Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Carol Wyer
Tell us about yourself...
I’ve started this section ten times and still I don’t know what to say! Why is this so hard? Okay, 11th time lucky… I’m best known for writing crime fiction but I was originally a linguist, teaching languages and translating for companies, and dabbled in writing with a series of educational stories for children aged 3-5, that taught French. I only began writing for the adult market in 2010, when I decided I wanted to create light-hearted reads aimed at the more mature market. My first six novels and three non-fiction books were all comedies, that laughed at life, getting older and all that it entails, and I even moved into stand -up comedy for a while. I toured the Midlands and headlined book festivals with my routine, Smile While You Still have Teeth. In 2017, I tried my hand at crime fiction with Little Girl Lost and after the success of what I expected be a one-off, I never looked back. Since then, I’ve written 14 crime fiction novels all set in Staffordshire, a county that has been my home for over thirty years.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
I usually have a notebook with me and if I over hear a name I like the sound of or haven’t used before, I jot it down in my book. The same goes for surnames. When I have a character in my head, I go through my lists and see which names best suit that individual. It’s almost like naming a baby!
How long does your first draft take you?
It really depends on where I am on my ‘production line’. I invariably have one book going through line edits at the same time I’m writing another, and doing proof edits on a third. If I have no interruptions to my schedule and I’ve done all my research first, it takes a good three months of writing every day to get the first draft completed. I type very slowly – approximately 1000 words an hour, not allowing for typos. I can still only use four fingers to type! Last Lullaby was the exception to the rule. I wrote the entire book in 10 days when I took myself off to a pigeonnier in France. I didn’t sleep, cook, wash, eat properly or get dressed, spending every hour typing but by the end of ten days I’d written the book (and lost over half a stone.)
Where do you most like to do your writing?
After my experience with Last Lullaby, I’d have to say France but sadly it’s not possible for me to race off abroad to write every book, so I invariably work at home in my garret. It is a small room at the top of the house with no windows, only a skylight, so I have no distractions. I live on a windy hill surrounded by fields so it’s peaceful enough for me to write. My biggest distraction is my husband, Mr Grumpy, who still hasn’t worked out if my door is shut, it means I don’t want to be disturbed.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?
I’ve been incredibly lucky and haven’t really suffered from severe writer’s block. That being said, there are days when I stare at my laptop, unable to find the exact words I want for a passage, especially when it comes to description. When that
happens, I usually write something else altogether: a blog post, a funny rhyme to amuse myself, or do something else altogether like listen to music or do some art. It seems, when you don’t try too hard, the ideas come back. It’s a bit like hunting for something you’ve lost. If you stop panicking and looking in the same places, over and over again, and instead distract yourself, you find the lost item.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
If I think back to how I wrote my first novel, Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines, ten years ago and how I work now, the difference is humungous. My first novel was a comedy, written in the form of a series of blog posts, each one a chapter length of about 1000 words. There was no plan as such, merely a series of funny episodes, based on personal, or friends’ experiences, that added up to a story. It was easy to write, fun to do and took about a year to complete. Today, I research for weeks, plot my books with military precision with sticky notes on my wardrobe and endless notebooks of information about each character. Each book follows a detailed synopsis that is submitted and approved by my editor months before I actually begin writing the book and each book still takes about a year from start to finish. As a writer I have matured hugely. My writing style is tighter, stronger but is still developing. I don’t think you ever stop learning or trying to improve and change.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
I’m incredibly self-critical so every time a book comes back to me for edits, I want to rewrite the entire thing because, in my opinion, it isn’t good enough. By the time I get to the proofing stage of a book, I hate it so much, I never want to see it again, let alone read it.
A while ago, I needed to refamiliarize myself with The Blossom Twins for a magazine article, and after about three chapters in, I thought, ‘This is a decent book. I’m enjoying reading it.’ It was the strangest feeling. In fact, I even questioned if I had written it because it was actually good. I don’t know about any of the other books I’ve written though. I’ve never had the courage to read them again!
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
I love… love… love writing from the perspective of the killer and especially those who are turmoiled. It appeals to my endless fascination with human nature and the question, What makes a person capable of murder? I spent weeks researching before I commit to paper. My first crime book, Little Girl Lost, was one of my favourites in that I became immersed in the killer’s POV. The murderer in this particular book is complex and should manage to evoke sympathy from the reader as well as horror. Like many writers, I tend to ‘method write’ which is along the lines of a method actor who gets into the role by thinking and behaving like the character they are portraying. While I didn’t kill anyone (really, I didn’t!) I shut myself away in my office until all the scenes with that character were written and I could shake off the persona. I still do that. My husband knows when I’m writing from the killer’s POV and to stay out of my way.
If you could go back in time to five years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
For goodness sake, chill out! I’ve hardly slept at all since 2016. I worry too much about each book and spend hours watching each plot play out in my head like a film, changing scenes, and characters as I go. It’s relentless. I’ve got to the point where I don’t know if I think about the book I’m writing because I suffer from insomnia or if my fretting over the book is causing it. All I know is I’ve aged twenty years the last five. I ought to have taken more holidays! LOL
Do you find that your success has added or alleviated the pressure for the next book?
Definitely added to the pressure. Like many writers, I lack in self-confidence, even after the success I’ve enjoyed. You are only as good as your last book and if people enjoyed that one they’ll buy the next and if they didn’t… aaargh! I have a mini meltdown every time a book is due to be published, worried senseless it won’t be liked. It was a lot easier when readers had no expectations of me!