Well, that was quite a bit tougher than I thought it would be! If I've been a little quiet over the last year, it's partly because I've been finding it extremely hard to complete the first draft of my new book. I know quite a few authors who sail close to (or right past) their deadlines but, up until now, I've always been okay about hitting my dates. However, in this case I didn't have a particular deadline and, until the last few months when the words started to come more quickly, I wondered if the journey would ever end.
This book is something of a departure for me. Having previously written 3 full-length novels and a novella for my Detective Harland series, I was now being asked to do something different, ideally set in London rather than Bristol. I had an idea for a standalone psychological thriller, so I started typing.
That was just over a year ago.
This week, I finally completed the first draft. I’m not sure why it took so long, or why I found it so difficult. All the books have been an effort, but this one was so much harder, and I frequently found myself hating it. Perhaps it was because I missed spending time in Bristol, or perhaps because I missed my familiar series characters. Certainly, I realised early on that I was spending an awful lot of time getting into the head of a character who I didn’t really get on with.
I discussed all this with Anya Lipska at CrimeFest earlier in the year, and she pointed out that I probably enjoyed writing the charismatic serial killer in my first two books “because he enjoys what he does”. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’m convinced that Anya knows a thing or two.
So it's been a long and difficult road, but I’ve finally reached that exciting first milestone: a complete draft. The characters and their stories have all changed quite a lot along the way, and I know that the book will change a lot more before it sees the light of day. But at least I’ve made it this far – ninety thousand joined-up words, with a beginning, middle, and end. And, having made it this far, I can finally unload the story from my head for a while – it’s been evolving and replaying in a continuous loop for quite long enough! But as I reached the latter stages of the book, something strange happened.
As you may know, I try to write "on location" as much as possible. Last weekend, I spent the morning in Highgate, writing one of the final chapters, then moved across to South End Green, to type up some notes for another scene. At the end of the afternoon, I finally left the café where I’d been writing, and walked towards the bus stop. I actually found myself slowing, turning around and looking back towards the café, towards the path that leads up onto Hampstead Heath, towards the road where my main character lives…
…and I realised that I was really going to miss all this. It sounds silly and sentimental, particularly after all that grumbling about how difficult this book has been. And I know I'm very far from finished. I know I'll spend days and weeks on the manuscript, editing and polishing...
But the story has happened now. For me, all those events are essentially "in the past".
You know how, when you're reading a book that really involves you, and you come to the end, and it leaves a sort of gap? Well, this story has certainly involved me, and the gap it's left behind is a big one.
Of course, it’s barely been 24 hours since I finished. I know I'll feel better, especially when I can enjoy a whole weekend relaxing, without spending half of it in another city. I'll be glad it's over.
And yet, I can already glimpse the sparks of new ideas, jostling for my attention. Part of me always wants to be writing. But next time around, I'm going to remember Anya's advice. Whatever I write next, I’m going to try and spend more time with a character who really enjoys what they do!