Does crime thrill you? Why?

I recently watched the Imagine documentary on Ian Rankin on BBC iPlayer.  I’ll disclose right away, I don’t read thrillers or crime fiction as a matter of course. I worked my way through Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle and Fleming in my early teens, I read some Le Carre and some Len Deighton in my late teens but that’s about it. I also abandoned watching crime/thriller on TV some years ago. I enjoyed Frost but that was the last one I watched. I never really got into Morse.  And beyond that I’m almost completely ignorant of the genre.  So my questions here are genuine. I’m not slating the genre, but we only have so many hours in the day and I make conscious choices of what I like to read/watch of which crime and thrillers  no longer feature. I live a happy and quite fulfilled life (I believe) without it.  I like to read and write about what people get up to in their ‘ordinary’ lives, the domestic ones without all the jeopardy, crime and murder.  Where people are victims of emotional imbalance and where ‘who we are’  in everyday life is what matters, not when we are victims, perpetrators or observers of crime or murder. (Though I know that I’m veering towards crime fiction and ignoring a lot of pure ‘thriller’ aspects here. But as I said, it’s not my ‘thing.’) I’m here to learn!

What interested me in Rankin’s documentary was his writing method. What appalled me was his method of working. It seemed like slavery to me. I think there may be two (at least) kinds of writers. There are those who are raring to go early in the morning and you can’t keep them away from the computer keyboard without making them unhappy. Those for whom, as a fellow novelist Catherine Czerkawska says,everything apart from writing is ‘a distraction.’ And then there are those who need a big cup of coffee, a read of the newspapers and a dash of guilt to get them shoehorned into work mode each day. They seem to look for any and every displacement activity to avoid writing. I’d hate to be one of the latter.  It seems to me that for them writing is a punishment (or a means to an end – money and fame) whereas to me writing is a joy and even at its most boring times, creatively fulfilling. Being creative on a daily basis is very important to me. Whether it makes me money or not.

There are also (at least) two ways that writers seen to write. One is to plan and structure before (and during) writing and work to a framework. Research first then writing. I’m of this group. I probably actively ‘think’ for some years then ‘plan’ for a good year (while doing other things of course) and by the time I start to write I ‘know’ my characters and story well. I don’t even allow myself to write a story till I’m so champing at the bit that I can’t do anything else except work on it! The writing stage then becomes both a release and a relief and a pleasure.  Rankin is of the other group. He loosely collects things in a file where he leaves them until he ‘has to’ find his once a year BIG IDEA for his one novel a year, then he roots through this pile. He then pays attention to what’s going on around him, looking for what is ‘out there’ that he can mine, or connect with. He goes to a funeral when he should have started his first draft and that gives him the idea to start the novel writing about a funeral. It’s a bit haphazard for my liking.

When he actually gets down to writing he seems to flounder a lot of the way. He doesn’t often know what’s happening next. (Or so he says. I’m never sure about the veracity of this approach, I wonder if it’s like school where people all say ‘I never revise’ because it makes them look a) cool and b) clever.)  But assuming he’s telling the truth, I find this vaguely unsettling. One of the reasons I stopped reading/watching crime/thrillers was that I got pissed off when I discovered that however hard I was looking for ‘clues’ in the text I probably wouldn’t get them because the writer didn’t necessarily know themselves till the end. It seemed pointless to me to be looking for something I couldn’t find.  Maybe I’m looking for the wrong thing though.  This was one insight I got from the documentary.  It’s not just about trying to make sense of the ‘murder’ (or crime or whatever) it’s an insight into a wider world. Rankin pointed out that for him writing  is a way of him making sense of the world around him. His writing works out a problem and he ‘gives’ this problem to a familiar character who is the reader’s conduit to the issues.  I’d never thought of it this way. It’s certainly not how I write, but it does explain why one would write series fiction.  However, having the same old familiar character being the same old mouthpiece for life’s thorny issues just seems too limiting and frankly too boring for me as a writer.  It also led me to wonder whether Rebus was just a channel for things Rankin might like to say but wouldn’t like or dare to say in his own voice.  Through Rebus he explores what he thinks about the world and then he lets Rebus tell us, allowing him to be more controversial than Rankin would feel comfortable being. I may be wrong, that’s just my opinion based on what I saw.

