Monday, 17 March 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Like most writers, I am fascinated by the writing processes of other authors. I have always loved books like Les Deux Solicitudes (based on letters exchanged between Canadian writers Margaret Atwood and Victor Levy-Beaulieu). And more recently I was inspired by the YouTube video of Orna Ross interviewing Roz Morris, Jessica Bell and Kevin Booth on their creative processes. (How To Write A Book: Seven Stages of The Creative Process.)

I was therefore delighted when Lorna Fergusson from ( and invited me to take part in a blog tour exploring our writing processes. If you would like to read her take on the subject, you can find it here.


1) What am I working on now?
I am at the very early stages of a new novel. I am pretty sure I know who the main characters are - three or possibly four generations of women with a close bond but who are not blood relatives. I know the world they live in, and I know at least one of their stories. But I haven’t worked out yet how their stories knit together. It all still feels a bit ephemeral and elusive – especially as time to spend working on it keeps getting swamped by the demands of my non-fiction writing.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I suppose you would call my books literary fiction – which some might say is the box of misshapes that won’t fit any other category!

My books tend to be issues-led. Both my first two books involved questions of identity, racism and childhood memory. They are also both set in a very particular time and place. The main events of Gift of the Raven take place in Western Canada in the first six months of 1971. Ghost Town is set in Coventry in 1981 – and the exact dates on which it begins and ends are pinpointed by real events!

I’d like to think, though, that they are also good page-turning stories. Ghost Town includes elements of both a love story and a thriller, while Gift of the Raven is more of a coming of age story.

3) Why do I write what I do?

It’s a compulsion. I write because a particular story takes me by the throat and won’t let go.

4) How does my writing process work?

I spent so long editing my last book, I found I had actually lost touch with my own creative processes. One of the things that the ‘Seven Stages’ video reminded me was that I could give myself permission to work in a non-linear way. In these very early stages of creativity you don’t have to ‘begin at the beginning and go on till you get to the end and then stop.’

Large chunks of Ghost Town were written on the commuter train going in and out of London. My children were small back then, and those 45 mins each morning and evening were pretty much the only times I had when neither work nor family were making demands on me. And I made the most of them!

I am no longer a commuter, so that’s one element of my old creative process I can’t reproduce. But I can go back to working in longhand on large blocks of unruled paper. I can draw mind-maps and spider diagrams as a way of bottoming out issues with a character or a scene. I can write scene out of order and work out how they fit together later.

For me, each new book is an entirely new world. No familiar territory to return to, no recurring characters, and no elements of genre to provide sign-posts as to which direction the plot might turn next. So I am on uncharted territory right now, mapping out a route as I go – climbing a few hills, taking bearings, noting landmarks. For those who don’t work this way, it probably sounds like a massively inefficient way to produce a first draft. But for me it is more efficient than being stymied by the tyranny of what comes next.

The other factor in this early stage is research. I enjoy this WAY too much. I can spend days happily following an some diversion that will never be used in the book. I am very conscious that much of the research that I did for Ghost Town ended up being totally superfluous. On the other hand, it provided a foundation of authenticity for the book that – judging by the comments I get – readers do recognise. So it’s all about finding the right balance.

The next step is to transcribe my longhand notes onto the computer. This becomes the first stage of editing for me, and when something approaching a coherent first draft appears out of the muddle. I will then work on this, chapter by chapter, refining it, mining it for themes, discarding the pieces that turn out not to be part of the whole picture.

My editing bible has been a book I discovered years ago – Revision by David Michael Kaplan, who also gave me my favourite writing quote: “Before you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, first you need a sow’s ear.” Kaplan takes a triage approach to editing, starting with big structural issues and working his way down to line editing. There is no point, as he says, worrying about the mot juste for a sentence in the middle of Chapter 8 if you are going to end up deleting the whole of Chapter 8 because it does nothing to more your story forward!

When it’s as good as I can make it, it’s time to let my Triskele colleagues loose on it. Triskele Books is an author collective that was born out of an online critique group. We have been critiquing each others work for over five years now and we trust one another completely. That means we can be tough, while still respecting each author’s own writing style. We each bring different skills to the editing mix too – an ear for the rhythm of a sentence, a nose for poor pacing, an eye for spotting inconsistencies. Between us, there’s not much we miss.

At this point there must be a cooling off period. This enables me to view others’ comments dispassionately, but also to take cold, hard look at my work for myself. This final stage of editing has to be utterly ruthless. For me, it’s like giving a plant a hard pruning. Even branches that bloomed particularly beautifully, that seemed integral to the whole thing, sometimes have to be cut.

Then finally it’s time to hand over to our wonderful proofreader, Perry Iles. Not only is he acutely allergic to sloppy adverbs, but if you have, say, had someone drive a car that wasn’t made until five years after your book is set, Perry will spot it. When he is done with it, your manuscript will be very clean indeed.

And that’s it. A finished book, ready for typesetting and cover design. But right now, that still seems a very long way off indeed.

Next week I have invited three authors with links to Triskele Books to taken part in this blog tour, Gillian Hamer, JD Smith and Barbara Scott Emmett.

Born in the industrial Midlands, Gillian Hamer's heart has always yearned for the wilds of North Wales and the pull of the ocean. A company director for over twenty years, she has written obsessively for over a decade, predominantly in the crime genre. She is a columnist for Words with Jam magazine and a founder member of Triskele Books. She splits her time between Birmingham and a remote cottage on Anglesey where she finds her inspiration. You can find out more about her at or follow her on Twitter @gillyhamer.

JD Smith (Jane) lives and works in the English Lake District. Having worked book cover design and typesetting. She is the editor of the writing magazine Words with JAM and the review site Bookmuse, the author of Tristan and Iseult and The Rise of Zenobia, the Overlord series, published with the Triskele Books collective. Her blog can be found at
as a graphic designer since the age of 17, her passion for books and everything literary took over and she now works predominantly on

After many years travelling the globe, Barbara Scott Emmett has returned to her home town Newcastle, where she writes in a room overlooking the Tyne. Having previously published plays, poetry, short stories and erotica she now concentrates on novel writing. The Land Beyond Goodbye and Don’t Look Down are available as ebooks. Her latest novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion will be published in 2014 with the assistance of Triskele Books. Her blog can be found at