From Oprah Winfrey and the backstreets of India...
I'm delighted to be interviewing bestselling Scottish novelist Craig Robertson for my blog today. A former journalist, Craig Robertson had a 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper before becoming a full-time author. He interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.
His gritty crime novels are set on the mean streets of contemporary Glasgow. His first novel, Random, was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA New Blood Dagger, longlisted for the 2011 Crime Novel of the Year and was a Sunday Times bestseller. He is also the author of a series of novels featuring crime scene photographer Tony Winter and Detective Sergeant Rachel Narey: Snapshot, Cold Grave and Witness the Dead. I reviewed Witness The Dead for my blog a while ago. You can read what I had to say about it here. Let's get on with the questions for Craig...
How difficult are you to live with when writing a novel? Tiger or pussy cat?
Hmm, let me ask those who have to live with me… Okay, the answer seemingly is tiger. Bad tempered, grouchy, particularly in the morning, tiger. And apparently only tiger because there wasn’t an option for Tyrannosaurus Rex. I think this is unfair and possibly slanderous but fully accept that I’m rarely a pussy cat.
It’s clear from your tweets you’re a footie fan. Any plans to draw football into future novels?
Everyone experiences a book differently. We build up a picture in our heads of the characters based on the information the author gives us and on our own experiences and perceptions - it's a unique experience for every reader. The average book would take the average reader 9-12 hours to read cover to cover non-stop. The average movie is between 2 and 3 hours long. That's a big difference. When a book is adapted for the screen it goes through a major rewrite. A skilled screenwriter can do a reasonable job of keeping the essence of the book, but it'll never be quite the same. At worse, the book is changed so radically for the screen that it becomes unrecognisable.
Movies are a visual feast...
Imitation is the highest form of flattery
More about Amy Morse
Amy Morse, writing as Amy C. Fitzjohn, is a writer, enterprise coach and entrepreneur. She is a business trainer by day and performer of random acts of creativity by night. She describes herself as 'finding inspiration in the everyday, creating something from nothing and enabling others to do the same'.
Amy has always had a passion for stories. She is the author of the Sheridan and Blake series, and you can find out more via Amy's website, which is www.amycfitzjohn.co.uk, or via the image links below.
More about the Sheridan and Blake Series
Partnered with Tom Sheridan, a man from her past, they must deal with their tumultuous relationship and learn to trust each other.
Together, Sheridan and Blake embark on an increasingly hostile mission to locate a stolen artefact - a mysterious bronze box, the keys to the box and an ancient manuscript needed to open it.
In this international conspiracy that spans the ages, told over four books, they must find the artefacts before a ruthless criminal, known only as The Libyan. Click or tap the images for more information (affiliate links):
Thank you, Amy!
What do YOU think?
High suspense meets the legal thriller
Apple Tree Yard is a superb novel, where high suspense meets the legal thriller and combines them into an excellent read. Here's the summary from the back cover:
'Yvonne Carmichael has worked hard to achieve the life she always wanted: a high-flying career in genetics, a beautiful home, a good relationship with her husband and their two grown-up children.
Then one day she meets a stranger at the Houses of Parliament and, on impulse, begins a passionate affair with him - a decision that will put everything she values at risk. At first she believes she can keep the relationship separate from the rest of her life, but she can't control what happens next. All of her careful plans spiral into greater deceit and, eventually, a life-changing act of violence.
The novel is written in the first person, present tense, which I find always adds a certain punch to the prose. Doughty presents the story through an internal conversation between Yvonne and her unknown lover, who she believes to be a government spook unable to reveal details of his work. Although an intelligent woman, a respected scientist and married, she’s naive around this man, believing herself in love. The thrill of this illicit relationship, combined with risky sex, whisks her away from a life that’s become predictable and dull towards events that almost destroy her.
Excellent courtroom drama
It quickly becomes obvious to the reader that Yvonne's mystery lover doesn't reciprocate her feelings to the same extent. Yvonne rationalises his behaviour by believing wholeheartedly in his alleged covert occupation, and excuses his inattentiveness by the fact he's married. Her lover is a fantasist, but then so is she to a large extent. Even at the end of the novel, she’s still partly deluded, calling him ‘my love’ and wondering if they’ll meet again.
