‘I’ve got a golf competition this weekend so I won’t be around much. Is that OK?’ my husband asks. What? ‘Of course it is. I’ll be fine.’ Am I the perfect wife? Not really. I’m actually relishing the thought of some time on my own and headspace to think and write. People ask what my writing day is like but it doesn’t exist, sadly. I wish it did. It would be wonderful to have a whole, uninterrupted day of writing stretching ahead of me. Instead, I have to shoehorn it into my busy life managing a care agency with my husband, running a family home and getting out of my chair constantly for my two demanding cats.
The reason I write is in my blog ‘A Lifelong Love Story’ but people also ask where I write. Well, to be honest, I can write anywhere at any time. I have become adept at snatching a quick five minutes to write a few lines on my laptop or staying in the office after work to finish a chapter. I started my novel writing course with the vague hope of being able to at least plan and write an outline for a book now that my three children are (almost) independent. I was totally unprepared for the hobby, as it was then, to knock me sideways and take over the majority of my waking thoughts.
My husband and family were also totally unprepared so I soon heard the frequent grumble, ‘Are you tippety tapping AGAIN!’ Cue rolling of eyes, a deep sigh and stomping footsteps. Previously I’d moaned that he spent a lot of time on the golf course but now I feel like sneaking onto the club’s website and booking him into all the competitions. As soon as he’s out of the door I whip open the laptop and write until my heart sings. A text arrives saying, ‘Is it OK with you if I go to the pub to watch the football?’ – ‘Sure! No problem’ I reply with a leap of joy at the prospect of an extra undisturbed hour.
When he’s in the house I feel as though I’m sneaking off to make illicit calls to a lover, not indulging in my new writing passion. I’ve even been tempted to take the laptop into the bathroom and turn the shower on, pretending to get in it while I rattle off a few more lines. Yes, writing has become an addiction and yes, I acknowledge, I am obsessed. Maybe if he didn’t moan about it I wouldn’t get such guilty pleasure from it – much like chocolate being far more desirable if you’re on a diet.
People complain about writer’s block causing them to stall and stutter but I don’t have that luxury. If I’m in front of the laptop I need to write quickly because within five minutes the cat will be howling to go out, the phone will be ringing and I’ll need to empty the bins or cook the evening meal. I’ve been accused of ruining the family holiday because of my desire to rush back to the apartment every night to write. So not true! All right … I admit I said we’d run out of things to talk about in the restaurant and it was getting boring and yes … I did sneak off for an hour while the rest of you lay by the pool. But too much sun isn’t good for you anyway!
There are times when I do feel guilty though. Take this morning for instance. My husband is on another golf day, Yay! my son is working away and my granddaughter is having a teenage lie-in. I put the cat out in the snow and promise to let him in in five minutes time. Three hours later, (yes, three whole blissful hours!) I suddenly remember him and abandon my laptop to run downstairs. He charges across the garden yowling and muttering at me for being such a bad owner, his little spotty back layered with snow. It’s so easy to lose chunks of time when I’m writing. Get a cat flap! I hear you cry. I agree that’s what we need but my husband won’t hear of it as he says they’re draughty and our creaky old house has draughts enough.
I started my first book – and my obsession with writing – in January 2017 and had finished the first draft by July. I then spent three months re-writing and editing it before altering it again for Bloodhound. My husband said if I ever wrote another book he’d divorce me. I won’t be bullied so I told him I plan to write a trilogy. I began my second book (not a trilogy by the way) around Christmas 2017 and had to leave it alone while I edited Dying to See You. I then picked it up again in the New Year once my numerous houseguests had gone home. I’ve just finished the first draft in a much shorter time than book one but I’ve got the hang of it now.
I’ve developed a certain style and structure for my books. I listened to friends at book club who said they preferred short chapters that could be read in snatched moments of peace. They also enjoyed a continuous chronology (they really didn’t like jumping back and forth in time) and more than one viewpoint. I chose first person, present tense for my main protagonist and intimate third person for my secondary characters. I like the reader to be inside the character’s head as the events unfurl.
I have several characters in Dying to See You but they are introduced slowly so as not to overwhelm people. When I received my edit report from Bloodhound I was impressed by the character list and summary of each chapter and decided to do this for book two as I go along. I plan out the next few thousand words by writing a handful of lines for each chapter then put it into a table. Black and white means I haven’t written it yet.
When I highlight the table after writing a chapter I choose a different colour for each person. This way I can see who is getting the most limelight and whether anyone is being forgotten. Not that they let me forget them. Once I’m into a book it’s as if they’ve taken up residence in my head and they demand to be heard. I wake in the middle of the night and creep out of bed to write down what they’ve said. If I’m in bed and need to make a few notes with the light on I drape a sock over my husband’s eyes to block out the light. As long as it’s a clean one he’ll just grunt and doze off again.
I like to stop mid-flow when I write because it’s easier to pick it up again and carry on in third gear. Dragging the story from standstill uses much more energy and thought. When I go back to my work in progress I read what I’ve written the day before and give it a quick edit then carry on. Until recent health issues stopped me I used to go to a local swimming pool two or three times a week, not only to get exercise but also time to think without any distractions. I can totally focus my mind on my story as I swim then write a few notes in the changing room if necessary. Weirdly though, once I’ve thought of what is going to happen next it’s as though I’ve read it in someone else’s book and I can remember it clearly.
Friends ask me if any characters based on real people – maybe they think they’ll recognise themselves. Not really, I say although I suppose some of Sophie is me because I was also a single parent for a while. Her daughters Tilly and Mia are built from personal experiences with my own children. Many of the phrases written are things they actually said. The events are definitely fictitious though, thank God! After all, this is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller. The inspiration for the story is written in my blog ‘How well can we ever really know someone?’ but the horror was entirely from my own warped imagination. Once I’d thought of the twist the rest of the book was built around it.
I lie though. The biggest concern for my husband isn’t the time I spend writing. It is pipped to the ‘Bloody Hell!’ post by the weird and gruesome websites I look at. When he opens the i-pad and I’ve been reading an article on ‘where can I hide a body?’ or ‘how long does it take for a body to decompose?’ he turns a stronger shade of green than when he accidentally flicks channels to a gory operation on Casualty.
‘The authorities will be checking up on you!’ he says. ‘Don’t ever write a book about making bombs or terrorism or they’ll be breaking down the front door’. Hmm. Is there a story in that somewhere?