Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Sam Carrington
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a newbie author and my debut novel, SAVING SOPHIE is published by Avon/HarperCollins – the ebook is available on 12th August and the paperback will follow on 15th December.
I live in a lovely Devon village where I have been all my life. I’m not sure if it’ll ever let me go! I spent the majority of my pre-writing years working at a local hospital as an Auxiliary Nurse before I undertook my registered Nurse training, then I left to join the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Programme Facilitator. I started writing short stories as a hobby in 2010, but it wasn’t until I left the prison service at the end of 2013 that I began writing more seriously and decided to write a novel. My first attempt gained the attention of my agent, but it was my second – which became Saving Sophie and was longlisted for the 2015 CWA Debut Dagger award – that swung it for her, and she signed me!
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
I find choosing character names quite difficult. I try to avoid using names of people I know well, and those of my children’s friends. I did manage to avoid such names in the early drafts, but when the novel was completed and it came to choosing titles, it ended up that I renamed some characters – and Sophie does happen to be a name of several people I know! To come up with names I search baby names lists on the internet, and I also walk through the churchyard - and certain names on headstones might have made their way into the book! I think as long as the name ‘fits’ the age and personality of the character and not all the names start with the same letter – I’m happy.
How do you go about plotting your books?
I generally start with just a small scene and a couple of characters which will have been germinating in my head for a while, and then I start asking ‘what if ‘questions. From there I will make notes on where I think the story is going, how many main characters there are going to be and ideas for subplots. I use a cork board and pin index cards to it with a biography for each character, and what their goals are. Good ideas for plot often come into my head when driving, when I’m in the shower, or just as I’m about to drop off to sleep – so I have numerous note books around the house and if I’m driving I repeat things over and over until I can park and scribble it down on whatever’s at hand. When I feel I have a plot, I write a synopsis. This gets expanded during the first few weeks of writing and does end up being detailed enough that I can refer to it as a plan. I don’t necessarily stick to the plan, it’s surprising how the story develops and characters do something that means the plot takes an unexpected turn. For example, in Saving Sophie the ending changed from the original synopsis because, well, it just had to!
How long does your first draft take you?
Try as I might to ‘just write’ – I can’t! I’m afraid I’m an edit-as-you-go writer. Therefore, my first draft will take longer than those who are able to heed the usual advice of ‘get it all written and don’t edit until the end’. My first draft of Saving Sophie took seven months. At the end of this time, though, it was in fairly good shape. I did a bit of a re-write (where a whole point of view was scrapped), but after that it didn’t require a huge amount of time to edit further.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
Admittedly it was relatively easy – although when you’re in the process it doesn’t seem it! Once I gained editorial services from Kate Foster for the first novel I wrote, it attracted some full manuscript requests. While I nervously awaited news, and to prevent me refreshing my emails every five minutes, I began writing another novel. At the beginning of 2015 I entered the opening chapters of this new novel into the CWA debut dagger competition, and in May that year I found out that it’d been longlisted. It also happened that I received feedback from my first manuscript just after I had the news. The agent had found something in my writing that she liked and had some positive things to say about it. Ultimately however, she didn’t connect enough to it, but she asked to see any other work I might do in the future. I contacted her to let her know that my current manuscript had been longlisted for the debut dagger and once she saw these opening chapters she asked to meet. The meeting went well and I signed with the wonderful Anne Williams, from the Kate Hordern Literary Agency a few weeks later. Of course, then I had to finish the manuscript! Once finished, and with a few edits my novel was ready to go out to publishers. Then the waiting process began again. A very different set of emotions were in play from when it was on submission to agents. After a few rejections, Saving Sophie found its home with Avon, HarperCollins and I couldn’t have been more delighted. The actual publication process has been pretty swift (and as well as exciting it’s been a tad scary too!) I’m now looking forward to working with the amazing Avon team and hope the novel is successful!
What's the best writing tip you've ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Well, actually when I first subscribed to The Writing Magazine I also received a free gift. It was a boxed set called You Can Write a Novel Kit. At the time I was only just beginning to think about writing a novel, so I put it away and didn’t drag it out again until December 2013. I read through the book that came with it and immediately followed the advice in there. Within the kit there were also different pads with tear-off sheets to detail the scene development, major characters, minor character’s and revision tracker. One of the surprising pieces of advice was to write the final, climatic scene first. This seemed strange but made me really think about how I wanted the story to end. Although I didn’t write out the whole scene, I did make notes about where the scene was going to take place, and who was to be involved, all before putting fingers to keyboard. I used the same kit when writing Saving Sophie and it works well for me and keeps the novel on the right track. It’s my trusty kit now!
What/who are you’re writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?
As a lot of writers probably say, I was a keen reader of crime/thriller/psychological novels before I was a writer, so over the years I suppose I have been influenced by various authors. I think I write about the subjects, and in the style of, what I enjoy reading myself. Because books that I’ve loved have often had great cliff hangers at the end of chapters, and those chapters have been short and full of tension, I have naturally gravitated to the same style in my own writing. Recent books I’ve enjoyed are from authors such as Sharon Bolton, Elizabeth Haynes and Belinda Bauer. These authors have a talent for great narrative where every word counts and moves the story forwards in a pacey, yet suspenseful way. I’m hoping some of that skill has rubbed off on me!
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
Chapter one of Saving Sophie begins with a scene which I largely wrote drawing on personal experience! Also, my own friendship with my best friend is echoed in that of Karen’s lifelong
friendship with Rachel. Other than that, there might have been certain character traits belonging to a few members of my family or friends that found their way onto the pages.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
I enjoyed writing the last scene most, because even though I’d had the end in mind since the beginning, it actually changed when I came to write it. The run up to it was also much discussed between myself and my eldest son. It was the source of conversation for us during a few dog walks and it felt like the ‘right’ ending, so was really satisfying.
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
Best: Knowing that people are going to read the story you spent hours upon hours writing and pouring your heart and soul into.
Worst: Sitting for hours and hours, isolated from the world (apart from Twitter) and being so engrossed in your work that you forget to be human… like take a shower, like most normal people, or forget to pick up your kids because you’re in the middle of a scene and zone out… (although I could argue that’s also one of the best bits).
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Gripping, disturbing, twisty murderous thriller.
SAVING SOPHIE is published on 12 August.