Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Holly Seddon
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a British author, living in Amsterdam. My first book, Try Not to Breathe was published in 2016 and my second, Don’t Close Your Eyes has just been published. A third is being edited right now…
When I’m not writing, I’m hanging out with my dog Arnie, my kids and husband, or lifting weights.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
Some times they just pop into my head, like Alex Dale from Try Not to Breathe. I was writing the very first scene with her and the name came out on to the page without any conscious thought, and I loved it.
Robin from Don’t Close Your Eyes is special to me. Her full name is Robin Marshall. Music is a big part of her life, and her back story, so her surname is a nod to the iconic amplifiers. Marshall is also one of my youngest son’s middle names
How do you go about plotting your book?
With the novel writing program Scrivener (which I wholeheartedly recommend!), I plan out each chapter with a brief note on what happens in it. Then as I write, I write scene by scene but sometimes then add notes to upcoming chapters, building up the outline as I write. I also have character notes and a general work in progress note on my phone, which I add to all the time. It can be broad things like “add in backstory about x” to specifics like “B would have had a pager”.
With each book, I’ve gone for trickier and trickier structures, which have needed to be precisely planned so I’ve gone from being someone who largely writes it as it comes, to quite a strict plotter.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
I love doing research and am finding myself more and more drawn to periods, plots or places that need a lot of background work. I’m a frustrated historian, I think, and I love having an excuse to get under the bonnet of a subject, especially recent history. I’m even taking a course on Europe between the world wars, largely because of a future story idea (not even an actual work in progress!).
Because I live in Amsterdam but set my books in my native UK, I do a lot of research online. Including a lot of time on Rightmove looking at possible houses for characters. I also visit towns or buildings that will be featured where possible, and I’m quite a visual writer so I use Pinterest a lot. I try to talk to people with expertise or personal experience, and I read around a topic extensively. That said, I do use artistic licence, and try to make that clear in my acknowledgements.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
Really easy and really hard. The easy part (the only easy part) was that I happened to send my first choice agent my submission right at the moment she sat down to eat her lunch. My submission was right there, she read it, she got in touch within 45 minutes. I screamed and ran around.
Everything else was hard won: years of writing, months of rewriting and then waiting for the right book deal…
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
I’ve definitely become more confident, which has manifested itself in a more economical writing style while taking more risks in plot. I think I’ve become braver in topic too. It’s an ongoing struggle to put the idea of my family reading my books out of my head…
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
When my agent took me on, Try Not to Breathe was still quite raw in places. The second half had a bit too much ‘Scooby Doo’ mystery-solving (her words!) because I’d thought I had to wrap everything up and had been a bit heavy handed with it. She gave me the confidence to rework it again at my true pace, and that made a huge difference.
What book do you wish you had written?
Very different genre and style but Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
Alex Dale has a lot of similarities. She’s a freelance journalist, she runs and she lives in Kent – all of which I had in common with her at the time of writing.
I gave Robin Marshall weight lifting and my love of music. Although I confess that there may have been a bit of misty-eyed wish fulfilment going on with Robin’s ability to play guitar… I’m all thumbs and gave up trying after more years than I’d care to admit.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
Yes. Not so much at the time but more when I come back to read something after a long time has passed. At the time I feel it’s purely fictional but with hindsight, I’m often surprised by how much real feeling has been infused, especially the grief and parental fear in Try Not to Breathe.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
The one with the biggest twist. So I can’t describe it but when I wrote it, it felt like a little firework going off in my head.
What’s the secret of your success?
Wow, I’ve never been asked that! I guess that I never turn down work, I try not to take the quick/easy route but instead do the difficult thing if the books need it, I always try to be kind and polite and I have some amazing people working on my books to do all the stuff that I couldn’t possibly do alone.