I’ve just sent the final proof changes for my new thriller Keep Your Eyes on Me to my wonderful editors Sara O’Keefe and Poppy Mostyn-Owen in Corvus Atlantic. My first three books Little Bones, In Deep Water and No Turning Back are all police procedurals featuring Dun Laoghaire based detective Cat Connolly, but this new book is something different – it’s a psychological thriller, essentially Strangers on a Train (except my ladies are on a plane to New York) meets Dial M for Murder – and it’ll be out in Jan 2020.
I loved writing something new – those of you who know Cat Connolly will recognise elements and characters from her world – but this is a totally different book. And it’s the first part of a two book deal, so NOW I have to come up with another story.
If you’re sitting looking at a blank screen, or one filled with disconnected mutterings, I’m your sister. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this bit. Above my desk I’ve got an enlarged version of this image:
Motivational quotes are honestly what keep me going through this first part of getting started – this finding the story part. I discovered a list of 200 at Oberlo and I’m all over No 2:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Amazing author Alex Marwood, whose characters are literally to die for (check out The Poison Garden coming out in July) and who has been blurbed by Stephen King (I know) says she ‘writes the stuff’ before she gets started. I’m a demon plotter and planner, but when we did a series of events together in London, her ‘write the stuff’ – which can be 40,000 words of stuff – struck a real chord with me. Writing the stuff isn’t the actual book, so there’s no pressure for it to be perfect – it gets you into the story without the sweat, but crucially it gets words on the page.
Once the words are there, you can work with them – even if you end up deleting most of them, there will be lines and perhaps, if you’re lucky, paragraphs, you can keep. Paragraphs you would never have found if you hadn’t started. Several years ago I presented a series for Writers Web TV and Monica McInerney revealed that, as an organic writer who doesn’t plot, she had once found herself down a 40k word rabbit hole, but the bits she salvaged were absolutely crucial to the story.
Heading down to Listowel Writers Week last weekend I bumped into Kit de Waal and we had this exact conversation. The bits of story ideas float in her head as well, percolating for a long time before she puts pen to paper. And as a plotter, once the thinking part is done, she outlines until she knows exactly what is happening in her book. The writing part is like joining the dots.
I learn something every time I go to an event with a writer, whether it’s listening to them talk about their process or bumping into them on the train. If you’re getting started writing, literary events are a brilliant way to find out ways to perfect what works for you. Not every writer is a plotter – although Jeffery Deaver revealed he writes a 150 page outline for each new book at a recent Midsummer Murder One event. James Ellroy does something very similar – he takes the framework of historical fact and people and weaves his own truth around it in a detailed treatment before he starts writing. After creating markers with things like key dates – things that he cannot change (like the bombing of Pearl Harbour that forms the key moment in This Storm) he creates his own reality.
But books aren’t just about plot, character is crucial and all the authors I’ve been chatting to recently spend a LOT of time getting those right. Deaver revealed that his brilliant new character Colter Shaw (if you like Jack Reacher’s retention of detail you’ll LOVE Colter Shaw) came about when he heard a statistic on the radio about unsolved crime, and how police forces often put up rewards for information regarding missing people. That set him thinking about a character who loves the puzzle as much as the chase. He’s not a bounty hunter, often he doesn’t even claim the reward, but if law enforcement are stumped, he loves the thrill of finding a solution.
Good fiction has to have brilliant characters – I found my cast in Keep Your Eyes on Me, but now I need to think about the next book and as Alex says ‘write the stuff’ to find the story. I know it’s set in London during that incredibly hot summer a year or so ago, and I have some of the characters very clearly formed in my head, I know roughly what it’s about but I’ve been battling with making it a story about what happens when a sister loses her sister, rather a huge story of political drama (at one point I had a brilliant plot line about a chemical weapon explosion in central London – I’d done SO much fascinating research; then my very patient agent said ‘you know that would close central London down for about ten years, I’m not sure that’s the type of book you write’.)
I’ve got Scivener downloaded onto my new laptop and pages and pages of research filed beautifully, I’ve got photos of my protagonists. And next week Karin Slaughter is in Dublin for Midsummer Murder One, and, if I can manage to string a sentence together without totally fan-girling, I’m introducing her. Inspiration turns up in the strangest places, but meeting your heroes is the ultimate source for me, I’m DYING to find out more about her process.
So far I’ve taken a nugget of gold away from every single one of the Midsummer Murder One events – from Jeffery Deaver’s three twists to James Elroy’s outlines. Writer events are hugely inspirational and provide a wealth of information – there’s no ‘right’ way to write, only by listening to other authors can you develop a method that works for you. And if you can’t type, or don’t have a computer, or don’t have time to sit down, that’s no excuse! Talk your ideas into your phone and use a typing transcription service to get it all down into one document that you will be able to work on. If the blank page is the problem, take the dog and and talk through your story instead – there is a solution to everything these days!
If you’d like to treat yourself to a new book, the Kindle edition of Keep Your Eyes on Me is available to pre -order – give yourself a post Christmas pressie, you’ll have completely forgotten you ordered it when it arrives in a whisper…
Happy plotting! Book 5 here I come…
(c) Sam Blake
Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the national writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland’s leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Sam has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.
No Turning Back is the third bestseller in Sam Blake’s Cat Connolly detective series, but works very well as a stand alone if you haven’t read the Irish Book Awards shortlisted Little Bones or In Deep Water. Here’s the blurb:
Even perfect families have secrets . . .
Orla and Conor Quinn are the perfect power couple: smart, successful and glamorous. But then the unthinkable happens. Their only son, Tom, is the victim of a deliberate hit-and-run.
Detective Garda Cathy Connolly has just left Tom’s parents when she is called to the discovery of another body, this time in Dillon’s Park, not far from where Tom Quinn was found. What led shy student Lauren O’Reilly to apparently take her own life? She was a friend of Tom’s and they both died on the same night – are their deaths connected and if so, how?
As Cathy delves deeper, she uncovers links to the Dark Web and a catalogue of cold cases, realising that those involved each have their own reasons for hiding things from the police. But events are about to get a lot more frightening . . .
Pick up your copy online here!