Today I’m pleased to welcome RC Bridgestock to the blog to talk about their First Draft process. This is a fascinating one as it is the first writing collaboration we’ve had on the blog.
RC. Bridgestock is the name that husband and wife co-authors Robert (Bob) and Carol Bridgestock write under. Between them they have nearly 50 years of police experience, offering an authentic edge to their stories. Bob was a highly commended career detective of 30years, retiring at the rank of Detective Superintendent. During his last 3 years he took charge of 26 murders, 23 major incidents, over 50 suspicious deaths and numerous sexual assaults. He was also a trained hostage negotiator dealing with suicide interventions, kidnap, terrorism and extortion. As a Detective Inspector he spent three years at the internationally acclaimed West Yorkshire Police Force Training School where he taught Detectives from all over the world in the whole spectrum of investigative skills and the law. On promotion to Detective Superintendent Bob was seconded to a protracted enquiry investigating alleged police corruption in another force. He worked on the Yorkshire Ripper and Sarah Harper murder, and received praise from Crown Court Judges and Chief Constables alike for outstanding work at all ranks, including winning the much coveted Dennis Hoban Trophy. As a police civilian
As a police civilian supervisor Carol also received a Chief Constable’s commendation for outstanding work. The couple are the storyline consultants on BAFTA winning BBC 1 police drama Happy Valley and series 3 of ITV’s Scott & Bailey.
Carol started and chaired the Wight Fair Writers’ Circle in 2008, along with Bob where she created an annual charitable community writing competition to inspire others of all ages.
In 2015 The Gate Films optioned the crime series featuring DI Jack Dylan (which begins with Deadly Focus) written as R C Bridgestock, to develop as a television series.
The couple pride themselves on being up-to-date on past and present day UK police procedures and as a result Bob is regularly sought by UK television, radio and National and local newspapers for comment on developing major crime incidents etc. And they have taken part in Radio 4 (Steve) PUNT P.I.
R C Bridgestock appeared at number #8 in the best crime and thriller authors of all time in a W H Smith poll voted by the public in 2015. In August 2015 the couple were truly honoured that the US Dick Tracy’s writers and editors honoured them in the hugely popular Dick Tracy’s ‘Hall of Fame’ comic strip.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
The stories that we write are born from 50 years experience in the police. Bob was a career detective and for 28 years of his 30 year CID led career he dealt with the type of crimes we write about, in fiction. In his last three years alone he took charge of 26 murder investigations, 23 major incidents including drive-by shootings, over 50 suspicious deaths and numerous sexual assaults. In his ‘spare time’ he was a Hostage Negotiator in charge of kidnap, extortion, terrorism and suicide intervention cases. I worked in the administration department in the same force for 17 years.
We have lots of story ideas, each clamouring for attention, all enticing in their own way. It’s hard to pick one, when really we want to write them all at once – hence the Dylan series. So how do we choose which story we write first? We look beyond the premise to think which will end up the better book, especially when the narrative includes the home life of Dylan and Jen.
However we never write about a real crime. We know more than most that it’s the victims of crime and their relatives who serve the life sentence, not the perpetrator.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Bob writes the crime storyline from the start to finish with the ‘mask’ of the detective firmly in place. This way the crime investigation unfolds to the reader as it does to the detective in real life. The reader is literally on Detective Jack Dylan’s shoulder throughout the enquiry – both at work and at home. Bob puts into this narrative his thoughts and the procedure to help the reader get the full picture of an investigation from an SIO’s (Senior Investigative Officers) point of view. It’s only in the second draft do I draw out Bob’s feelings and add them.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Straight to the keyboard!
Although the first draft of our first novel Deadly Focus was written in longhand – all 120,000 words. I know because I typed it up!
How important is research to you?
Very, very important. One of Bob’s pet hates, and reason why he put pen to paper in the first place was because police procedure in crime drama and novels was/is portrayed so blatantly incorrect. The public are savvy for goodness sake! If they’re interested in crime fiction you can bet your bottom dollar they’re also watching/reading factual stuff.
How do you go about researching?
We pride ourselves in being up-to-date with police procedure. Our contacts at West Yorkshire Police enlighten us as to any changes and there are changes on a regular basis. Whilst we were consulting on BBC 1 Happy Valley the names of several departments and role profiles changed. Overnight it seemed, the call sign of the police helicopter was altered from X-Ray 99 to NPAS (National Police Air Support). SOCO (Scenes Of Crime Office(r)) changed to CSI (Crime Scene Investigation (Investigator)) and just before they started filming SOCA (Serious & Organised Crime Agency) changed to NCA (National Crime Agency). We also use ‘Mr Google’, as my mum calls the internet search engine, and we visit places like the Bradford Police Museum when our memory fails us. The Dylan series starts in the mid nineties so there is a lot of changes including the introduction of computers, and mobile phones take over from the pager. Minor detail like this makes such a difference to the police following we have as technology moves on albeit silently in the background. To show you how important it is to us in our latest book When The Killing Starts you’ll see the acknowledgements:- ‘Thanks too, to Lisa Rothwell, Tactical Flight Officer (TFO), West Yorkshire Police and Sarah Dodsworth, West Yorkshire police mounted section for their advice in this novel.’ Factual knowledge that can only be told by someone who does the job, helps us to give our readers the most realistic experience possible in our fictional tales.’
