Bergerac meets Howards Way
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I occasionally go to author talks and, even more occasionally, to author talks on the Internet. You’ll also know that I love some and find others really not so good.
I’m happy to report that I went to a really enjoyable author talk recently at the Lee Hub in Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire, given by local thriller writer Pauline Rowson. It had been advertised as “how she plots and plans and writes her books”, so I was a little more confident than usual that I would find something of interest.
Not only did I pick up some good writing tips from Pauline, but I found her to be a very good speaker, amusing, informative, friendly and approachable. I had read one of her books prior to attending the talk – something I found to be extremely useful as I could relate when she spoke about her characters and the settings of her books.
Pauline is about to publish the 16th in her Solent Murder Mystery series that stars DI Andy Horton. She’s also published another series set in the 1950s, and a thriller series starring ex-Marine Art Marvik. She’s been published in the UK, the USA and the Commonwealth and has had one of her books optioned for TV.
One of the most common questions that authors are asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” Pauline says that’s the easy bit. Whenever she’s out and about, she’s “always looking for a place to put a body!”
She starts her planning with a spidergram. She puts her initial idea in the middle circle and then asks the writer’s questions: WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE HOW and WHY. Those questions must be answered by the end of the book.
Because she uses local settings, she says she has to ask permission to stage a murder there. Some places love the idea, others say “we’d rather you didn’t.” Then it’s a case of changing the names.
Pauline spends a couple of weeks doing research, creating a storyboard, timeline, character profiles and chapter breakdown. The first draft of an 80,000-word novel takes between two and four months (depending on whether she’s working on other books at the same time) and she says the first draft is usually “awful”. But the idea is to just get it down, get the bones sorted and then it is easier to edit.
Over the years, Pauline has developed a considerable network of people she can call on for advice, including her husband who’s a keen sailor. She describes her Andy Horton books as Bergerac meets Howard’s Way and although I’m not a sailor, the sailing references and know-how definitely bring an accessible authenticity to her writing. She has found the Hampshire Police to be very helpful with her forensic questions. And she says, many people just love talking about their work.
Pauline was good enough to show us her spidergrams and other planning notes (I’ve been to a number of courses where the authors treat those as state secrets, not to be shared with other writers!). She frequently goes through her plans, adding her own codes – C for where a clue needs fitting in, RH for a Red Herring and M for Motive.
Another of Pauline’s tips for writers is one that I must take on board: “Writers must travel by public transport,” she says. “You see and meet so many people. You notice their mannerisms, how they talk etc.”
As someone who’s far too impatient to wait for public transport, and who loves driving, I must take her advice sometime!
Even with such a wealth of writing behind her, Pauline says she does sometimes get stuck. She refuses to call it Writer’s Block and gets past it by knitting, going for a walk or just introducing another body!
She isn’t a daily word counter but is definitely an advocate of writing every day. Each book takes between six and eight months to finish, including up to eight drafts or revisions. As she says, in the world of commercial fiction, you have to keep them coming!
Pauline wasn’t brought up in a particularly literary household. But she recalls that she started writing when she was 11 years of age. Before writing full-time, she worked in marketing and PR. The start of her “serious” writing was back in 1988 and she says it took her 20 years to get published. She self-published to start with, became a big name in libraries and was then talent-spotted by a publisher. She still has no agent today.
Thanks to the Lee Hub, Lee-on-Solent’s independent community library, for putting on the talk, complete with tea and cakes. For news of their other activities www.leehub.co.uk
I’m off to investigate public transport! I hope you have a good month. Keep cool and carry on writing!