Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: J.A. Corrigan

Tell us about yourself.

How do you go about plotting your book?

I was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and now live in Berkshire. I’m older than I’d like to be, but I’m acclimatising slowly. 

I share my life with a husband, a daughter, and recently we added a cockapoo to our little household. I’m a qualified physiotherapist but in the past ten months have given up work to concentrate on my writing. When not writing, I love to read, run and eat … oh, and drink lovely wine.

I’m not a big plotter, or outliner, although I do always have three or four plot points, ‘posts’ if you like, that I know will be in the story. Generally I do a lot of research and my desk is piled high with facts that I’ll probably never use in the novel … but I know that I know … 

My characters grow as I write the story. As a rule I don’t have pre-planned biographies of the characters, but by the end of the first draft I do have a clear idea of who they are, and then I will go back and ‘fill’ them in. 

I use a lot of post-it notes – the small ones – and they are stuck all over the computer during a first draft. During the next draft I gradually peel them off. That’s very satisfying!

Where do you most like to do your writing?

I’m very disciplined – I do all my writing sitting at a computer in my study. I never write in bed or lying on the sofa. I’ve been like this from the day I started writing.

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

I do find the research fascinating. I love it, and too much sometimes, as it can eat up hours of my time. I use the Internet a lot, but always back up this research with reading, and often try to return to original sources. 

If there is a setting that I’ve never visited, and it is in my book, I do try as much as possible to go and see the place. If that’s not viable then I seek someone out who knows, first-hand, a setting I want to use in my novel. I interview and try to get a feel for the place through them. Of course the best way is visiting the location – seeing and experiencing it first hand. 

For my latest novel I recently visited Poland for research, and I’m so glad I did. It lends an authentic feel to the writing even if a lot of the notes I made, thoughts I had, images I saw, never made it into the manuscript.

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

I have to say that the journey for me has been a tough one. I think I was a little naïve about the whole publishing/writing industry at the beginning. 

Realising early on that there are so many fabulous writers out there, I was acutely aware that the bar is set very high. So when I say I was naïve, I don’t mean in the sense I thought it would be easy – I never thought that – but because I was unaware how subjective and mercurial the ‘art’ world can be. 

My best advice is this: keep calm, believe in yourself, and don’t allow either the triumphs or the disasters to affect you too much. Just get on with writing your stories.

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

To be persistent and to persevere, and that ultimately it is only you, the author, who will write your novel. A male crime writer gave me this advice right at the beginning of my journey and it was, and still is, the best advice.

What book do you wish you had written?

I wish I had written The World According to Garp. I adored reading this story. John Irving is such an honest and perceptive writer, with the most vivid of imaginations. Just a brilliant book. Also, the White Hotel by DM Thomas. I wish I could write a novel like this one. It is quite simply a tour de force. A masterpiece.

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

Gosh, yes. I always surprise myself with what I’ve written. My writing is quite dark, and I’m neither dark, nor troubled. I’m very balanced and mostly, quite happy. I do sometimes wonder where the blackness comes from.

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

JA CORRIGAN, author of FALLING SUNS, is interviewed by Barbara Copperthwaite

I loved writing the psychiatric hospital scenes – I think because I entered a world that is so alien to me. These scenes are dark, uncomfortable and unsettling, but once I’d decided what I was writing and trying to achieve, I really got my teeth into them! 

I also very much enjoyed writing some of the minor characters in Falling Suns – the Chinese herbalist and the voice coach.

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

Best – I get to make up stories and use my over-active imagination on a daily basis! 

Worst – the insecurities. It’s a precarious, unpredictable and often an unstable profession to be in these days, I think.

What’s the secret of your success?

I’m not successful yet, not with writing anyway. I’ll let you know if, and when, it happens!