I am, I suppose, quite an instinctive writer. I’ve now written four books (more on the most recent two of them in future weeks and months) and all of them have started with a fragment: either an existing horror story (The English Monster)?or a fragment of biography (The Poisoned Island). The two books I’ve been working on most recently started, respectively, with a title and an imagined scene. I won’t tell you the title – yet – but the imagined scene was an all-female version of the famous opening of?Great Expectations.
It’s then been a case of digging out the story from these fragments: inventing characters, researching biographies and histories, getting a feel for places, and, most of all, working out the story. I don’t plot heavily beforehand, and I haven’t always had an ending in mind when I start, so I’ve had to discover these things as I go along.
I have, in recent months, come to think more and more about the mechanics of these instinctive matters. How does character work? What’s the most effective interplay between research and creating? What are the key elements of story? And – I think most importantly of all – what’s the?voice of your novel? A fellow writer once told me that Kazuo Ishiguro spends six years on each of his novels, and the first three years are entirely spent rehearsing different voices with which to tell his story. Before I’d written a novel, I would have thought that preposterous. Now I’ve written a few, I find myself asking how I can engineer a career that allows me to do it too. (The answer is: I can’t).
I’m going to be blogging more about these things in the coming weeks and months, on the basis (see this post here) that writing things through on a blog can help you understand them. And I’m also going to be working towards teaching a class: in my case, a Guardian Masterclass on writing historical crime fiction. You can find more details of it here. I’m looking forward to teaching it, and to figuring out how to make it as good as it can be.