Generally, throughout the programme most of Rankin’s life as a writer turned me right off (not him, just writing!) I wouldn’t write if it was like this. I wouldn’t want to. It’s like slavery. Or punishment.  Whereas he has ONE big idea a year, I fight off ‘good’ ideas for stories on a weekly basis (well, okay maybe a monthly basis now I’ve been writing professionally for 20 years). I’m constantly thinking about many characters, many plots, many issues and how to bring them all together. For me writing is, and has always been, primarily about being creative. About trying to explore the world in a range of different ways but not always thinking that my perspective has any value or primacy.  It seems to me that I write to find out about other people and the world and Rankin writes to find out about himself and the world. (Again, opinion only, not criticism.)

And I wonder if that’s a male/female thing. That a man sees his own perspective as the ‘most important’ and dominant whereas a woman is more flexible. She can put herself in other people’s shoes more easily (a sort of emotional multi-tasking if you will) and so her fiction is essentially different. I’ve never thought of this before and I’m not sure I believe it, but I’m looking for discussion on this issue so I thought I should throw out something contentious! I know ‘virtually’ both male and female crime/thriller writers and I’m interested to hear their views.

So, my question for discussion is: why do we write and why do we read crime/thriller fiction.

(The subsidiary question – how do we write – is one I’m going to tackle in a blog post for Authors Electric on 4th December  – I’m planning ahead!)


About callyphillips

10 Responses to Does crime thrill you? Why?

  1. Bill Kirton says:

    I watched the programme, too, and without wishing to equate myself with Ian, I have to say that his working methods all seemed very familiar and normal. Whenever I’ve tried to work things out beforehand (and this only happened with my radio plays, not my novels), the results have been compromised – mainly because the characters weren’t allowed to be themselves. They had to serve my ‘vision’ or whatever it was. I may have recounted this before but I remember very well writing a play which explored themes of expansion and contraction (of possibilities, life choices, etc.). It was broadcast and reviewed in The Listener. The review began ‘This is a tiresome play about tiresome people’ and I agreed with it. On a panel I chaired at the Edinburgh Book Festival once, Isla Dewar said ‘You’ve got to give your characters room to dance’, which struck me as a very elegant way of expressing what to me seemed to be a truth.
    I don’t like having to be classified as a crime writer but that’s mostly what I am but the reason I chose it in the first place was because it gave me a ready-made structure within which I could indulge myself in the thing that interests me most, i.e. why do people do what they do? How are we capable of some of the extremes we manifest? I’m not a fan of gorefests or autopsies but I do find motives and potential motives fascinating. And I suppose if I planned too far ahead, the motives wouldn’t be coming from the characters’ selves but from the mechanics of a puzzle I was building. I love being surprised by what characters do. When I’m editing, the bits I cut mainly are where it’s obvious that I’m butting into the narrative myself. I don’t belong there, the characters do.
    And, if I do it right, the reader is judging the characters’ actions and, I hope, having to examine their own a bit in the process.

  2. Susan Price says:

    Hi Cally – I admire Rankin’s books, his Rebus books anyway. I can never remember which title applies to which, but I thought the one set around the G8 (was it?) Conference was extraordinarily good in the way it managed to say so much about our world, in the guise of a crime thriller.
    I don’t think his method, as described above, is so unimaginative. He built up that file of clippings by ripping out things that caught his attention and filing them away. His subconscious, in the meantime, would have been working away. Then, once a year, he comes back to the clippings and sorts through them. Themes and ideas jump out at him, and he starts to build a story round them. This reminds me of a method used by my friend Jenny Alexander, who is deeply into dreams and how they influence our imagination. She has a method of ‘contacting your imagination’, where you start with a heap of magazines and newspapers. You riffle through them for 5 minutes and rip out anything which catches your attention, without thinking about it. Then you take your pile of ripped out pictures and headlines, and edit them somewhat, by making them into a collage. You don’t have to use everything you ripped out. Then you look at the collage, and ask yourself, ‘Why this? What is it trying to tell me?’ I got a whole ghost story – ‘Carla’ in my ‘Overheard in a Graveyard’ collection by using this.
    Rankin’s collection of file clippings may well work in a similar way.
    And then, crime fiction. If I understand you, you say you lost interest in it because you couldn’t see the point of hunting for clues when the writers themselves hadn’t planned the book much. And you mention Agatha Christie.
    I think there are two very different kinds of crime fiction – there’s the old ‘locked room’ or ‘isolated country manor’ crime story of the Agatha Christie type, and there’s the far more realistic ‘police procedural’ or psychological story, written by writers such as Rankin, Minette Walters and Mo Hayder.
    I dislike the first., but agree that they should be very carefully planned, like a crossword. It’s a kind of game played between writer and reader, and if the writer isn’t playing fair, by carefully laying out their crossword grid, then there’s no point playing.
    But then, they bear no more relation to any kind of reality than a game of Cluedo. I read some as a teenager, and quickly came to the conclusion that all you had to do was read through the list of characters introduced at the start, and then pick the most unlikely murderer, the one who could not possibly have done it – and that would be who had done it, by some fantastical, unbelievable sleight of pen.
    The other kind of crime fiction – the Rankin, Walters, Hayder – kind do exactly what you want from a book: they explore the lives of the characters, their motivations, the way they cope with the world around them. Some people’s normal life is crime. I remember standing in a bus-stop and listening to two lads chat about their burglaries, their car stealing, their court-appearances, their several children by several different girls. They chatted comfortably away, just as others would chat about their wives, their outings, how their children were doing in school, and so on. It was, for them, their everyday life. Rankin, Walters and Hayder are interested in exploring how they got that way.
    And, since life is what happens while you’re doing other things, they don’t require such meticulous planning. The writer can allow his/her characters to surprise.
    Some of these books explore quite horrific crimes, and I know from your earlier posts, Cally, than these probably aren’t your cup of tea – but serial killers are part of our world too. Sitting watching TV with a corpse became a normal quiet evening in for Neilsen and Dahmer. No one made these two up. I doubt if any fiction writer would have dared to make them up. But they exist. They are, sadly, human. So it’s valid to explore their psychology in fiction.