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
In most instances that’s exactly where the images stay, in the minds eye. For instance, our characters are created this way: I say to Bob: ‘How d’you see Vicky, (the main character’s sidekick). Bob says, ‘I see her like Joanne Froggatt,’ (Downton). So we can both imagine her physically. Because we work together the characters are usually based on someone we have come across either in our professional life or other. Norris Regan is a character who has drawn many to make comparison with a certain Norman Bates. We agree now we’ve ‘looked him up’ but it wasn’t intentional.The character of Norris, Snow Kills (DI Dylan book 4), was based on our knowledge of an individual’s appearance and lifestyle from which we created a murderer. The man in question was found by officers to be living in an old people’s home for ladies…
However, we would never use real life cases in our novels as we believe it is the victims of crime who serve the life sentence, not the perpetrator.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Bob writes the first draft by way of the main crime storyline. The reader will sit on the shoulder of Dylan, in both his professional and home life until the perpetrator is caught. The reader sees the body for the first time with the SIO, goes to the mortuary, delivers the news to the family and in some cases attends the funeral of the deceased. All this is procedurally correct – how it really is for the detective in charge of a real police investigation.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
The first draft is very much police procedure so it takes a natural course.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
If you look at the dedications in our books you will see we are very conscious that we do vanish into ‘Dylan’s world’ from time to time…
We will be forever thankful for the love and support of Betty and Ray Jordan (Carol’s Mum and Dad) who have looked after us when we ‘forget’ to eat, the ironing pile is growing or Belle and Vegas (our two English Springer Spaniels) need walking whilst we endeavour to reach a deadline.
And to our children and grandchildren who remain in our thoughts every hour of everyday for their love and support in what we do, even though this means we get less time with them.
We each have our own office and are both quite neat workers. Bob very rarely has anything on his desk other than his laptop, a notebook and pen. I’m a little messier and have a desk top computer. My desk is in three parts. One for our charity work, one for the latest book I am working on and the third is presently full of documents for the next book launch tour in June 2016.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
We write like ‘the tortoise and the hare’. Bob setting off at pace until the first draft is done. The characters have little meaning to him other than names – which I often change in the second draft. It’s purely about the plot and the investigation to Bob – an open and closed case, with a satisfying conclusion of course!
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
Gosh, no if I counted words I would be always conscious of how much I had to do! But, I’m lucky because the first draft comes to me at around 65,000 words. Bob then moves away from the book and starts on another. He is always one book ahead of me. Bob is definitely more conscious of the word count than me.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
The first draft of Deadly Focus was written longhand in six weeks… The tutor didn’t believe it and was sure Bob had been writing it for years. But, he hadn’t. Once Bob has his mind on something he is focused and committed and nothing will distract him. I guess that’s how it has to be in a murder investigation to get the results. He was also brought up in the era of ‘if you start something you finish it.’ I think Deadly Focus was cathartic for Bob – he says not.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
We both read it through on the computer. It means we are sat at the desk and focussed. In the early days I would print a copy off each time we had finished an edit, but I soon realised that it was just a waste of paper and ink.
What happens now that first draft is done?
The second draft is mine. I put the flesh on the bones of Bob’s story by creating the characters, building the scenes mostly from interviewing Bob and drawing out of him his vivid recollection of similar incidents. I also write the home-life storyline for Dylan and Jen which develops as their relationship grows and so does their family. This takes longer – hence the ‘tortoise and the hare’…
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
When The Killing Starts
Crime is a way of life for the Devlin brothers. Groomed at an early age and trained as criminals by local gangsters, the Devlin brothers get their thrill out of creating fear among their victims. They have a macabre pact; not to be arrested or caged. Brutality hits the town of Harrowfield when the scourge of the community is found dead, his companion slaughtered. The locals react with praise for the killers. The same day firefighters respond to a fire but lose the fight to save Merton Manor. Among the debris two bodies are discovered; executed. As Dylan struggles to cope with the pressure, armed officers await his judgement call. Can he remain professional or will he release his anger?
You can catch up with all previous First Draft Q&A’s Here.
Let me know if you are interested in doing one yourself.