Tammy Cohen is making herself comfortable in the first draft seat today and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Tammy Cohen is a freelance journalist who has written for countless publications including The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. A late starter to fiction (and to other things besides) she has now written five novels – The Mistress’s Revenge, The War of the Wives, and Someone Else’s Wedding, The Broken and Dying For Christmas, all published by Doubleday. She is a Writer in Residence at Kingston University and lives in North London with her partner and three (nearly) grown children, plus one very badly behaved dog.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Usually I’ll have been thinking about an idea for a while before I come to write anything. There’s nothing like having a book to finish to convince you that the book you really ought to be writing is the one that’s just popped into your head, not the one you’re actually working on! So when I finally sit down to write something new I already know what it’s about and once I’ve come up with a working title, I go straight into writing the first paragraph. To me that’s more important than sitting down and plotting it out because sometimes a voice or a style of writing will just pop out, and that makes everything so much easier. (And sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s a whole other story).
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Working titles on paper, first paragraph on keyboard
How important is research to you?
To be honest, the books I’ve done to date have been set in contemporary London and haven’t involved a huge amount of research. I’m lazy that way.
How do you go about researching?
First resort is always Google. I worked as a journalist for over twenty years so I’m pretty good at knowing where to source information.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I’d love to say I have colour coded folders for everything but the truth is I’m a total slob and everything is scrawled on scraps of paper which invariably end up getting chucked away by mistake.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I wish I was the kind of person who did exciting things with post it notes and special apps that plot your character arcs and make pretty graphs of your narrative strands, but the truth is I’m the most boring writer in the world. I start at the beginning of a story and I write the first chapter, then the second and third until I reach the end.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Only in as much as going on Twitter for far too long every morning before tearing myself away to write counts as a ritual.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world always exists, much though I often wish it didn’t. As a freelance journalist with three young children I learned to write with one eye on the screen and the other on whatever banned activity they were getting up to at that moment, and even though they’re now nearly adults, I still find it hard to completely shut off from what’s going on around me.
What does your work space look like?
At the moment it looks remarkably like our kitchen table. Wait, that’s because it is our kitchen table. Since my oldest son finished university in June and reclaimed his bedroom, I’ve lost my office and am having to set up camp in the kitchen. It’s a nightmare because a) every time we have dinner, all my stuff ends up in the fruit bowl and b) I’m within arm’s distance of the bread bin AND the biscuit cupboard.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I think I probably do a halfway thing – I don’t go back and edit what I’ve done until I’ve finished the first draft, but I do try to get it as right as I can first time round, so I don’t just put down the first word that comes to mind.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
When I’m on a really strict deadline I give myself word counts but it’s more of a weekly count than a daily one. I’m much more likely to tell myself I have to write 10,000 words in a week than to set myself 2,000 a day which somehow feels like a lot more pressure.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
A first draft can take anything from two months to a year. My first book, The Mistress’s Revenge came out fully formed after one draft, but mostly I’ll need to go back through it another two or three times before it’s ready for anyone else to read.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I’m a total luddite, so it has to be paper every time.
What happens now that first draft is done?
In a perfect world I’d put it in a drawer for six weeks and then come back to it fully refreshed. In reality I’ve usually got a horrible deadline looming, but I always try to leave at least a week before reading it through with my red felt-pen poised and ready for action.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
You can find Tammy on Twitter, Curtis Brown and Amazon.
Dying For Christmas
I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there’ll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out .
But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?
So refreshingly down-to-earth, funny and not precious about her writing – Tammy sounds delightful (and I know she reads delightfully, as I couldn’t tear myself from her book The Broken – read it all in one go). And I think we can all relate to her writing woes…
If I wasn’t already a huge fan it would be seeking out her books. Lovely to hear that as a writer she starts at the beginning and works forward.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Tammy, just eat out every night. Then your work won’t end up in the fruit bowl.
Margot Kinberg says
Rebecca – As ever, thanks for this feature.
Tammy – Thanks for sharing what goes on when you write. I’m a ‘think for a while before I write’ kind of a person too. I wish you much success.
What a fun yet insightful interview. Won Dying for Christmas recently and it’s on my #TBR20 with @evestalker… looking forward to it & will be seeking out Tammy’s other books too
Jacqui Murray says
That’s interesting–that you start with the first paragraph. When you explain why, it makes perfect sense. Once I get through my current 4 WIP (can I never finish anything?), I’m going to try that.
I love the idea of just starting at the beginning and going on till the end. In my naivety, I used to assume that’s how every writer did it! Great interview, both. 🙂
Claire McComisky (@ClaireMcComisky) says
A really refreshing, down-to-earth account from Tammy. I really enjoyed the post.