Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Catherine Cooper
Tell us about yourself...
I am a freelance travel journalist writing for the UK press and specialising in luxury hotels, family travel and skiing. I live in the South of France close to the Pyrenees with my husband and two teenaged children.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
I am terrible at picking character names. At least in the first draft many of the characters are named after the last person who emailed me or whatever happens to pop into my head that minute – their surname might be Summer if it’s a sunny day or their name might be cribbed from the spine of the nearest book to me. That said though, some of the names change often in the various drafts – sometimes for plot reasons, sometimes because the name simply no longer suits them as the character develops, and sometimes because I realise I know someone with a similar name and worry they might think the character is based on them.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process and why?
Definitely the first draft as the story can go anywhere! I find it so exciting not knowing. I’m not a planner at all. With The Chalet I tried to plan at one point with a white board and coloured post its representing the various different threads, and while this did help me think about things, the story still ended up as something totally different.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
In winter on the sofa by the fire, in summer, on the terrace outside overlooking the mountains. I try to do a lot of it on my laptop away from my study and my ‘main’ computer to make it feel different to my journalism work, general admin and the like.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
I wrote my first full-length novel in 2002 and found an agent who loved it but sadly not a publisher! Then I had children, didn’t write for a few years and by the time I got back to it my agent had retired. I found a new one on the strength of a YA book, but again this didn’t find a publisher, and neither did the next two or three (I forget exactly how many!) And then I wrote The Chalet, my first thriller, and it was pre-empted by Harper Collins four days later. So I guess it took some persistence.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Write every day. I met a very motivated writer on a press trip who also had a full-time job and she got up every day at 5am to work on her book before she went to work. I have to admit, I don’t do that, but while I am writing a first draft, I find it so much easier to keep up momentum and enthusiasm if I do at least a little every day. I wrote most of book 2 during lockdown when a lot of daily distractions such as driving the kids around simply weren’t happening so it was simple to write at least 1,000 words a day. It doesn’t matter if some of them aren’t the best – if it’s not on the page, there’s nothing to edit!
Who are your writing influences?
I devoured Agatha Christie books as a child and I think The Chalet owes a lot to her (although there is no Marple or Poirot figure). More recently I really enjoy books by Erin Kelly, Alex Marwood and Louise Candlish.
How much do your life experiences appear in your writing?
A lot. I’m a very keen skier and The Chalet is largely based in a ski resort. I’ve been lucky enough to review many luxury hotels over the years and elements of the high-end (although entirely fictional) chalet are inspired by some of these. The second book is about a family moving out from London to rural France, just like I did. But really it’s just the settings that inspired by experience, what actually happens is not (thankfully!)
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
My characters certainly surprise me! There is a pivotal moment in The Chalet on which much of the book hangs which I totally hadn’t planned at all – the characters just took me there. I realise that sounds like nonsense…
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
I am still amazed that I am being paid for doing something that I love so much. It’s a cliché but writing fiction is a dream come true for me. I love everything about it. So far I haven’t found a worst thing.