I may be drawing my pension but I am a baby writer – not even a teenager yet with all that age group’s total confidence in their own abilities. My first novel The Perfume Killer has just been released and to say I feel totally unworthy of being asked to write about being a writer would be an understatement.
So how did this all come about for me? I have been a dreamer all my life. As an only child brought up in inner city Belfast in the 1960s, I depended on my imagination and my books for much of my entertainment. I read avidly, stereotypically even under the bed covers at night. My favourite ‘game’ as a child was cutting figures from magazines and directing scenes of their adventures as I moved them around and created dialogue between them. If I ever thought of one day being an author, it would have seemed very much out of reach for a working-class child.
But, of course, then real life intervened in any dreams I might have harboured. I had a husband, a home, a family and a career to fill my time. My writing was confined to interesting resources for my classes and research papers for academic journals. But I can remember chatting with colleagues over twenty years ago about the opening scene for a novel I would love to write and if you read my book you can read that scene. It is now the prologue to The Perfume Killer.
When I retired I might have toyed with the idea of writing but somehow I never quite got around to it. I now had a retired husband and two grandchildren to fill my days. Anyway, I confess procrastination might be my middle name. Then along came covid and changed my life like everyone else’s. My husband and I couldn’t even meet up with family. Now my imagination had its chance. I had plenty of time to indulge my dream. I found an online Crime Writing Course sponsored by the Arts Council and facilitated by James Murphy, the writer of the Terror trilogy. Those evenings became the highlight of the week for me. It was fascinating to learn about planning – something which in every aspect of life I am not very good at – and creating characters, how to structure plotlines, common tropes and so much more. There was practical advice and the opportunity to share work with my fellow course participants. But I think what I got above all else from these classes was the sense I wasn’t alone, nor was I weird for wanting to write a crime novel. There were others out there too and we were able to encourage each other. I gained a sense of having permission to give it a go.
I took as my starting point that scene I had envisaged over twenty years ago. Now with nowhere to go; no one dropping in for coffee or coming for dinner my characters became my new best friends and their adventures filled my days and my nights. I wrote for a couple of hours when I woke each morning and again for a few hours, last thing at night. I even dreamt about the characters and what was happening to them and would sometimes wake in the morning with a whole scene or chapter to add to my draft.
Now for true confessions time. I didn’t plan the novel. Heresy, I know, but it worked for me this time at least. I knew how the story started. I knew how the story ended. Then I just had to get my characters from one to the other. At times it seemed to take on a life of its own so the characters were driving the story forward rather than anything I was doing. And the characters really did become so well known to me like old friends.
I was stunned when I submitted my draft novel and was offered a contract. The process of working with an editor has been exciting and I have learned a lot from it. It really forced me to be more selective in what I was including and especially made me think about the pace of the storyline.
If there was any advice I would offer it would be this. Firstly, start and keep going. When I was involved with a youth scheme I remember telling the young people that to achieve they didn’t have to be especially clever or super fit but they needed ‘stickability’. They needed to start and keep going and they would get there and I think writing is like that too.
The second piece of advice is to write for yourself. I didn’t concern myself with thinking about who my audience was going to be when I started writing. Yes. I eventually thought about a target audience and what they would expect but in the first instance I was writing for me, myself. If no one else ever read it, that would be OK. Of course, I am absolutely delighted that others have read it and it is doing so well. It is gratifying to think that you can entertain others with your writing.
I have already submitted the draft of my second book in the Gawn Girvin series. It is with my editor and I look forward to getting her feedback. I have finished a first draft of a third book in the series and have started on both a fourth and a fifth. I told you I wasn’t really a planner and having got halfway through what was to be the fourth, decided I needed something else to happen to Gawn Girvin before the storyline of the fifth book! As my old granny used to say, dear knows where she’ll end up! But, as a writer, I’ll have a lot of fun taking her there.
(c) Linda Hagan
About The Perfume Killer:
A murder in a public place, a victim who hides his killer’s intent…
A German citizen is murdered in Belfast Botanic Gardens. Investigating, DCI Gawn Girvin concludes it is a revenge killing. But she draws a blank from CCTV and forensics.
The only clue is the top of a perfume bottle found at the scene. As frustration sets in, Girvin develops a hunch that by tracing the victim’s criminal connections, they’ve followed the wrong scent.
A young female university student seen nearby may hold the only key to unlocking the case. And like a bloodhound, Girvin follows the new leads.
But being ex-army, her cold demeanour is a magnet for risk takers. It means she gets results, but also puts herself in danger. And she could be charging into her biggest challenge yet.
THE PERFUME KILLER is Linda Hagan’s debut novel. Look out for FATAL FLIGHT, her second, which will be coming out soon.
Set in Belfast, THE PERFUME KILLER will particularly appeal to readers of Northern Irish crime writers such as Robert McCracken, Diane Jeffrey, and Claire McGowan, and in general all those who love a cracking mystery.
Order your copy online here.