The courtroom scenes at The Old Bailey are excellent, the tense back and forth between the lawyers and witnesses really ratcheting up the tension. The reader already knows from the terse prologue that Yvonne cracks under pressure whilst on the stand. How, the reader asks, has a woman who has so much going for here arrived at such a low point?
Genetics versus gender issues...
Doughty also examines issues of women's place in society. Yvonne has struggled to balance her career with motherhood, reflecting with some resentment how her husband's role in child-rearing appears to be an opt-in one, whereas hers has defaulted to an opt-out one. Although her marriage is good, the cracks exist, fissures that eventually lead to her susceptibility to a passionate affair with a stranger.
Wrong place, wrong time, wrong man
Moving on from this, Doughty looks at how the legal system can be skewed against women, illustrating her point by citing the case of a fifteen-year-old girl, not very bright, who suffers a gang rape by five men. She then has to face not one but five defence lawyers, all insinuating she was a drunken slut who asked for what she got. If a highly intelligent woman like Yvonne Carmichael can be broken in the witness box, what chance do any of us have?
Self-preservation versus a loved one...
George Orwell examines the same topic in his novel '1984'. The way Yvonne's lover behaves is no different to the way Winston Smith eventually breaks down in front of his tormentor O'Brien. In screaming the words 'Do it to Julia! Do it to her, not me!', he cements his own brainwashing. The ultimate betrayal. So too with Yvonne's mystery lover, as he turns traitor on her in court, leaving her vulnerable to a sharp defence lawyer as the truth about Apple Tree Yard is revealed.
More about Louise Doughty
In 2007, she published her first work of non-fiction, A Novel in a Year, based on her newspaper column of the same name. She has written major features, columns and cover articles for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Mail on Sunday. Her broadcasting career includes presenting radio series such as BBC R4′s A Good Read and Writers’ Workshop. She is a regular guest on the radio arts programme Saturday Review.
Doughty was born in the East Midlands and grew up in Rutland, in a rural area that later provided the setting for her third novel, 'Honey-Dew'. She now lives in London.
You can find out more about Louise and her books at www.louisedoughty.com. To view Apple Tree Yard on Amazon, click or tap the book cover image at the start of this post (affiliate link).
Have you read Apple Tree Yard?
Warning - plot spoilers!
An incredible (and edible!) murder weapon
One of the most famous murder methods employed by fictional writers is the one used by Roald Dahl in his short story 'Lamb to the Slaughter'. The story tells of a wife who, after learning that her husband plans to leave her, decides to kill him. She bludgeons him with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks the meat and serves it to the police officers who investigate her husband's death. Ingenious, huh? What a great way to dispose of a murder weapon! And yet another twist on the theme of death by ice.
'Lamb to the Slaughter' is a wonderful short story, but novels are more my thing. So let's examine five examples in which the authors have given their characters ingenious methods for carrying out their murderous intentions. We'll start with P.M. Carlson's 'Murder in the Dog Days'.
1 - 'Murder in the Dog Days' - P.M. Carlson
On a sweltering summer day, (the temperature is highly significant) reporter Olivia Kerr and her husband Jerry invite Olivia's colleague Dale Colby to the beach. At the last minute, Dale decides to remain behind, and his dead body is discovered later on in his locked office. Already an ill man, Dale dies as a result of heatstroke when the temperature of his study reaches an intolerable level. His killer contrives the murder by manipulating the heat in the office via a thermostat, raising it during the day and then readjusting it before the body is discovered. As the office door is bolted on the inside, the crime scene appears to be a perfect locked room murder.
2 - 'Busman's Honeymoon' - Dorothy Sayers
By all acounts, Noakes was a thoroughly dislikeable man, and as the police investigation continues, a number of people emerge as suspects. The killer turns out to be Crutchley, a local garage mechanic who also worked as Noakes's gardener. He planned to marry Noakes's niece and get his hands on the money she would inherit in her uncle's will. The ingenious method Crutchley used involved setting a booby trap with a weighted plant pot on a chain, triggered by Noakes opening the radio cabinet after locking up for the night.
