Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: Louise Beech

Tell us about yourself.

Tell us about yourself… Who am I? Haha, that depends on the day. Well, I’m a writer. I only recently feel able to say that before anything else. (Aside from mum, though that goes without saying.) I’ve always been a writer in the sense that I write, but never felt I could officially say it until my first novel was published. I’m also a theatre usher, which I love because I get to see all the plays and am in such a creative environment all the time. I love to travel when I can afford it, and have a huge list of places still to see. Really, I love life and enjoy living it, with the people I love.

How do you go about plotting your books?

I’m Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman – a fly by the seats of my pants kind of girl. I don’t plot, as such. I set off with a vague idea – perhaps a scene, or a poetic line, or a character who’s been haunting me. The story tends to unfold in more detail as I write. It happens naturally. Just the way life does, I suppose. Later on I often find little links, little bits of accidental foreshadowing, and then I wonder if the universe had me on the right path all along, and I just had no clue.

How long does your first draft take you?

On average, that very first draft takes between five and six months. That involves writing for at least four or five hours each day. So I have to put the work in to manage it. I’m strict though. A real disciplinarian. Perhaps because writing bring me so much joy. I love going into that place. Escaping. Travelling. Having adventures. Letting my mind run completely wild. It’s… magic.

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

I’m very very lucky in that I rarely get writer’s block. If I’ve had it, I can’t recall, so it must have been brief. I can always write something. I think that’s the key. Just write something. Even if it’s not what you intended or hoped to write. And once the words flow, the other ones follow.

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

Hard. Very very hard. It took a long time. Probably ten years really, from writing the first draft of my first novel to getting that elusive YES for my fourth novel, after having had thousands of rejections for all the novels in between. But it toughened me. I absolutely always knew it would happen, but I knew I had to make it happen. No one knocks on your door offering you such luck. You make your own. You make it be perfecting your craft, writing and editing, and writing and editing. By taking on board criticism and using it to get better, rather letting it stop you. And never never giving up.

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

Write for love. This is absolutely true. If you’re not doing it simply because you love it, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Don’t do it for money (ha! writers are poor!) or for praise (1 star reviews anyone?) or for fame. If you write for any other reason than enjoying it, you’ll not be 

able to cope with all the rejections or criticism, you’ll not be able to start book three when your first two were rejected, you’ll not be able to sit for hour after hour, day after day. Love it, and I think it will love you.

What book do you wish you had written? 

I wish I had written Gone With the Wind. I’d love to have been the one who created feisty, stubborn, and flawed Scarlett O’Hara. I’d love to have had the endurance to create such a sweeping, timeless epic, and to get lost in that time, those places, with those people.

How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing? 

Oh gosh, they feature quite a lot. My experiences volunteering with children in the care system inspired The Mountain in my Shoe. My time at The Samaritans and my experience of being flooded back in 2007 influenced my next novel (pencilled in for 2017), Maria in the Moon. The one I’m now working on, however, is perhaps different in that none of it comes from true life. Watch this space!

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

Yes! All the time. Mostly when I read something I wrote maybe five years ago. And I’m like, who was this girl? What place was she in to write this? I’m usually happy with what I’ve written. Proud. I think writers should be. We should be honest about our failings, but we should be proud of our achievements.

Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?

I’m so proud of creating my own grandfather in How to be Brave. I never met him as he sadly died long before I was born. So I had to create him from family tales, from my imagination, from the dreams I’d had of him.

I’ll describe it using the title, as I can’t think of a better way right now: The Lion Tamer Who Lost.

Describe your current work in progress in five words.