  3. debutnovelist says:

    Hello Cally
    Like you I haven’t read crime fiction as a matter of course since my teens and I discoveredRankin/Rebus only because one day I was stuck for something to read and picked one up in a charity shop. I like the settings, the themes and the writing style very much but stopped after a few as I was becoming too aware of the underlying ‘formula’ of the storylines. However as a writer I’m also one of those people who ‘grope’ their way to the end, and leaving aside my own efforts I think you’ll find that many writers jdo it this way and somehow it works. I was surprised to find a crime writer working like this but also felt vindicated to a degree. Although the experience can be a bit like wrestling, the end is satisfying. I suppose that by contrast ‘plotters’ simply go through that process before putting pen to paper where as I can’t seem to start without getting words on the page. Of course what that means is that there is a lot of redrafting to ensure that ideas/plots that emerge along the way are properly embedded – i.e. the clues might have to be written in retrospectively – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there or done well.
    As for Rankin’s lack of joy in the process, I think the film probably overemphasised this. (I somehow don’t think IR is too unhappy with his lot). But it’s also the pay-off of having a publishing contract (with or without many noughts on the end). We free (ish) agents can follow whatever creative star we fancy. Once you are signed up, in a sense you have sold your writing soul because you have deadlines to adhere to and an editor issuing instructions. It’s like being a professional sportsman, I suppose. Once you make the big time, what was a favourite hobby is suddenly a job with its own responsibilities. But still the job you prefer to any other (or you would presumably get out after the first million!) You pays your money … (or in this case takes your money…).
    I thought the film did a lot to demystify the process of writing, but if anything grated it was the money side. Does really have to keep writing to look after his family? Only, I suppose, in terms of keeping them in the manner to which they are accustomed!

    Ali B

    • Hi Ali, I know that lots of writers ‘grope’ their way. I just find it strange. But then professionally I was trained in screenwriting where time certainly is money and there’s no way you can do that. Structure is everything in that milieu. Not sure that ‘plotters’ is the best description for that way of working and there is A LOT of pen to paper before you start the draft – that’s the point! You do all the background work BEFORE writing the draft, including frameworks, step outlines and the like. My ‘conversion’ to novels has been interesting because of seeing how differently people work and I’m certainly ‘freer’ than I would be if writing a script. But the ‘blank page, writers block’ syndrome is just alien to me. Couldn’t afford it in screenwriting, and because at the earliest stage (before even writing the script) you are involved with sharing your story with others you have to be well prepared and know what’s happening. I find that this method works well for me in novel writing, but am learning and adapting all the time. I totally understand what you’re saying about the difference between when one is working ‘professionally’ and that’s what really surprised me. Because the ‘method’ Rankin adopts would NEVER work professionally in the screenwriting world. So it amazes me how popular it is amongst novelists. But I am so interested in both different writing processes and different reading ‘reasons’ and that’s why it’s good to set up and hear opinions in the debate.
      Sue – yeah, I just think that the ‘conscious’ mind has something to offer the process as well. Perhaps what Rankin does subconsciously I do consciously. Your comments are very interesting re psychological fiction though. I shall have to start investigating it. Any ideas of a good ‘entry point?’ I guess I need to find someone who is writing about THINGS that I’m interested in using the genre. Not serial killers. I can read about them as biography but don’t feel the need to fictionalise them. But nothing against psychological thrillers – just don’t like that ‘scary’ feel and crime proceedure interests me as little as medical proceedure. Political or social psycyhological thrillers might be best – any suggestions? (Mind you all I need right now is ANOTHER genre to read!!!) But it’s good to realise that I shouldn’t let the prejudices of teen years influence me and stop me from experiencing a genre which is so much more than that!
      Bill – I’m never sure about all the characters living their own lives thing. I obviously miss something because I can’t get away from the fact that at the end of the day it IS we as writer who ‘creates’ the whole thing and I can’t really understand (the very common) writers comment that somehow the characters are in control. That’s a whole big debate of its own and one day I’ll have to engage with it!

