Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Barbara Copperthwaite
As part of a 12-day competition to win signed books, audiobooks, and even a character named after YOU, I though it would be fun if I did the Blood Type interview myself. The tables have turned!
For more information on the competition - and more chances to win - visit the Home page. *COMPETITION NOW CLOSED*
Tell us about yourself.
I always find this question the hardest to answer because I never know what to say! But here goes… I’m a cake-obsessed, nature-loving, bestselling author of psychological thrillers.
I love trying to get under the skin of unlikeable characters, or working out how someone can be pushed to the edge (and often over) in my books.
In my spare time, when not being press-ganged into throwing tennis balls by my dog, Scamp, I can generally be found hiding behind a camera taking wildlife pictures. I love sketching, too.
How do you go about plotting your book?
I can state categorically that I’m not a plotter. Every single time I’ve tried to pre-plot, it’s ended in disaster. For me, it takes all the fun away, and I find it stressful trying to adhere to a plan.
Instead, I tend to have a vague idea, along with a theme that will overarch the whole story. As I develop the idea, fleshing it out in my mind, I write down random scenes that come to me. Often, they turn out to be key parts of the book, but at that point I’ve no idea where they will appear – or even if they will!
I also think about character A LOT. All of my books are driven by the people inside them; I hate cardboard cut-out representations, or when I’m reading a book and someone does something that makes no sense. Even when my characters do something utterly stupid and annoying, it has to make sense to them. For this reason, I write biogs for all the main characters – I think it’s the ex-journalist in me that needs this.
After all that, I’m ready to start properly, but I’ve usually no clue of how the book will end. It’s great fun watching my simple idea become more complex and twisted. I often feel as though the story already exists on some level, and it’s simply showing itself to me. Around half-way through the ending pops into my head.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
It all depends on my mood. I’ve a second-hand writing bureau in one room, which I love to sit at. It makes me feel like a ‘real writer’. I’ve also got a corner of the dining room set up as office space, and spend most of my time there now, as it feels more like a work area. Staying in too much makes me stir crazy, though, so once a week I’ll go to my local café and write. They know me there, and are used to me sitting tapping away for hours. When I get edits back from my publisher, I sit on the sofa – I’ve no idea why this can’t be done anywhere but the sofa, but it can’t!
What’s your favourite part of the writing process and why?
The first draft is a total mess, with bits written in capital letters saying things like ‘MORE HERE!’ ‘DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?’ ‘MIGHT DROP THIS BIT…OR FLESH OUT’ and so on. It takes three or four months torturous months, during which it feels as though I am an archaeologist chipping away trying to dig out the skeleton of a dinosaur. I often feel that I’m never going to be able to reveal
what I know is hidden away inside me, but sheer stubbornness keeps me going. Once the first draft is done, though, I have something complete to work with, even if it is rough as a bear’s proverbial – and I’m a very fast editor. I’m happy to move chunks around, rewrite sections, delete bits (being an ex-journo means I tend not to be too precious about my words). I’ll go over the book at least four times refining it before I send it to my editor.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
The first break came because I created it by deciding to self-publish my first novel, after positive feedback from agents who ultimately rejected it. It involved a steep learning curve as I had never been on Facebook or Twitter, had no clue about websites, and no marketing strategy. I published Invisible and after a fortnight there were no sales. None. At all. So I taught myself social media, learned how to build my own website, launched a blog, and somehow managed to get Invisible onto the genre bestsellers list on Amazon UK. Flowers For The Dead built on Invisible’s success, and hit the top 20 Kindle bestsellers. The commissioning editor of my favourite publisher, Bookouture, followed me on Twitter and I followed her back and sent her a direct message asking if she’d be interested in taking Flowers For The Dead on. She wasn’t – but she’d like a look at my next book, came the reply that had me shrieking in delight. When I finished book three, I sent it to Bookouture, some agents, and a handful of other publishers, just in case. Four publishers were interested, but I signed with my first choice, Bookouture. I’ve worked hard but I’ve also been lucky, and I’m so grateful that my decisions and gambles have paid off.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Don’t listen to writing tips. Seriously. Or, at least, only choose the ones that SUIT you. You know what works for you, so stick to it. No two people work the same way, and there’s no right or wrong way. There is so much contradictory advice out there for authors, and I’ve tied myself in knots of confusion before, trying to work out the ‘correct way’.
What book do you wish you had written?
I love Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks. The characterisation is exquisite, the story pulls you along, and the ending is perfect. The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson, is fabulous and I've admitted innumerable times to an author crush on his writing. For sheer ‘I could never come up with that!’ moments, though, I’d have to choose Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough. I mean, how the heck did she think of that ending?
If I'm honest, most books I enjoy, I find myself thinking: 'Wow! Wish I'd written that!'
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
No spoilers, but there is a moment at the end of HER LAST SECRET where everything pulls together, and it is one long, breathless, crazy scene told from multiple points of view as everyone’s secrets collide. It was so complex, but at the same time so beautifully simply to create, as the characters had nowhere left to hide. I loved the feeling of laying everything bare, and then... Well, then you’ll have to wait and see, but from the reaction of readers, they feel the same as me!
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
Do you find that your success has added or alleviated the pressure for the next book?
There’s definitely added pressure with each book, and it’s pressure I put on myself rather than it coming from others. I want each book to be completely different from the last, and I also want to become a better writer each time. That’s a whole lot of expectation to fulfil.
There are highs and lows like I’ve never experienced before in my life. Being an author really is like nothing else in the world. The worst things are the stalking fears that I’m a terrible writer, that my ideas are dreadful, that I’ve made a hideous mistake making this my full-time career and I’ll die penniless on the street. Paranoid, much?
The best things, though...there are so many of them. When an idea comes from nowhere, and the rush of excitement comes because I know it's a good one. Seeing my books on my shelf. My books! Best of all are the moments when readers contact me saying how much they’ve enjoyed my work, or when I read a positive Amazon review. Honestly, you’ve no idea the difference it makes – like all my Christmases have come at once. Authors work in isolation and those reviews are often the only contact we get with the outside world. They keep us going!
What’s the secret of your success?
Bloody-mindedness – in every sense of the phrase!