is done?
It sits in a corner of the pc to mature and I go on with something else!
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
The Cold Cold Sea by Linda Huber
They stared at each other, and Maggie felt the tightness in her middle expand as it shifted, burning its way up… Painful sobs rose from her throat as Colin, his face expressionless now, reached for his mobile and dialled 999. When three-year-old Olivia disappears, her parents are overwhelmed with grief. Weeks go by and Olivia’s mother refuses to leave the cottage, staring out at the turbulent sea and praying it didn’t claim her precious daughter’s life. Not far away, another mother watches proudly as her daughter starts school. Jennifer has loved Hailey for five years, but the child is suddenly moody and difficult, and there’s a niggling worry of doubt that Jennifer cannot shake off. As she struggles to maintain control there are gaps in her story that even she can’t explain. Time is running out for Maggie at the cottage, and also for Jennifer and Hailey. No-one can underestimate a mother’s love for her child, and no-one can predict the lengths one will go to, to protect her family.
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