Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: Christina Philippou

Tell us about yourself.

How do you go about plotting your book?

My writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under my desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, I can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. I have three passports to go with my three children, but am not a spy. Lost in Static is my first novel, published by Urbane Publications. 

 

I’m also the founder of a contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic.

 

You’re welcome to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and/or Google+.

Please don’t judge me, but I use spreadsheets (I’m an accountant by trade – I can’t help myself!) to plan, plan, plan. Because of the intricate narrative in my debut novel, Lost in Static, I used multiple spreadsheets for everything from events to character speech patterns to, of course, the plot. 

 

Despite the (some might say excessive) planning, my ‘plan’ is normally a sentence or two per chapter. Then I start writing, and invariably I add or delete chapters, add or delete (or kill off) characters, and change everything but where I’m ending up.

Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?

I think writer’s block is common for writers and I think tackling it successfully rests on a single thing: working out what’s causing it. For example, writer’s block caused by tiredness (potential solution: go away and try again when less tired), that caused by plot issues (potential solution: write something different to clear the cobwebs), and that caused by not knowing where to start (potential solution: write down what you know then chart possible paths to get you there) all have different solutions. If all else fails, I take some exercise.

Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?

Depends on the research. Most of it is fascinating because, let’s be honest, why would you be writing about something that doesn’t interest you? However, sometimes your plot requires research into the nitty gritty details of yawndom. I use the internet, people, and books, depending on what I’m researching. People are usually the most interesting…

How easy/hard was it to get your first break?

A bit of both? I had a few agents show some interest only to be turned away because they didn’t like the marmite nature of the book, but I was also very lucky in finding a lovely and supportive independent publisher fairly quickly.

What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?

Know the rules so you can break them. I’ve allowed myself to break a large number of writing ‘rules’ because I convinced myself that, as I knew what they were, I was fine to break them when they didn’t work for me. And I’m liking the results so definitely not complaining!

What/who are your writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?

Too many to mention. I like my writing pacy, but my influences are less so – I love authors that drip-feed you information and peel back the layers one by one – Kate Morton, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie…

All the time! Lost in Static started out as an updated version of the uni years of Brideshead Revisited and ended up as Agatha Christie does Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My current WIP started out as Agatha Christie does the Greek islands and seems to have ended up as Gillian Flynn does the rise of the right in Europe. I’ve given up trying NOT to be surprised.

What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?

I had a lot of fun with Lost in Static because it (re)tells the same events from four different points of view, so I could play with emotions and thoughts. I won’t go into details of my favourite scene because it’s near the end, but the two character involved have very different takes on an encounter…

Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?

What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?

The worst thing is that everybody thinks they are in your book. The best thing is that they are not but, if they misbehave, you can write them into your next one…

Describe your current work in progress in five words.

Dark and stormy. I can’t count.