3 - 'The Religious Body' - Catherine Aird
The answer is intriguing and, as the saying goes, hidden in plain sight. Catherine Aird's fictional murderer kills Sister Anne by delivering the fatal blows with one of the newel posts of a staircase. This unusual weapon is rendered more deadly by the heavy wooden ball atop its shaft. After the murder, the post is returned to its original position, to remain right under Inspector Sloan's nose as he investigates the death.
4 - 'A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away' - Christopher Brookmyre
Simon's first murder in the novel is with a mercury-laden icicle, which melts away before the body is discovered. This fictional murder device, sometimes transmuted into an ice bullet, has been used many times, starting with Anna Katharine Green's novel 'Initials Only' (1911), in which a young woman is killed by an icicle shot from a pistol.
Simon's second murder is that of a drug dealer. Darcourt mixes a lethal amount of heroin into a takeaway curry and knocks on the man's door, claiming the food is a pre-paid order from that address. Too greedy to resist, the dealer dies, makes it appear as though his death was from the drugs he supplied. A great example of an unhealthy appetite!
5 - 'Matricide at St Martha's' - Ruth Dudley Edwards
So how is this dastardly deed accomplished? Well, our victim climbs a ladder in the college library, the ladder being one of those that slide across the front of the bookcases via grooves in the wall. Normally, there are brakes at the end to stop the motion; however, in this case, the murderer has removed them. Following Dame Maud's own vigorous push to the ladder, she hurtles to her death as it gathers speed, eventually catapulting its hapless occupant from the library window.
Give me some more examples!
Keeping the creative juices flowing...
Despite the fact I'm a night owl, I write better in the mornings. I don't pretend to understand why, given that I'm far more energetic in the evenings, but hey ho! That's the way it is for me, and I've learned to adapt, forcing myself out of bed at what seems to me an unnaturally early hour. During the summer months, I'm up at six a.m., so I can be at my desk by 8.30 a.m., showered, dressed and ready for work, the same as if I were back in my former employment. The work is a lot more fun, too! Not being a fan of dark mornings, I usually get up later in the winter months, and start work at 9 a.m.
So how do I structure my time? Well, I split my day into two parts. I work until I'm ready for lunch, and then from two until five or six p.m. As I'm more creative in the mornings, that's when I focus on my writing. If I'm crafting a novel, I aim to do at least 2,000 words per session, using Scrivener as my writing software. Plotting stage? Then I'll draft the content for a number of scenes or maybe a whole chapter. If I'm revising, I usually edit a chapter a day (although I managed three this morning - yay!) I set targets and dates for almost all areas of my writing. I find this motivates me as well as keeping me accountable and on track. My targets and deadlines are never too rigid, though - I'd hate to shackle myself to a tightly defined schedule. Staying flexible is good and allows the creative juices to flow!
Tweet and pin, rinse and repeat...
Marketing isn't restricted to using social media, of course. For example, if I'm planning a Kindle promotion for any of my novels, I need to spend time contacting the major free and discounted book websites and newsletters. And there are always things I need to do besides marketing, such as maintaining this blog. I aim to update it regularly, so I use my afternoon time to prepare my posts, as well as ensuring my website content is up to date.
How a glass of Merlot keeps me on track...
Curiously enough, these sessions often take place in local cafes and bars on a Friday afternoon over a glass or two of red wine. Not a bad way to wind down the working week! Unless I have an editing deadline or if I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - a mad but fun competition in which entrants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel during November), I usually give myself the weekend off. Not at the moment, though - I have a novel to edit!
More to come in future posts about my writing process
In addition, I'll talk about what follows the first draft - the revision and editing process. I'm atypical amongst writers in enjoying that part! I love polishing my rough first draft, tweaking it until I'm satisfied it's as good as I can get it. I'll blog more in the future about how I do this, along with what's involved in publishing a novel in both Kindle and paperback formats.
There's no right or wrong way of working
I hope that this blog post has given you an insight into the daily life of a writer. If you're a novelist yourself, leave me a comment about how you do things. I'm always open to learning new tricks! Or if you're a reader curious about a particular aspect of the writing process, post a question in the comments section.