Today crime writer Barbara Copperthwaite 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.
Barbara’s latest book is THE PERFECT FRIEND and I can’t wait to find out more…
Welcome Barbara! So tell me all about your latest book – The Perfect Friend?
It’s a dark psychological thriller, set in the seaside town of Tynemouth. The story explores the relationship between two women as it twists into suspicion, lies and obsession.
How long did The Perfect Friend take to write?
I started it in October, while on holiday in Tynemouth – which is why it is set in that seaside town, as I found it so inspirational. I handed in my first draft to my editor at the end of March, so that’s five months. Obviously since then it’s been through several rounds of edits!
What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?
There’s a café near me that I haunt in winter. But most often I write at home, especially since I took over the dining room and made it my office, although it looks more like the dogs’ playroom, as there are usually tennis balls and toys everywhere for them. When I’m procrastinating, my dogs are a great distraction.
What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?
I wish I were a plotter as I think it would make the writing process a lot less stressful. But the fact is that I’ve tried to do that and it just didn’t work for me. Everything that I’d plotted out so meticulously simply didn’t work when I got into the details of things as I wrote. So, for me, jumping in is the only way.
I tend to have an idea that I want to explore, themes in my mind, and the types of characters that I want to inhabit the world that I’ll create; after that it’s a question of having fun discovering for myself how the story will work out. Wondering how I’ll get to the endpoint is what keeps me interested, because I’ve also found that I get bored when I plot. It’s normally around halfway through the book that I decide what exactly the ending will be; the only time I’ve known from the beginning how I wanted to end a story was when I was writing The Darkest Lies.
Here’s a confession… I’ve a terrible habit of writing random scenes when I first get going. Often, I have no clue where they will slot into the story, or even if they will make the final cut, but they help me get a feel for where I’m heading and what I’m trying to say. Once I’ve hit around 8000 words, I’ll actually write the beginning of the book and work forward making links to the random scenes.
When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?
Each book has been a completely different experience, so it’s impossible to say. My first book, Invisible, was written in snatches while I was commuting, which certainly concentrated the mind – there was no time for procrastination.
My third book, The Darkest Lies, was the hardest to write, and emotionally draining, too. I got about halfway through and couldn’t see a way forward. I was convinced that it was awful. In the end an author friend read through what I’d already written and it took her telling me that it was absolutely fine to make me continue writing. If she hadn’t done that for me I honestly think I’d have abandoned it. Yet that’s the one that landed me an agent and publishing deal.
I’m currently working on my sixth book and I realise now there is no ‘usual process’ for me. I do tend to find, however, that a lot of time at the start of a book is spent thinking rather than doing. Staring into space and letting your mind wander is a key part of the creative process, I think – no excuse, I genuinely do!
At some point what I refer to as the ‘tipping point’ arrives, the point where everything just speeds up and I become obsessed with my book. Nothing else exists by this stage. I’m probably a nightmare to live with, as I really am in now world of my own. That tends to come at around half way through the first draft may be slightly earlier with some books. Then it’s a case of rushing to the end.
Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?
Creating a first draft is incredibly exciting – and utterly nerve wracking. Every time I sit down to start a new book I wonder if I can actually do it again, and desperately try remember how I’ve done it all the other times (weirdly, I never can remember how!). I love the writing process, I love the opportunity to create, but it’s also the point where self-doubt eats at me.
For that reason I probably enjoy editing more, because by then I have something solid to work with, and know I can hone it into something. Before becoming a full-time author I was a journalist, and edited magazines. That means that working on copy from other people comes as second nature to me because I’ve done it my entire adult working life – and it comes in handy.
When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?
Walking, without a doubt. It’s almost as if my mind works on a treadmill, because I find that if I am walking then my brain seems to work a lot better and answers suddenly appear to the problems that I’m pondering. My two lovely dogs, Scamp, a cockapoo, and Buddy, an all-sort rescue, are my constant companions whether I’m walking or typing, so if I’m not in the mood for a walk I might just stop and play with them to take my mind off things.
When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?
I’m a devil for a slice of cake or hot chocolate. I often joke that my books should be sponsored by Lindt…
And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?
The first time I finished a book I was so excited by my achievement that I went out and bought a bottle of champagne and drank it while staring at ‘The End’ with the biggest grin on my face. Now it’s become almost a superstition. If I don’t toast writing the end of my book with a glass of champagne (or two) then I almost feel as though I’m inviting bad luck by not celebrating. So that’s become my ritual now, even though it does sound incredibly extravagant. It sounds a lot less glamorous when I add that I buy whatever champagne is on special offer at the supermarket!
Huge thanks to Barbara for letting me quiz her about her writing and procrastination habits. Her latest book THE PERFECT FRIEND is out now – click on the book cover below to find out more on Amazon:
Barbara is the Amazon and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, THE DARKEST LIES, and HER LAST SECRET. Her latest book is THE PERFECT FRIEND. More importantly, she loves cakes, wildlife photography and, last but definitely not least, her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy (who force her to throw tennis balls for them for hours). Having spent over twenty years as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, Barbara has interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She is fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line. When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.
To find out more about Barbara’s novels hop over to her website at www.barbaracopperthwaite.com and follow her on social media at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraCopperthwaite and @BCopperthwait on Twitter