Today crime writer Anne Coates is joining me for Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this feature is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.
Ready for a grilling about her procrastination habits is Anne Coates whose latest crime novel – SONGS OF INNOCENCE – is out now.
Welcome Anne! So tell me all about your latest book – Songs of Innocence?
What a marvelous opportunity to procrastinate by answering your questions, Steph! Songs of Innocence is the third book in the Hannah Weybridge series. Still recovering from the traumatic events of Death’s Silent Judgement (book two), Hannah, a freelance journalist, is asked to help investigate the death of a teenage Asian girl found drowned in Peckham Pond by her family. The police think it’s suicide; her aunt is convinced it is murder. Hannah’s enquiries reveal a trend of Asian girls missing school, or disappearing altogether and someone is determined she will not expose the reason why.
How long did Songs of Innocence take to write?
I started more or less as soon as I’d submitted the second book to my publisher and it took about eight months to write. I remember being on holiday when Matthew Smith, the publishing director of Urbane Publications, contacted me about publishing book three and what was the title? All the books’ titles are linked to a poet or poem I love. I dithered over book three but Blake was my inspiration and so I borrowed part of his own title and a poem I love within it. My deadline was four months away.
What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?
People who manage to write in cafés and bars intrigue me. How do they manage to stop people watching and eavesdropping long enough to actually get words onto the screen? Mind you I keep promising myself I’ll go and work in my local with a glass of wine for inspiration! Mainly I work from home although I have been known to write on the bus, especially if I see someone whose characteristics or way of talking I could use for a character. My powers for procrastination are legendary. Unlike some who have to clean the house/rearrange their working space or whatever, I am able to sit and watch the dust accumulate while I look out of a window for inspiration. When I get stuck on something I find changing my writing location helps so I tend to move around the house. However I have three cats who all compete with my laptop for a place to nestle and stroking a feline is very therapeutic.
What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?
Frequently when I get stuck on a plot problem, I wish I were more of a planner. However I “jump straight in” but rarely is the first chapter I write the one which appears at the beginning of the finished novel. For my current WIP, the beginning changed several times before I found my way into the story. In Songs I had a very tight time-frame for the narrative which helped with the plotting as all the action takes place in May 1994 and I used some real events to keep a check on the narrative path. Even so I don’t write chronologically so I have to write loads of notes to remind myself of what is happening and what should go before and after.
When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?
Probably equally across all three. At the beginning I spend a lot of time thinking about the plot and characters – this involves pruning the roses, weeding, filing my nails, making cups of coffee, anything rather that actually putting words onto paper. Cups of cold coffee and uneaten snacks indicate when the writing is going well. Towards the end of the first draft I may slow down to postpone the exquisite agony of knowing that I will have to begin rewriting and sorting out plot holes.
Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?
The relief of a finished first draft is second to none. Then at least I have something to work with and on. I do two or three drafts before I start editing and I print out each time to give myself a physical feeling for the MS. I love the last draft/edit as that’s usually when I change the ending for something more extreme. As I don’t plot and plan, characters lead me on sometimes into unknown territory. The finale is often a shock to me – and, I hope, for the reader.
When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?
Research – pause to polish halo – can lead a writer up and down all manner of highways and byways. Although I prefer to get a first draft written and worry about fact checking and so on at a later stage, I find looking up something or Googling a location can be all it needs to spur me on. I sometimes read reams about a subject and then only a tiny element makes it into the book. Of course, social media (which is how I happened to read about your new series, Steph in the middle of draft one of book four!) can be a huge distraction as can getting immersed in a novel.
Ah yes, very true – social media is a great distraction!
When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?
I love coffee but, as an insomniac, I avoid it after lunchtime. Then I drink water until it’s an acceptable time to have a G&T or a glass of wine. I’m a terrible snacker and how immersed in my writing I am dictates how healthily I eat. I try to make sure plenty of fruit and nuts are available but sometimes only chocolate will do.
And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?
The finished book always takes me by surprise somehow. It’s fabulous to see and touch but often it’s the reaction of my daughter and friends that gives it credence. The official launch party of Songs of Innocence was a few days after publication so on publication day we went to a local pub which features in the book and celebrated with Prosecco.
Huge thanks to Anne for being great fun and letting me quiz her about all things procrastination.
Be sure to check out her latest book – SONGS OF INNOCENCE.
Click on the book cover below to view it on Amazon UK…