Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Cass Green
Tell us about yourself.
How do you go about plotting your book?
I’m the author of four young adult novels – DARK RIDE, CRACKS, FRAGMENTS AND HOLD YOUR BREATH under my real name, Caroline Green. I’m taking my first steps into adult crime writing as Cass Green with THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR, published by Harper Collins Killer Reads on 22nd July.
I’m somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried and failed to be super organised with note cards. I’m basically obsessed with stationary, so I don’t any excuse!
But I do have to work a rough plot before I start. If I am left to go off on a frolic of my own my plot will be, well, pants. I’ve had a bit of revolutionary shift recently in discovering that I can plot using post-it notes. It feels like less of a commitment than using a pristine card!
I’m also a big fan of books like SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and INTO THE WOODS by John Yorke who go into great detail about plot structure.
How long does your first draft take you?
I can write super fast when I am inspired. I’ve recently, for example, written 70,000 words of my new one in three months. (I can’t vouch for the quality of said words as yet!) But a first draft typically takes about five months.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?
Oh God, yes. Every time I finish a book I get the feeling that I will never have an idea for another. Then I start thinking that writing a book is an impossible thing and who could possibly ever do it? All my others have been flukes etc, etc (tears, tantrums…)
But what usually happens is that I miss writing and end up coming back to it despite all those demons chattering on my shoulder. (I recommend the Julia Cameron Morning Pages idea when you are feeling blocked, by the way.)
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
It was HARD! I wrote three books before my YA novel DARK RIDE was picked up by a publisher. I had been rejected by everyone in the Writers and Artists Yearbook by the time I decided to submit directly to them. The book went on to win one national prize and one regional one so the message here is, don’t give up until you have tried every available option.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
As mentioned above, I know my writing habits well enough now to know that I must try to plan out my plot at least to a rough extent. I read that Kate Atkinson literally sits down and starts writing the new project with no idea what will emerge and this gives me the cold horrors. I have no concept of how she produces such brilliant books this way.
I’ve also learned that I am an inveterate under-writer and I shouldn’t panic that my first drafts are flimsy affairs lacking all depth and description. That’s what second drafts are for…
What book do you wish you had written?
GONE GIRL. I read it ages before other people in the UK because I heard about it on a US writing podcast. It wasn’t yet big there, either. I got hold of a copy and was just blown away. I love Gillian Flynn’s sparky writing, which just fizzes with wicked energy. I wish I knew how she weaved such a spell with that book!
If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be?
I’m slightly cheating here, but this question made me shudder. I’m afraid I like to put my characters through hell! The very thought of being any of the poor sods is pretty awful. So apologies for this fudged answer, but I do think it is crucial that we make our characters suffer a bit. Where is the fun in reading about happy people, after all?
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
Yes, all the time. My character Hester in THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR was a bit of a surprise all round. A friend read an early draft, looked at me askance and said, ‘Where the hell did SHE come from?!’ and I thought, ‘Er, I’m not entirely sure myself...’
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
The best thing is having someone say they’ve loved reading your book. Because I’ve written for young people until now, they can be really passionate about this and it is an amazing feeling. I know that adults can be a more cynical bunch but I will wait and see!
The worst thing is the endless self doubt. I wonder whether I will ever really feel that I know what I am doing?
What’s the secret of your success?
Well, all I can say is that consistently I have tried not to write to what I think the market wants, but what I genuinely want to read. I loved dystopian fiction before it was fashionable and my YA book CRACKS (in that vein still) seems to be my most consistent seller. And I’ve loved psychological fiction since I was reading the brilliant Barbara Vine books in the eighties and nineties. It seemed like she was the only one doing this then. Now of course the market has exploded but I wrote THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR in that same mind set of writing what I enjoy reading. First and foremost, I think you need to be a reader to be a writer.