Monday, 14 April 2014

Do I Have a Writing Process?

 When friend and fellow author, Shehanne Moore, invited me to answer the four basic questions involved in the blog hop, 'My Writing Process', I immediately said, 'Yes'. Then, a millisecond after I'd hit the 'send' button on my acceptance email, I thought, 'Hang on, do I actually have a writing process?

Being a notorious 'pantser' (and aren't we the bane of the lives of our much more careful, studied 'plotters'?), I do tend to leap when an idea strikes, so this seemingly innocuous and straightforward subject is going to involve something of a journey of discovery. Ah, well, let's get at it then.

First, I offer this link back to the superb and highly entertaining world of Shehanne Moore, author of my second favourite genre - historical fiction - and some of my favourite characters ever. When you've finished here, please pop along and enjoy yourself.Please note, no hamsters were harmed during the creation of her blog, although they did run off with - and eat - my favourite editing pencil:

And now, for the first question:

1. What am I working on?

This is quite a busy time for me. Last autumn, I learned I had been fortunate enough to be one of the four winners of Samhain Publishing's Gothic Horror Anthology competition and my entry - Linden Manor - is coming out initially as a standalone ebook on May 6th, along with the other three). In addition, I have my first full length horror novel for Samhain - Saving Grace Devine - following hard on its heels (July 1st). 

As a result, I'm hard at work on activities related to those two stories. I am also putting the finishing touches to a radically revised draft of a novel I wrote before either of these two were conceived. I also have a novella in the pipeline and one simmering away at the back of my mind. More details when these are fleshed out.

2. How does my work differ from others?

Maybe this is a combination of factors. You won't find happy families in my stories. My main characters are usually either psychologically damaged or have suffered great hurt in the past. I tend to set my stories in places I am familiar with, even though I change them around and rename them.

Stromness, Orkney
In Saving Grace Devine, I created an entire island! My fictional Arnsay (from the Old Norse word 'Arn' meaning 'eagle' and 'ay' meaning 'island',) is set in Orkney and I combined a couple of Orcadian towns, and countryside from other isles to give it form. I generally invent my own demons, rather than relying on the tried and trusted, and try to mix things up a bit to keep my readers guessing. To give an example; Saving Grace Devine involves a timeslip, which I hadn't used before. I also endeavour to establish a 'twist in the tail (tale?)' at the very end.

3. Why do I write what I do?

 Because I love good horror. I love being scared and, when I write something and become totally engrossed in a major dramatic scene, I become so wrapped up in it, I scare myself. I've even been known to scream out loud if I haven't heard my husband come in and he speaks to me! He treads very carefully these days. He'd like to preserve whatever hearing he has left!

4. How does my writing process work?

Now this is the tough one I referred to at the beginning. An idea will come to me. It may be when I'm out for my daily walks (which have so far spawned two short stories and a potential novella). It can be a chance remark (as happened with Cold Revenge. Just what would happen if the old saying, 'Revenge is a dish best served cold' was taken literally?). On more than one occasion, a first line has been the trigger. This happened with Linden Manor where the initial line that came to me was 'Have you ever been so scared you left your body?' This was eventually edited to 'Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body?' - much darker, thanks to Julia Kavan.

More than one idea has been born out of a nightmare - Saving Grace Devine came to me that way. I had a scary dream that I was in a museum in Orkney. I opened a drawer and took out a rolled up artist's canvas. As I unravelled it, it revealed a picture of a drowning girl. As I stared, the picture came to life. The waters moved, the girl's eyes flashed open and she mouthed 'Help me!'
Then I woke up - and immediately wrote it down.

 Once I have my trigger, I set to work thinking of the bare bones of a plot. I start to work out where the story will be set and search for photographs on the internet. I create files on my computer and store pictures of notable locations, interiors of any significant houses or other buildings. Simultaneously, I think about the main characters and what they would look like, their personalities and back stories. These develop over time because, fairly quickly, I begin a first draft. 

At this point, I let the story develop by itself. the characters take over. The horror manifests itself and, finally, with the first draft complete, I can actually start the real process of writing which, for me, involves a series of redrafts. I need to be ruthless. If a scene doesn't work, out it comes. Additional scenes are written one week, discarded the next, reworked the week after - whatever it takes. There's no room for loose or sloppy writing these days.

When I've gone as far as I can by myself, I consult my writer friends who know what they're talking about, tell me what I'm doing right and, crucially, point out the error of my ways. I take heed of their advice and my manuscript is always the better for it.

Then I put it away for a few weeks, retrieve it, read it through with fresh eyes...and send it off to my editor. It's out of my hands then. And that's the scariest part of the whole process!

Now it is my pleasure to tag friend and fellow horror author, Steve Emmett, who has reason to know more about Grace Devine than he would perhaps be willing to admit! He has agreed to pick up the baton and write about his writing process in the near future. Why not follow his link now and find out more about him?


  1. Hmmm. Cat, of course you have a writing process, or our spine wouldn't; be chilled by your previous books. Your success with Linden Manor is no more than you deserve. x