Today I’m thrilled to welcome crime author, A. D. Garrett to the blog to talk about her revision process.
A.D. Garrett is the pseudonym for prize-winning novelist Margaret Murphy working in consultation with policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper.
Margaret Murphy has published nine internationally acclaimed psychological thrillers under her own name – both stand-alone and police series. She is Writing Fellow and Reading Round Lector for the Royal Literary Fund, a past Chair of the Crime Writers Association (CWA), and founder of Murder Squad. A CWA Short Story Dagger winner, she has been shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award for crime fiction as well as the CWA Dagger in the Library. Her lifelong passion for science is reflected in her painstaking research for her novels. In 2013, writing as A.D. Garrett, Margaret began a new forensic series, featuring Professor Nick Fennimore and DCI Kate Simms. Truth Will Out, the third in the series, is now available in paperback.
You can read A.D. Garrett’s First Draft process Here.
Your first draft has been completed, what state is it generally in?
Pretty good. I work from a detailed outline and revise as I write, so the first draft is fairly clean and coherent.
What is the first thing do before you start to revise?
Set the thing down and walk away! I leave it for as long as I can afford to without missing the submission deadline. Time away from a completed draft creates intellectual and emotional distance from the work, allowing greater objectivity.
How do you assess the damage that needs working on?
I aim to do a complete read-through without making changes, simply annotating and using stick-it notes to highlight what needs a second look. But it rarely ends up that way, because I can’t resist tinkering.
Do you allow anyone to read that very first draft before revisions or can you assess it objectively yourself?
I read each chapter aloud to my OH, as I complete it, and he gives verbal feedback. My forensic adviser, Helen Pepper then gives longer wodges of the work the once-over. She looks for technical errors in the science or police procedure, but she’s a great proofreader, too! Beyond that, I’m on my own. My agent doesn’t want to see the work until I am satisfied there’s nothing more I can do to improve it – and I think most agents would agree with this approach. You want your agent to say, ‘Wow – this is great! . . . There are just one or two suggestions I’d make . . .’ You shouldn’t be presenting them with an interesting premise or raw material, it should be fully formed, beautifully sculpted, and polished this till it gleams. What they see should excite them so they can’t wait to show it to people, not fill them with dread at all the work that needs to be done before it’s presentable.
What do you initially focus on, when approaching the completed first draft of the manuscript?
It’s no one, single thing. I try approach the piece as a reader would (which is why that emotional distance is so important). I also invite my editorial super ego to read over my shoulder and s/he adds her helpful (and sometimes brutal) comments as we go. I have taught creative writing from hobby-writing to MA level, and having read hundreds of scripts over the years, I do have a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t – and more importantly, I usually know how to fix it.
Do you have any rituals, writing or real-world, when revising a manuscript?
I print out the entire script and move away from the computer. Then I’ll read and annotate on the sofa in the sitting room, rather than at my desk, and always in silence. I love music, but it fills my head and ruins my concentration.
In what format do you revise, paper or computer?
I can do quick revisions of a page or two on screen, but as I mentioned above for a chapter or an entire story or novel, it has to be on paper. For one thing, when you print work out on an A4 sheet, you can see an entire page and still read the print – compared with the third of a page I can see on-screen of what I’m typing now. With print, you get a literal overview of the text. If that doesn’t convince any writers out there who edit on the computer, psychologists have convincingly shown that we process printed matter differently from opposed to digital text. We read hard copy more accurately and spot more errors; our processing of complex material is more effective, and – bonus ball in the editorial lottery – we remain more alert, and tire less easily.
How messy is the revision process – can you go in and repair areas or does the whole manuscript get decimated?
The outline is the place for slash and burn, and I write detailed outlines – so the first draft of manuscript shouldn’t need radical surgery. That said, I’ve deleted entire chapters and removed characters in the revision process of several novels.
Is revision an overhaul of the story or is it minor editing?
I couldn’t call it a complete overhaul, but it is a rigorous process, tightening the story, sometimes word-by-word, sometimes paragraph-by-paragraph. The redraft of Believe No One reduced the word count by between 15-20% with no radical changes to the story, simply cutting out anything I felt on second reading hadn’t earned its place in the novel.
What’s the biggest change you’ve made to a story during this process?
I killed someone in the first draft of a novel. He survived in the second draft. I killed him in the third draft.
When first drafting, many writers keep track of progress by counting words in a day. How do you make sure you’re progressing as you’re revising?
I set myself a deadline at each stage: so many days for the read-through; so many days for each chunk of revisions, always with the final date for submission in mind. I set a personal deadline, too, which is usually weeks before the publisher’s deadline – allowing for a further redraft, if necessary.
Do you prefer to write the first draft or do you prefer the revision process?
I enjoy both. When the writing is going well, it’s exciting, thrilling, exhilarating – and just about the most fulfilling of the thirteen or so jobs I’ve ever done in life. But when the words don’t come, boy it’s tough . . .
With editorial, at least you have something to work with, and the pleasure of crafting and reshaping a story is richly rewarding. It opens a world of new possibilities – which is why I look forward to my agent’s and publisher’s editorial suggestions with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.
What do you drink while you’re working?
Tea, mostly, and I do like proper leaf tea, brewed in a proper pot. But I do enjoy the odd coffee, too, and I recently treated myself to an espresso coffee maker so I can make genuine lattes and cappuccinos.
How long does this process take and what shape is the book now in?
After the resting phase, a month, usually. Then it goes to my agent and publisher simultaneously. I’m usually given 1 – 2 months to complete the revisions they suggest. After that, it goes through to copyediting and proofreading, before it’s allowed to play out with the readers.
Thanks for digging into your revision process for us.
Truth Will Out
A mother and daughter are snatched on their way home from the cinema. The crime bears a number of chilling similarities to a cold case Prof. Nick Fennimore was involved in. Then Nick begins receiving taunting messages – is he being targeted by the kidnapper?
Meanwhile, a photograph emailed from Paris could bring Fennimore closer to discovering the fate of his daughter Suzie, now missing for six years. He seeks help from his old friend, DCI Kate Simms, recently returned from the US. But Kate is soon blocked from the investigation… The mother and childs’ lives hang in the balance as Fennimore and Simms try to break through police bureaucracy to identify their abductor.
If you fancy taking part, drop me a line.