It’s World Book Day which coincides with my completing the first draft of my new crime novel, Blood Sister, #2 in the DI Clayton series. I’ve been sitting immobile on my sofa for so long that I must be at risk of contracting DVT.
But the book event leads me to think about the creative process and one of my main difficulties as a fiction writer. For me, that is reaching a goal of 70,000 words which corresponds to the average novel size. It must be my background as a journalist which constrains me from the expansive and discursive, but with time and experience I’m gradually getting to grips with the problem. Relax, Penketh, I say to myself, let it go!
Journalism of course comes in handy for researching a book. In the case of Blood Sister, I’ve been in touch with a forensic scientist, put myself through a forensic course run by Dundee University, contacted gun experts, Classic car owners and a medical doctor. Not to mention tramping round Norwich where the novel is largely based. It’s fascinating to explore an unfamiliar world, and I’ve just handed the draft to a retired policeman who will pick up on any procedural mistakes.
But in the writing, you have to unlearn all the journalistic tricks of the trade in favour of “show, don’t tell”. I ground to a halt in early January at 47,000 words. I told a fellow writer friend, the other half of my two-woman support group, that I could see where the story was going and that I couldn’t imagine getting beyond 50,000. Why not bring in another sub-plot, she said, helpfully. But the problem with that was my worry about introducing new characters in a police procedural which already has quite a few. Would the reader become confused? And, more to the point, a new sub-plot would have to develop organically from the story.
In the end, inspiration struck in the middle of the night. I’ve discovered that my most creative moments are when my brain starts churning after midnight. Dialogue, plot inconsistencies, character insights, you name it, have to be written down on a notebook that I now keep in the bedroom. They say that solving cryptic crosswords, at which I’m hopeless, also happens when you’re doing something completely different.
As a result of the night visitors inside my head, I managed another spurt which took me to 60,000 words. Blood Sister is still 10,000 short of my goal, which I may never reach, but I’m no longer in despair because the rewriting will inevitably expand, polish, and hopefully improve the book. But while I solved a problem, I gained another: insomnia.