Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: A.A. Abbott
Tell us about yourself.
My real name is Helen Blenkinsop and I’m the eldest of five. Like lots of children, I made up stories and fantasy adventure games. This entertained my four younger siblings and earned me brownie points with my parents. As an adult, the need to earn a living sent me into accountancy – luckily, I was good at maths as well as English. Since then, I’ve put my knowledge of finance to good use in my crime thrillers. Having worked recently in the City of London, I’ve seen ambitious, driven high flyers in the workplace, and I’ve channelled them in my stories.
The books are set in places I know, too. I was born in an industrial town near London and spent much of my life in Birmingham. There was a big upheaval as Britain moved away from a manufacturing economy and Brum became the shiny, service-focused city we see today. Although I moved to Bristol, I love Birmingham, visit it often and big it up in my Trail series of crime thrillers. Being in warm, buzzy Brum makes my heart sing.
While I’m not dyslexic, I’ve arranged for the Trail series to be published in a large print dyslexia-friendly edition as well as in traditional paperback and e-book formats. I wanted dyslexic family and friends to enjoy the crisp feel of a paperback as much as I do.
How long does your first draft take you?
Six weeks of daydreaming, research and planning, then eight weeks of writing.
There are two rewrites after that, though – the first when twenty lovely readers have given me feedback on the draft, and the second when my editor has reviewed it.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
Having been brought up in a large, noisy family, I can write anywhere – on a bus, on a train, or in a crowded room. I enjoy nipping out to a coffee bar with my laptop, though.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
I love research – reading and having a chat are two of life’s greatest pleasures. For “The Grass Trail”, I spoke to a prison officer and a hemp farmer, and forced myself to tour the Chase vodka distillery. It’s a hard life…
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
Gripped with enthusiasm to write a thriller about Big Tobacco, I plunged straight into writing my first book, “Up In Smoke”. 80,000 words in, I still didn’t have a clue how it would end. Licking it into shape was tough – I cut 30,000 words and two characters, totally redefining the plot. Since then, I’ve plotted my books in advance!
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Get your book professionally edited. When I first self-published a book, I thought feedback from twenty readers was enough. It isn’t. You can produce a good book that way, but it’ll be better if it’s edited.
What/who are you’re writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?
Anything that’s fast-paced and well-written will grab my attention, and that’s the style I’ve always aimed for. Ruth Rendell’s crime fiction has pride of place on my bookshelf, especially the darker thrillers she wrote as Barbara Vine. I love David Lodge’s stories, too – he’s not a crime writer, but he’s wickedly funny.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
A character in my latest crime thriller, “The Grass Trail”, turned out to be leading a double life. It wasn’t in the plot I’d planned so carefully, but as the book evolved, I suddenly realised what she’d been doing.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
There’s an emotional meeting between a mother and son in “The Grass Trail”. Tension oozes from their unspoken words as well as what they actually say. It was an interesting challenge to capture that.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?
Marty Bridges, the hero of the Trail series. He’s hard-nosed businessman, but capable of empathy – he remains shocked by the sudden death ten years ago of his foreign business partner and friend. His taste in real ale is impeccable, too. He likes Bathams Bitter and Two Towers Birmingham Mild, both a very fine drop indeed.
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Plotting the next Trail thriller.