Twenty Books In

Last week I delivered the manuscript for my 20th novel.  Twentieth!  It’s hard to believe I’ve written that many.  One question people ask is whether it gets easier and I don’t think it does.  Harder perhaps, thinking up fresh situations that I haven’t explored before.  The process may be more familiar but the core activities of writing: finding characters, developing the story, choosing the words, shaping the material, editing and improving it, are still as challenging and as engaging as ever.  Some books flow more easily, others take a while to uncover.  In my mind I think the making of a novel is a combination of discovery and construction.  It’s like mining for an artefact that is buried and as you dig it out, you clean and sculpt and colour it until it feels complete.  I’ve no idea whether the ‘mining’ metaphor rings true for other people but it doesn’t matter.  As practitioners we all find out what methods work for us, whether we plot in advance or just start writing, when we edit, whether research precedes the writing or is done on the hoof, dipping into the internet as we go, whether we count the words or the pages, if we write chronologically or weave collages together, if we use particular software to help us with structure and continuity, whether we read aloud or dictate our work.  When I start afresh with each book I still need that leap of faith, a suspension of the critical voice that tries to undermine my efforts.  And when the book is written I have the all too familiar lurch of confidence while I wait for feedback, maybe even greater these days as with each new title there’s the hope it will be an improvement on what came before.  The buzz I get from writing remains just as strong and rewarding as it always was and I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.


On occasion I’ve heard people say they don’t like books written in the first person (often when praising a title in that narrative style that they’ve just read).  I wonder why the resistance.  Do they find it uncomfortable to be so intimate with the character?  Is it hard to suspend disbelief and be inside another person’s head whose world view, attitudes and experiences may be a long way from their own?  Personally ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ is one of the things I love about reading.  Although when I’m choosing a new book I don’t consciously think about what the point of view is.  Other factors – the cover, the blurb, the first page of writing, people’s recommendations – are much more significant.

But when I’m writing, the first elements I need to pin down are character and point of view.  Some stories I know instinctively* have to be a sole first person.  I want that intensity and focus, there is no doubt about whose story it is and it’s not to be shared.  My Sal Kilkenny series uses the first person POV as does The Kindest Thing, a book about a woman who is tried for murder after she helps her husband end his life.  The novel I’ve just finished, Letters to my Daughter’s Killer, which explores the question of whether it is possible to forgive a murderer, is also a first person account.  Other stories such as the Blue Murder and Scott and Bailey series and standalones like Split Second suit several third person points of view.  As a writer I find it refreshing to switch from spending months in the almost claustrophobic world of ‘I’ to the variety and freedom of ‘he’ and ‘she’.  And in my most recently published novel, Blink of an Eye, I’ve used two narrators, both written in the first person.

Does it matter to you?

*And sometimes I don’t.  Credit must go to my novel writers’ group who on reading the opening chapters of The Kindest Thing all agreed the only viewpoint they were at all  interested in was Deborah’s.  And so it came to be.