I am excited to welcome Gail to my blog for an interview, this is the first I have done in a while. Hope you enjoy her answers.
Where did you get the inspiration for your latest story?
A game of what if. “Locked Up” was actually a first for me, normally I have a story idea then I fit the characters to it, but “Locked Up” started out as a character sketch of 200. It started as an exercise for a course I was doing to brush my short story skills. I didn’t want to use an existing character, so decided to think out a new person. I wanted to go to with something I hadn’t done before, so I decided on a character in prison. Then I started with the questions, first was what’s he on for? That one was easy - Murder. He had acquired the name Charlie but then, the surname came later. Then I started thinking about his back story. What if he had been a copper? What if he were a dad? What if, what if, what if...? Every what if gave me a new idea and that’s how “Locked Up” grew, and then, of course, while I was writing, there were other things that the characters just seemed to decide to do of their own free will, which I had to incorporate. But the game was still the thing.
Do you think of the twists first then the story, or does this change every time?
Definitely six of one and half a dozen of the other. I used to be a complete pantser, writing without a plan and seeing what came up, but in the last few years I’ve changed to more of a planner. I work out the big plot points, the main plot and maybe a strong subplot. I try to figure out who has to do what and where everyone else is and what they would be doing at that same time. While I’m writing, I frequently forget what the plan was which means it changes, but also as I’m writing I might get an idea or the character might go do something I wasn’t expecting and if I like it, I’ll just incorporate it and if necessary change the plan. I never plan so tightly I can’t get creative as I write.
If you've spent time researching for your book, how difficult is it to not overload the reader?
I don’t think it’s difficult at all actually. But that’s probably because of the way that I research. I do some research up front, it’s frequently a source of inspiration. Sometimes it’s me looking back at something I thought would be a good idea for a story and checking details. At that stage the research tends to be quite general, stuff that is just for me have in the back of my mind when I start to write. While I’m writing I’m concentrating on the people and action. Then while I’m writing I might come up to a point and think, oops, I need to check that, and then I do. It can be disruptive to the writing flow, but because of the way I write, that doesn’t bother me. The only stuff that was a risk of that getting in the way in “Locked Up” was some of the stuff that I found out prisoners are or aren’t allowed to have inside. It is in there, only five books in a cell at one time, the bedding, clothes, kettles, but hopefully readers won’t feel it’s thrown in for the sake of it but in for sense and flavour, the real action is elsewhere. It helps through that, because I am also a freelance editor, I have seen the pitfalls of info dumps enough in others work to avoid the worst of it in mine - can’t guarantee it won’t ever happen.
Could you tell us about your writing routine?
Maybe - when I’ve stopped laughing at the question. Sorry - tough day in work before starting this. I don’t have a routine - I really wish I did. I work full time, have a freelance job and I have to shoehorn writing into all that somehow. So my writing is mostly done ad hoc. Even now I’ve got a demanding moggy trying to sit on my lap and since she can’t do that, she’s trying sit on my hands while I type - so I’ll be editing this later. During the day, I work with some very large and complex datasets, so that often means that I set a calculation running and have to wait while it does what it does, I often have a notebook at my side and scribble a few lines at a time - often a very few lines, but it gives me chance to get something written. When I come home of an evening, then I write, usually on the laptop, but because I work all day on computers, sometimes I go back to good old paper and pen just to save my eyes. I write whenever and wherever. If I go on a journey of any length and someone else is driving - usually my long suffering husband - I’ll write then too. In those circumstances, as the movement can make my handwriting illegible, I’m usually on a laptop or my tab and that can make for interesting times, especially when turning around corners.
If you were not an author, what would your chosen career be?
Unfortunately I don’t even have to think about this answer, I’m not a full time author yet so I know what my career would be as it is what my career already is. If you ignore the job titles, what I am is a Data Analyst and Systems Engineer. What that means in real terms, is that I look at the way that things are done, and look for ways of making things more efficient using systems. That means not only looking at interactive spreadsheets or databases as required, I have also to consider how the human element of the system will interact with it, what control is needed, how data is validated. Once I have that understanding, then I have to build the systems, be that spreadsheets or database, whatever is relevant. I write nested if statement, macros, VBA, work with normalisation... Good Lord I’m boring myself now. Oddly enough though, this does equate to writing novels, especially crime novels. I have to understand human interaction, just like I have to know how my characters will behave. I have to look as desperate datasets, some of which will conflict, much as police officers have to sift though statements that don’t always agree. Then I have to figure out what the real situation is, sort out possible scenarios eliminating the impossible and uncovering the necessary. Then I have to train people to use whatever the system is and that frequently feels like a cross examination. All of which leaves me feeling like I want to kill a co-worker, so I understand the urge to murder too. Thankfully I also know the difference between fantasy and reality and everyone survives. ☺
By the way, if we were talking about fantasy job, it would still be a fiction editor, just full time and well paid. Or possibly trophy wife - yeah in fantasy land I could be a trophy wife… for about five second before I got bored and started writing.
Do you read other novels while you're working? If so, what is your preferred genre?
Oh yes, I don’t actually have much choice in that one. As mentioned, I’m a freelance editor, while I specialise in crime, I often edit fantasy, science fiction or indeed anything that comes in, so I’ll edit whatever comes along. When I actually have the choice, and I have a to-be-read pile to my waist, my preference is crime or steampunk, but if I see something else that takes my fancy, I’ll read anything. Right now I have three books on the go; “No Safe Home” by Tara Lyons, “Just One Damn Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor and the anthology “Sinful Pleasures”.
Can you tell us about your work in progress/next book idea?
Well I finished the first draft of a stand-alone thriller last night, “The Lies We Tell”. Love that book. It’s the first properly international thriller I’ve ever written and I’m proud of it. It’s the story of a woman who discovers her husband has been lying to her for 23 years, and the aftermath of that discovery takes her on a very unexpected journey across Europe. I started “The Lies We Tell” when I had planned to start “Locked Down”, the third Charlie Bell novel, but I hadn’t sold “Locked Up” at that point, let alone the second book, “Locked In”, so I figured that there might be no need for book three to be written. Now of course, there is a need and that’s where I’m going next. “Locked Down” is actually being led, not by Charlie Bell, but DCI Piper. It’s the tie up of some of the storylines hinted at in the first two books, but should still stand up on its own. “Locked Down” will reveal more of Charlie’s nemesis, lots of Teddington’s background and really show us (me included) what DCI Piper is made of. I’ve written about 30k of it so far and am now going to give it my full focus.