Today I’m excited to welcome crime author Stav Sherez to the blog to talk about his first draft process. It was actually Stav tweeting a photo of his first draft with red pen all over it that prompted this very series!
Stav is published by Faber & Faber. His debut, The Devil’s Playground (2004), was described by James Sallis as ‘altogether extraordinary, it introduces a major new talent’, and was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasy Dagger Award. His second novel The Black Monastery (2009) was described as ‘dynamite fiction’ in the Independent and ‘spectacular’ by Laura Wilson in the Guardian.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Read. As much as I can about the subject I’m going to be writing on and for as long as I can. Reading for research allows you to see the possibilities of your story and suggest new plotlines you would never have come across otherwise. Also, if I don’t get bored reading about a subject for a few months, I know I won’t get bored spending two years writing a novel around it.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not really, apart from the above.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
I make a lot of notes on paper for a few months beforehand – stray thoughts, plotlines, character motivations – but the actual writing is always done on keyboard.
How important is research to you?
Both very important and not so important. Research should be invisible in the final book. You need to do your research and then almost forget it, otherwise you end up data dumping all over the page. And, ultimately, this is fiction and all fact must be subservient to narrative.
How do you go about researching?
Mainly through books, as most of my research tends to be historical. The web is also very useful these days and for the London stuff, I just walk around the city and take notes.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
On little pieces of paper but mostly in my head. I think if you can’t hold the entire novel in your head then you won’t be able to write it properly. Good ideas do not disintegrate in the rooms of memory.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
The first draft (or zero draft) I write as fast as I can, without looking at the screen and without a thought for editing. This normally takes me 4-5 weeks and is a right mess – different plots, characters coming back from the dead, no ending.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Totally lost. I miss appointments, cancel others, barely leave my room. For me, only total immersion works, otherwise it’s far too easy to be distracted by the world.
What does your workspace look like?
A table with my computer and papers. A sofa. Stereo. CDs. Nothing much else.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
The latter and then ten drafts, over a period of two years.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I normally tend to write in chapters, a chapter a day, which is often between 2-5K words. I like the sense of writing a complete scene – but this is only in those first 4-5 weeks, after that it’s all re-writing.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
4-5 weeks and it’s a total and utter mess. Horrific and painful to read through. The worst part of the entire process.
I can only edit on paper so will, over the course of a novel, print it out about 20 times!
What happens now that first draft is done?
The real work begins…
Thanks for taking the time to answer these Stav.
A fire rages through a sleepy West London square, engulfing a small convent hidden away among the residential houses. When DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller arrive at the scene they discover eleven bodies, yet there were only supposed to be ten nuns in residence.
It’s eleven days before Christmas, and despite their superiors wanting the case solved before the holidays, Carrigan and Miller start to suspect that the nuns were not who they were made out to be. Why did they make no move to escape the fire? Who is the eleventh victim, whose body was found separate to the others? And where is the convent’s priest, the one man who can answer their questions?
Fighting both internal politics and the church hierarchy, Carrigan and Miller unravel the threads of a case which reaches back to the early 1970s, and the upsurge of radical Liberation Theology in South America – with echoes of the Shining Path, and contemporary battles over oil, land and welfare. Meanwhile, closer to home, there’s a new threat in the air, one the police are entirely unprepared for…