I run an online writers group through Facebook called Writers Ink (featured on the RTE Nine One News peak pandemic), and every Tuesday I do a blog post for them with my writing tips. Often this is in fact a progress report on where I’m up to with my latest book. I’ve just found the notes I made for my Tuesday Tips post when I was finishing the first draft of Remember My Name, and I thought they might be useful to share more widely as they give a window on the real workings of writing. Remember My Name has been in the original fiction top ten for six weeks now, but writing is never all plain sailing!
You often hear new writers talking about Writers Block, but I always feel that any block you suffer as a writer is for a very good reason. I outline my thoughts on Writers Block and how to solve it here, but I did get stuck at the very end of Remember My Name and I wasn’t, initially, quite sure why.
The first draft had been flowing magnificently, and then I came up against a chapter, quite near to the end, that I really couldn’t quite get to grips with. After a bit of thought I realised this was entirely due to floorplans :/ Exciting stuff I know, but this is what can happen…
I find that talking out in issue with someone (anyone who will listen, normally my kids, who aren’t actually listening at all, or my long-suffering agent if we’re having coffee and I have him trapped) helps me sort things out in my head. On this occasion, writing my Tuesday Tips gave me the insight I needed…
I do a good bit of planning with each book, and even if I go off track, I know generally which direction I should be heading in. At this point in Remember My Name, I had the last scene in my head – at least I had an image of light on the blue water of a swimming pool. What I didn’t know was what happened in the pool, or if there was a body in it.
I was at 81,445 words in the first draft – which was also part of the ‘stuck’ problem – I knew I was going to get to the end too fast – my aim is to get to 90k in a first draft, but at this stage, I was now probably three chapters from what could be the end, which represented about 4k words.
I knew there were still some chapters I need to ‘back fill’ early in the draft where I had left markers for myself to return and find out what was happening. These would help with the word count, but not significantly. In order to keep going, I decided to go back to those chapters again – one at least of which concerned a minor character who was a woman we left in hospital in chapter 4 or so and didn’t hear of again until chapter 42, yikes! I felt that there was a good chance that an element of her story needed to dovetail into the last chapter and that’s why my mind isn’t co-operating with moving towards the end.
The other issue, I realised, was floorplans. When I started Remember My Name, I created a story board, and the main house featured on it is in Dalkey (it was for sale if you’d €5 million or so, to spare.) I had based my internal descriptions on how I imagined it might look inside – a big sunroom/kitchen at the back of the house, the pool room also at the back (it doesn’t have a pool in real life, as far as I know), and the living room at the front. But I didn’t draw a floor plan or quite work out how these rooms all connected.
As I neared the end of the story, I realised that I really needed a handy drying towels/robe room between the pool and the utility room that was accessible via the kitchen. I needed to get characters from the kitchen to the pool without a long trip down winding corridos. I also needed to work out the route a guest would take to the dining room. My last scene involved someone coming to dinner and they have to eat somewhere (although they never actually get there). Logically, if I was planning this house in real life, I’d have a service door off the kitchen going into the dining room, and a separate main door for guests.
A sensitive conversation had to happen in the pool room (it’s sound-proofed, and secure because it’s at the back of the house) but to get from there to the dining room, at that stage, you had to go on a merry dance around the house.
Our hostess, Cressida Howard, wasn’t going to take her high-profile guest through my newly constructed laundry room and into the kitchen, so there was some jiggling to be done.
I knew I could change the layout of the house, but getting it all to flow logically was essential to getting the big action scene correct. It’s vital to me that whatever happens in a book, can happen, that everything makes sense and is logical if you really drill into it. As I chewed on it, I realised there needed to be access to the pool room from the front of the house, and a double garage was part of my solution. Obviously the house was likely to have a garage, but the way everything linked up – garage to pool service room, and around the corner to the changing rooms – I hadn’t, at that point, got clear in my head.
I’m only giving you the tip of the iceberg here in case you haven’t read Remember My Name, but there are three lots of characters who have to pop up in this last scene, and the floorplan is key to enabling that.
The moral of all of this, is do your groundwork.
I often get floorplans from myhome.ie and merge them with photos/floorplans from other places – the way someone’s home looks reflects their character, and is a great way to show what they are like in person, very subtly. I mention this in my article Building on Detail.
In writing the Tuesday Tips for the Writers Ink group, the pennies began to drop and by the end I’d already moved forwards – the person I *was* going to hide in the utility room (who had come in via the back door), but who I needed to emerge from the changing rooms in the pool (which would have been another impossibility with the original floorplan) actually gets into the house through the garage. And now it all works – with explosive consequences.
I’m a firm believer that if you’re blocked, it’s for a reason, and you have to listen to your subconscious mind. You subconscious is where the creative magic happens and if there’s a problem, you subconscious will know well before your conscious mind. Learn to listen to it!
Thankfully I was able to get all the players in the last scene in Remember My Name into the right places, and the Daily Mail described it as ‘deliciously twisty’. Success! The Sunday Business Post said: ‘[Blake is] creating genuine page turners with metronomic timing that will keep her army of fans entertained.’
Remember My Name went straight to No 1 and has been in the top ten for six weeks – it’s in shops now or you can order online and see exactly what I’m talking about and why that last scene is so important!
(c) Sam Blake
If she’d turned off her phone, instead of listening in, perhaps no one would have died…
When Cressida Howard catches her entrepreneur husband playing away from home, she hires security expert Brioni O’Brien to get the evidence she needs for a speedy and financially rewarding divorce.
But what Brioni uncovers goes beyond simple infidelity. Because Laurence Howard is also in bed with some very dangerous people. Bribery and blackmail are the least of his worries as someone comes after the women in his life – someone who is out to destroy Laurence and his empire, whatever the cost.
And Cressida and her teenage daughter could soon be collateral damage, if she and Brioni don’t act fast.
Remember My Name came out on 6th Janauary, 2022, went straight to No 1 and stayed in the top ten for six weeks. Order your copy online here.