#crimewritersincafesprocrastinating – Zoe Sharp talks procrastination, writing on the move and the perils of cats @authorzoesharp

 

Today kick-ass thriller writer Zoe Sharp 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.

I’m a huge fan of Zoe’s books, and super excited to grill her about procrastination, her writing habits and her latest book DANCING ON THE GRAVE.

Welcome Zoe! So tell me all about your latest book – Dancing On The Grave?

Zoë Sharp: Basically, it’s my take on the Washington Sniper incident from a few years ago, but set in the English Lake District. If you want the slightly longer explanation, it’s an exploration of what it means in today’s culture to desperately want to be famous, regardless of what you want to be famous for. It’s about the way we treat our ex-military personnel when we’re finished with them. It’s about loyalty, betrayal, love and revenge. Just the everyday story of country folk.

How long did Dancing On The Grave take to write?

ZS: Far too long. I actually finished the first version of this book eight years ago. It was just about to go out on submission when Derrick Bird went on the rampage in the west of Cumbria, shooting twelve people dead and injuring a further eleven before taking his own life. It wasn’t close to the storyline of my book, but at the same time it was too near the mark. The book was withdrawn from submission and I put it away for a long time. It was only recently I felt able to get it out and work on it again.

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?

ZS: Home, probably, although ‘home’ is something of a moveable feast at the moment. As I write this, I’m actually sitting in the kitchen of a house in the Aveyron valley in southern France, where I’m house and cat-sitting for the whole of the month. That’s always been the beauty of this job—the fact you can do it anywhere.

Of course, the flip-side of that is that you can also fail to do it anywhere. I like to make pencil notes when I’m out and about, in cafés, usually, or waiting rooms, or wherever, and then type up my notes and expand on them when I get back to my desk. It doesn’t feel right to make notes at my desk. Here, I go and sit at the bottom of the garden, then it’s back to the kitchen table, or the one under an awning outside, to attempt to transcribe my scrawl onto my laptop.

If I’m in the UK, there are always other jobs that call to me. I’m in the midst of a house renovation project, so there are a million other things to do that are particularly difficult to ignore when the weather’s good and you don’t know how long that state of affairs might continue. This is why there are fewer distractions in the winter. Except for the cats, of course. They love to sit on paper (particularly with muddy feet) or my lap. Or my keyboard. Or my hands. Maybe they’re the feline equivalent of literary critics?

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

ZS: First thing I do is write the tagline, which has to grab you in a dozen words or less. Then I write the jacket copy, which has to grab you in half a page or less. And then I outline, in broad brushstrokes only, so I have the basic story arc in place, with the main dramatic events timelined. I keep going back to this outline and embellishing it as I go, adding threads that can be tied up later. What I don’t plan are the reactions of the characters to those dramatic events—I want those to develop in a more organic way as I get to them. And I don’t do complicated character biographies before I start. The characters only introduce themselves to me as the step onto the page for the first time. I do jot down a summary of each chapter as I write, just to keep the timeline straight in my head. I note down the gist of the action and dialogue, so I can plan structural edits, if I need to later, without having to plough through the complete typescript.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?

ZS: Getting started in the right place can be really tricky, no doubt about it. Sometimes you instinctively know what the opening line for a book is going to be, and you run with it. Other times, you just can’t quite find the right point. And I know all the advice says ‘you can fix a page but you can’t fix a blank page’ but without the right start point, I can’t shake the feeling that everything else I do from there on out is based on dodgy foundations. I like to hit the ground running, and if I don’t feel I’ve done that, I can’t move forwards with the rest of the story. The start of the book, after all, is never the start of the story. It might have started days or months or even years before the point at which you introduce it to the reader.

As for the actual writing part, the third quarter is the pits, definitely. I know that doesn’t fit into the standard three-act structure, but trust me on this. You’ve got the start of your story nailed, you’ve hit the top of the arc, and when you reach three-quarters distance you have to start to tie all those loose threads together into a cohesive whole for the climax. Do it too fast at the ending falls flat. Do it too slowly and you may finish up with thirty pages of stodgy “But how did you know it was the man with the wooden leg?” kind of exposition in the final chapters. Yeah, that third quarter is the bit I sweat over, every time.

Q6: Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?

