Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Graham Smith
Tell us about yourself...
I’m a former joiner who now runs a busy hotel and wedding venue. I have a son I’m incredibly proud of and I’ve been a lover of crime fiction since first reading a Famous Five book around the age of eight. I’m a reviewer for the well-respected site www.crimesquad.com and I’m the founder of Crime and Publishment, which has seen 10 former attendees realise their dream of getting published.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
I put quite a bit into choosing a character name. For me the name has to reflect the character’s age, social standing, personality and lots of other factors. I have been known to scour Facebook or Twitter to find a name that fits what I envision for a character. I have snuck a few names into my writing that are personal to me. My first lead DI Harry Evans got his Christian name from my grandfather Harold.
How long does your first draft take you?
Once I get the story I want to write organised in my head or an outline, I can put down a first draft in anything between six and twelve weeks depending upon how much time I can devote to writing.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?
I don’t think I’ve ever had it, but I suspect I’ve been close once or twice. When I was close to getting it, there was an issue with the story I was working on, and as I’d had more time than usual to write, I’d caught up on the parts I’d got figured out and needed a break to allow my subconscious to work out what came next.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process and why?
The parts I most enjoy are the planning because I have a couple of good friends who brainstorm ideas with me and while it can be challenging getting all the kinks worked out, it’s great to break-test an idea before putting pen to paper, so to speak. Putting down the first draft is always great fun as you can see the story taking shape and growing into what it will finally become.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing
Mine has definitely changed. For my first novel, I just started typing and set off on my merry way without a clue what I was doing or the size of the undertaking it is to write a novel. After much scrolling through to fact check, tweak and generally keep it consistent. I began to keep notes on lots of details I’d included such as names, character attributes, key points, point of view etc and after doing this for my second novel and realising how much it helped me, I now create these additional “notes documents” before I start a new story. I have also morphed from someone who reverse engineered an outline, to someone who’d plot a few chapters ahead, and then into someone who plots the basic shape of an entire novel out before starting. The last two manuscripts I’ve completed have closely followed an outline and while I find that can suck a certain amount of spontaneity from the process, it also removes a lot of head scratching when fingers should be on keys.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
I do quite a bit of this. As a former joiner, I know lots of really dangerous tools than make for fascinating murder weapons and there’s a lot of little personal experiences that I’ve woven into my novels.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
I do find that I can catch myself out from time to time. Occasionally when editing I’ll come across a line or connection I don’t remember adding and it’ll be better than anything I’ve consciously done. I also get caught out by the emotive elements I add. Quite often when editing I’ll come across them and be surprised at how powerful these sections are.
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
The best has to be when readers fall in love with your characters and the stories about them. As for the worst, for me it’s the period between the book first being read and the point where reviews or feedback start coming in. I find this incredibly stressful and I’m always afraid that one of my books will be universally hated. This only eases when positive reviews start to come in.
What’s the secret of your success?
I’d fudge any notion of success so far, but I’ve got to where I am as a writer by doing a lot of hard work, paying attention to people wiser than me, summoning up the nerve to seize every opporchancity that comes my way and showing dedication to my writing.