      Thanks to everyone for the debate thus far. It’s so good to hear different opinions. There’s not enough of this kind of discussion going on (or at least I can’t find it) on the web where everyone seems to think that it’s important to AGREE, LIKE and FRIEND everything, rather than actually talk from their own position/experience without fear of being shunned or internet black balled!!!!

      • Susan Price says:

        Hi again Cally – I completely agree that the conscious mind has a lot to offer when writing. It is a superb editor. It sees that this information is more effective if withheld until later in the story, that a particular character is redundant and should be dropped, and so on. But I think writing produced entirely consciously – and I’m thinking of my own work as much as anybody else’s – lacks something. It plods a bit. It can be a bit predictable and formulaic. I know that when I’ve worked in what – to an outsider – might seem a more haphazard, loose and unplanned way, my work is better. Your subconscious makes more outrageous connections, links themes and events in ways you would never have thought of consciously – and the finished work is better – more inspired? – than work I’ve thoroughly planned in a more organised and conscious way. I think the problem with that is you lay down ‘tram-tracks’ for yourself and get wedged in them. ‘This is what I drew up in my plan and it works so I will stick to it no matter what.’ And you don’t see, or refuse to take up, the more original and inventive idea that suddenly springs into your head.
        As for entry into the psychological crime-thriller genre, I’d suggest trying any of Mo Hayder’s ‘Jack Caffery’ series. My brother put me on to her books, and I’m glad I listened to him. She’s written better books – ‘Tokyo’, for instance. But that book is, frankly, bloody terrifying, and if you don’t like scary stuff much, perhaps not for you. Not that the Jack Caffery books are all sugar and spice. My brother made an interesting point about them. He said that the hero, Caffery (a policeman) is psychic, but doesn’t know it. In rereading the books, I see what he means. Hayder doesn’t stress it, but it’s there – Caffery makes connections, and has dreams and intuitions which he himself doesn’t realise are ‘second sight’. He takes them for lucky guesses, or passing thoughts. But the reader, looking over his shoulder as it were, can see that he is psychic. (This makes it sound as if she has him solve crimes by the easy method of ‘a lucky guess’ that pays off – but no, it’s more complicated than that. There is more to the books than finding the solution to a current case.)
        The other books I’d suggest are by the superb Minette Walters. She is a wonderful but totally uncosy writer. In fact some of her books are so dark and brutal – not so much in any violence described but in their unflinching, harsh honesty about people – that I’ve felt like I needed a shower after reading them.
        But two of them that stand out for me are ‘Disordered Minds’ and ‘The Shape of Snakes.’ They both feature ‘ordinary’ people doggedly trying to find out the truth behind murders committed years before. I think they’re extraordinary.
        If you do find time to read them, I’d like to know what you think.

        • Hi Sue,
          Thanks for the suggestions. I will search them out. I realise my ‘resistance’ to the genre may indeed have something to do with not actually being interested in policemen or what their view of the world might be. I’m also fairly resistant to ‘psychics’ but I shall try to ignore that and see beyond the job!