ZS: Until recently, I would have said that I enjoyed having written more than I enjoyed the actual process of writing, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve had a great boost to my feeling of creativity this year, and the reception I’ve had to the new standalone, Dancing On The Grave, has been wonderful. I really feel I’ve regained my enthusiasm for actually creating story—the putting together of words and scenes into something that didn’t exist until the second you laid them across the page. I remember when I was writing my first novel, and working full-time, that I would get up ever-earlier in the mornings, such was my urge to write. It’s a compulsion rather than an occupation.

I confess, with a certain amount of masochism, that I quite likebeing edited, providing I feel the editor is on the same wavelength with both my style of writing and the story. Anyone who’s prepared to put time and effort into helping me produce the best piece of work possible is fine by me. But it can be a nightmare. Worst editing experience I ever had was with a US copy editor who came from an academic non-fiction background, and wrote me a report saying I displayed a ‘good deal of comma fault’, and she had issues with my ‘verbs of utterance’. I half expected it to have ‘see me’ or ‘could do better’ at the end of it. I wrote ‘stet’ 1251 times on that typescript. I know, I counted every single one of them…

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?

ZS: Well, if I’m into a renovation project, I can find it hard to concentrate on writing because I’d rather be plastering or constructing something. It can have a good symbiotic relationship, though. If the practical half of your brain is occupied, it allows the creative half to freewheel and work through plot problems on a subconscious level. So, something practical is always good as both a means of procrastination and for inspiration. As is Scruzzleword, and Sudoku. And bringing my accounts up to date, and bringing logs inside in the winter, and social media, and…and…and…

Q8: When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?

ZS: Ooh, lots of coffee, usually, although I’ve never found it does much to keep me awake. I always have a large glass of tap water with a shot of tonic water in the top of it on the go, too, which I put on a side table so it’s away from my computer, just in case! The cats have a habit of parachuting onto my desk with little regard for the state of the drop zone.

For snacks, I tend to eat cereal like Cheerios or Special K, straight from the bowl with no spoon, and no milk. Weird, I know. I’m trying to retrain my sweet tooth, but I have a weakness for Jelly Belly jelly beans and Cadbury’s milk chocolate.

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

ZS: By having a day or two off without feeling guilty for not writing anything. A neck, back, and shoulder massage is usually a must by then, too, as everything will have started to knot itself tight as I reach the closing stages of the book. But it’s only ever a temporary reprieve, because then I’ll be into planning the next book, or edits, or some other writing task I’ve been putting off while I was finishing the current work-in-progress. It never ends, really. Good job I love what I do, isn’t it?

Huge thanks to Zoe Sharp for popping by the CTG blog and letting me grill her about procrastination and her writing habits.

Zoe’s latest book DANCING ON THE GRAVE is out now. You can find out more about it over on Amazon by clicking the book cover below:

And find out more about Zoe and all her books (including the fabulous Charlie Fox series) by checking out her website and social media…

Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire but spent her formative years living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She wrote the first of her highly acclaimed crime thriller series featuring ex-Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photojournalist. When not involved with renovating houses, crewing other people’s yachts, or improvising weapons out of everyday objects, she can often be found international pet-sitting.

Website: https://www.zoesharp.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorzoesharp

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ZoeSharpAuthor

#bookcrush – Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

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My super cool book crush this week is Last Time I Lied by best-selling author Riley Sager.

I was drawn to this cover because it demands to be picked up – the eye-catching black and orange colour combination, the hazy black and white image of a girl running beside water in the woods that continues into the words of the title – it’s so eerily beautiful. I’ve heard great things about this writer and can’t wait to read this!

Here’s the blurb:

“Summer camp. Murder in the woods. Truth and lies. It was Emma’s first ever summer away from home. She learnt how to play games. And she learnt how to lie. Then three of her new friends went into the woods and never returned… Now, years later, Emma has been asked to go back to the newly re-opened Camp Nightgale. She thinks she’s laying old ghosts to rest but really she’s returning to the scene of the crime. Because Emma’s innocence might be the biggest lie of all…”

If you like the sound of Last Time I Lied you can find out more on Amazon HERE.

 

 

#crimewritersincafesprocrastinating – Rod Reynolds shares his procrastination pitfalls and confesses he’s a reluctant plotter @Rod_RW

 

Today crime writer Rod Reynolds 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.

Rod’s latest book – COLD DESERT SKY – is the third book in his acclaimed Charlie Yates series published by Faber.