          As re the conscious/subconscious thing – it’s funny, whenever I talk about planning work I find a backlash that equates to a bit of your argument – suggesting that planning makes writing ‘ploddy’ (no pun intended polis!) and it’s one of those things that is obviously so difficult to talk about. Which is why I’m about to witter on about it:

          Of COURSE my subconscious mind is at work as well, for me a plan is a FRAMEWORK nothing more. I don’t shoehorn or pedantically make things fit – but its more like the notion that if you start with a piece of wood and you know you want to end up making a certain thing – cabinet, box with secret drawer, writing slope or owl door stop, you work to certain guidelines. For me the ‘other’ way seems like just whittling at wood and waiting to see what comes out. That’s okay I suppose, but if you are trying to create a functional writing slope (with or without a secret drawer) and end up with an owl doorstop it seems to me that something has gone awry even though one has still been creative. I guess I just like to know what tools I have available and what I’m trying to achieve BEFORE I start and the clearer picture I have the easier it goes.
          I mean, of course I have the ‘voices’ in my head and the conversations between characters but I don’t let them TAKE OVER the party. I don’t think this makes my work ‘ploddy’ (though of course others may disagree).

          Today for example, I’m working on a second draft which will cover a week in April when Tom (my central character) has just arrived at Havana in 1989. Before writing the first draft of this stage I knew 1) I wanted to write in a sort of diary structure – though not necessarily style because it’s third person narrative not first 2) that in this week he had to orient himself around Havana. I knew which hotel he was staying in. I knew I had to get him from the airport to the hotel and to do some tourist stuff and researched a ROUTE for him to take and I knew that I wanted to reveal certain things about his character and state of mind at that point in his journey. That was my PLAN. Then I started to write. I don’t think it was a shoehorn. It just meant that I knew what I was setting out to achieve and didn’t put in things that needed to come later. I knew his attempts at Spanish would be feeble. I knew that he needed to tackle the awful international phone system and deal with currency exchange. The REST is the creative flow of the draft. Now at this second draft stage I’m going back and editing the language and making sure the flow of the structure works and taking out anything that is extraneous etc etc. Every sentence will probably be different but he’s not suddenly going to find a girlfriend or get mugged or whatever. I knew that from the beginning. I knew what his ‘story’ was in broad brush strokes and I developed how to tell it in my outline in advance.

          I do think it’s interesting to talk about process (which is why I’m wittering on about it) I’m not saying anyone’s is better than anyone else’s but how do we learn if we don’t share with honesty? and I think it’s good to see how different folk go about it and why. And I find that often these debates get lost into kind of nebulous terminology which, as I said, always makes me feel uneasily like I’ve misinterpreted what I do or been misunderstood when I say I’ve planned it in advance. As I said in an earlier response, with screenwriting you can’t just throw in a car chase ‘because your character decides they want one’ you have to know what the narrative consists of and where it’s going in great detail BEFORE you pass it on – that’s what you’re paid for. I don’t think the skills thus learned are anti writing good novels. We’ll see!… I think great stories are great stories however they are created. I just personally find that knowing what I’m trying to achieve and how I’m going to go about it BEFORE committing pen to paper (so to speak) saves a lot of wasted time and energy. And HOPE that it doesn’t make it predictable or ploddy. I think my writing can be criticised on many levels but I suggest that predictability or plot heaviness are not among my problems.

          However, I now need to return to Havana. 6,000 words to edit before I go back on the internet!

  4. Susan Price says:

    Hi again, Cally, When I read your account of how you write, it seems pretty much the same as mine. (And in calling work ‘ploddy’ I was thinking of my own rather than anyone else’s.)
    I completely agree with you about the dangers of ‘letting characters take over.’ Never do it. If you do, all you get is a sprawling mess that goes nowhere.
    I think character and plot work in tandem. The characters’ actions must seem to drive the plot – but you’ve chosen the characters you need to tell that story, so they are going to take the actions that you need to drive the plot. I completely agree that you can’t allow your characters to decide that they want to be in a totally different story half-way through.
    But what I often do is start writing something when I have no clear idea how it will end. I usually have a very clear idea of the characters and their capabilities; a very clear idea of the setting (through research and imagination) and a very good idea of, say, the scenes needed for the first half of the book.
    After that, I’m driving into a fog, hoping it will become clear. I usually know the kind of mood I want the book to end in. I know which characters I want to come out on top… I have an idea who will live and who will die, if it’s that kind of book. I just don’t have any real idea how I’m to arrange for any of this to happen.
    When I talk about detailed planning making things plod, I’m talking about my own work and my experience of it, and this is really what I mean – getting through the fog to the clarity on the other side. I could usually force some kind of tidy, neat ending on things, and have done at times, when I’ve been writing to order and had a deadline. But I’m left feeling that it could have been better.
    When I have time, I wander in the fog. I wait, I interrogate the characters as to what they want (within strict limits: I don’t believe any more than you in ‘letting them take over) and I play around with different outcomes. In this way, I believe, I come up with better, less predictable, more satisfying endings. To me, anyway!
    And maybe my feeling that wandering in fogs produces a better ending is purely subjective, and simply reflects my enjoyment of the process. Maybe others think that my books with the ‘neat, tidy’ ending are the better books. I don’t know – it’s a bit like asking a fish what the water’s like.