Welcome Rod, so tell me all about your latest book – Cold Desert Sky?

Cold Desert Sky is the third book in the Charlie Yates series. It finds Charlie obsessed with the disappearance of two aspiring starlets, while trying to stay ahead of infamous mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, who’s tearing LA apart trying to find him. But Charlie’s investigation leads to him getting caught up in a murderous blackmail racket, targeting Hollywood bigwigs.

The action moves to Las Vegas, right around the time Siegel was completing his masterplan: The Flamingo Hotel, which laid the foundation for the city as we know it today. Yates finds himself caught between Sigel’s outfit and a rogue FBI agent, and as his chances of getting out alive dwindle, his only care is to find out what happened to the missing girls while he still can.

How long did Cold Desert Sky take to write?

I spent a couple of months researching the historical facts and locations featured in the book, then about four months writing the first draft. Then I spent another couple of months editing and polishing before I let anyone read it. That’s about normal for me – I’d be quicker if I didn’t have to fit writing in around school runs, nursery runs, and playground trips!

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?

I prefer to write at home – I think because it offers the most options for procrastination – but I quite often have to decamp to get some peace and quiet, so I tend to either go to a cafe on the high street near me, or the library. The problem with the latter is that there are all these books I want to read just staring at me from the shelves…

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

I started out pantsing, but I’ve plotted more with each book I’ve written – so I guess you could call me a reluctant plotter. I used to worry that planning would stifle creativity and stop the story from developing organically, but I’ve come to learn that having the spine of an idea still leaves plenty of room for both those things to happen, and actually saves me a lot of time in the long run. It’s like that old cliche about having a destination in mind but figuring out the route as you go.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?

Definitely the middle. The start of a book is always great fun to write, because it’s a blank canvas (even if you’re writing a series) and the possibilities are almost limitless. And I always find the end stages take on a momentum of their own. Whereas I think most writers find the middle the toughest because you’ve got to sustain the plot, keep the pace up, keep the characters developing, all while holding back the really juicy stuff for the end. So my twitter trigger-finger tends to get itchy between about 30k and 70k words.

Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?

I know a lot of writers think this is a binary choice, but I’m not averse to either. I like the freedom of a first draft, and I like the precision of the editing stage. If I had to choose, it would be the editing stage though. It’s the difference between laying the first bricks building a house, and polishing the doorknob and choosing the furniture when its all finished.

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?

Social media’s a the obvious one – it’s just so easy. Especially twitter, because the crime-writing community is so strong on there, so it’s easy to jump into a fun conversation. But I also try to put procrastination to a good use, so I try to exercise or go for a run, if I can summon the willpower. Running is one of my best methods for working through plot problems or getting some headspace to think about whatever I’m working on, so it can be really helpful, if I can tear myself off the chair…

When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?

Coffee – although not as much as I used to drink when I was working in advertising. I tend to work better in the mornings, so I’ve never really tried writing with a glass of wine or anything like that; I’m not sure I’d be very productive! And I try to avoid snacking when I’m at my desk, so I usually aim to get by on a handful of nuts or some fruit. But when my willpower drops, I can eat a packet of biscuits without stopping for breath. And then get started on the cake.

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

I don’t think you ever win against procrastination! I usually take a few weeks off from writing when I finish a book, and certainly a few beers will be drunk, but you can’t ever really go nuts because there’s always something else to do – and I tend to get the urge to start something new before too long.

Huge thanks to Rod for letting me grill him about his procrastination (and writing) habits. To see what happens when his Twitter trigger-finger gets twitchy follow him on Twitter @Rod_WR

And be sure to check out his fabulous new book – COLD DESERT SKY. Click on the book cover below to find out more over at Amazon:

CTG’s #bookcrush – Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

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My fabulous book crush this week is Sticks and Stones by debut thriller writer Jo Jakeman

The image of a broken coffee mug, still with a little bit of coffee inside, lying prone on the counter was what drew me to this cover, and the pop of the pink lettering over the muted grey-blue wash of the image adds even more intrigue!

And behind the mysterious cover is a twisty, new take on the pychological thriller.

Here’s the blurb:

“Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son. In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable: she locks her husband in the cellar. Now she’s in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?”

If you like the sound of Sticks and Stones you can find out more on Amazon HERE.