  5. There are two types of writers – pantsters and plotters, although these are very loose descriptions and the way a book is written may be a combination of the two. I very much come into the pantster type of writer eg I fly by the seat of my pants. I’m more interested in the psychology of the crime, the characters, what motivates them. I like to get inside their minds, and the crime arises out of that. I feel I can only surprise my reader if I surprise myself. There are other crime writers who come into the plotter category. Jeffery Deaver, for example, a fantastic American author, plots every stage of his book before writing it and works from a massive master plan. It works for him but I couldn’t do it. Being a pantster, however, does have its drawbacks. You can go down blind alleys, characters can take matters into their own hands and follow a route you didn’t even know was there. The biggest hurdle, of course, is if you don’t know who did it until the end of the book, which often happens with me, how can you be sure there isn’t something earlier in the book that will trip you up. My way of getting round this is by compiling a chapter by chapter timeline. I know where everyone was at any given time. I know what time of day, and what the weather was in any scene in the book, and this is helpful if you have to go back and plant clues, although I often find I’ve done that subconsciously anyway, and it doesn’t matter who the villain is at the end because the clues are there. The other clues pointing to different characters, are the red herrings. Having said that, the book I am writing at the moment has been plotted (I thought I’d give it a whirl), but it has been much slower to write, even though I know exactly what is going to happen, and I’m waiting to see if this book will grab readers as much as the others, or whether it will fall flat on its face.

    • This is fascinating to me because it makes me wonder whether there are genre specific ways of working. For example I can understand what you say about ‘discovering’ the crime and this is essentially a plot thing really isn’t it. That maybe to write work where the plot needs to shock/surprise/catch unawares too much ‘plotting’ will hold that up. But for the kind of thing I write the plot in one sense is much less central (not unimportant) but the narrative doesn’t rely on plot twists so much. And so unless I KNOW the whole story I don’t feel that I could work on it. But the character motivations etc all that stuff comes not from the plot but from the story.
      Maybe it’s just personal preference but maybe there is something deeper. More to mull over! Thanks for that Chris.

  6. What an interesting debate! It has made me think about how I write but I’m not sure I’ve reached any conclusions. I generally know the beginning and the end – in fact quite often, I begin with the end, but I write to find out what happens in between. I know that sounds a bit vague, but it’s so often what happens. If I’m writing something historical, I will do research, quite a lot of research, but at some point I will ‘give myself permission’ to write fiction, and in writing the fiction, I will find out what I still don’t know. Sometimes – and this is a strange thing – I don’t know what my characters don’t know. In Bird of Passage, it was a long time, and several drafts in before I woke up in the middle of one night and thought ‘THAT’S what Finn has spent his whole life forgetting.’ I honestly didn’t know it before. I do very vague plotting, and timelines and mind maps, but my first rough draft, I begin writing and go on till I get to the end and then stop. One big document. And I don’t refer to anything while I’m doing it. Then I revise and revise and revise. Somebody once told me to ‘stop where you don’t want to stop’ and I try to follow that advice because it’s always easier to pick it up the next day. In general, I prefer revising to writing the first draft. But yes, like Cally, I have dozens and dozens of ideas. More ideas for stories than I will ever have time to write. They nip at me and speak to me and pull and tug at me and make me uncomfortable and delighted all at once. I also find my characters, in so many ways, as real as ‘real people’. If I’m honest – more so. Even when something is written and done, I may find myself dwelling on them from time to time. They ‘exist’ somewhere. I find this perfectly normal but when I mention this to non writer friends, they think I’m a little crazy. I would write if nobody paid me. It’s what I do.
    Now and then, a voice emerges from the writing that is so strong it can’t be ignored. I’m currently working on a first person narration for a new novel called The Physic Garden. On advice from one of my (ex) agents, I wasted some months trying to change it to third person narration. It didn’t happen. The voice was so strong, so persistent that I literally couldn’t do it. I would sit down in front of the computer and then stop and do something else. Since I normally love writing, that should have told me something! Eventually, I gave in and realised there was no way he was going to be filtered through any kind of third person storytelling, so I’ve gone back to Plan A.
    I’ve read a lot of Rankin’s work and appreciated a lot of it. However, I couldn’t keep going with a single character like this. I would become terminally bored. Cally, have you tried Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels?

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