Friday, March 13, 2020

A breakway

There’s nothing that separates readers more than arguing about  how to write a book.

I’m not talking about pantsters and the plotters.

Or the spreadsheetists and the panickers.

Or the sparkly mineral water and blind drunk on vodka.

Or the up with sparrowfarts and the burning the midnight oilers.

I’m talking about those who have a clue what they are doing.

And those that don’t.

Those that know where the narrative is going.

And those that need a sat nav.

I read all there plus two on my kindle. The anthology contained a story by Michael Stanley.
It'd turn anybody a vegetarian.

I have tried all kinds of ways to write a book and while the end product sells well and money goes in to my back account, there’s always a period of total darkness where none if it ever makes any sense. I'm talking about the book here, although I do struggle with sense of life itself.

I was asked once, how do you write the book and I answered, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, ‘well you start at the front and get to the end’. Which is exactly what happens in my head but it all goes a bit juicy Lucy when it goes down on paper. In reality,  I tend to do the good bits and then shuffle them in  a broadly correct order( well some semblance of order ) and then another plotline comes stonking to the front  and  says, ‘well actually I am taking over this book.’ And that is what had just happened and I get the feeling that I have been writing the wrong book all along.
                                                    The desk  that didn't get much writing done.


 I write the scenes of high tension,   bodies getting discovered, people slamming doors and those conversations that have to be carefully put together because A wants to know something and B doesn’t want to tell them. I do this in red fountain pen, hand written then I type it up.

These bits are quite good. It’s the stuff in between that can be concerning.

So now I have a Picasso of a novel, when I am really searching for a Singer Sargent. I need it all to be in place and in order but  as I juggle it around, it never wants to go, it just does not fit and dead people, brutally slaughtered on page 67 keep re-appearing  and drinking coffee on page 104, like Bobby coming out of a Dallas shower.

                                                      The view from my writing room.

It’s all very difficult on the laptop so I move each section on to a new page then calls it a number. Then print out each section and juggle them around then tear it all up, and start all over again.

 This time I have a pen in my hand and put brackets all over the place. Then I get to a big table and put the days of the week on a separate  sheet of A4, then  put each section under a day of the week, then sort that out by morning, afternoon and evening, and then move it all around on the laptop so that it all sort of fits  together.

                                            The view one page later.

 Then I do a spreadsheet, all the numbers down one side then I go through each section and do what I call a comb through, easing the lumpiness out so sections start with, ‘by the time she got there it was ten thirty’, or ‘the middle of Glasgow was busy with rush hour traffic’ or the population of Glasgow was drunk due to the virus…’

That kind of thing. Which is fine going forward, but  if on page 97, if I meet a bit that  doesn’t work I then need to make a comment on the document – ‘make sure that this evidence is asked for back when they are requesting the cold case documents’. I call this the fishing phrase, like casting a line, go backwards before we go forward.  I mark these little comments with an asterix as I don’t like using the ‘comments on Microsoft word’ as they are distracting, sitting in smug little boxes at the side as if they know more than they are letting on.

                                    Alan went walkabout and found this, Construction stopped in 2008.
                                            buckets and spades still there.

For factual things, as you may know, I use the words wombat. In this book I need a character to fly from Glasgow to Malawi. So they go to Heathrow and fly onto wombat, then into the airport at wombat. The details can be filled in later.

I was going to do all this in my writing retreat in Gran Canaria  in a child free hotel, all inclusive , lovely food, wine and very quiet  both busy wise and noise wise. At first.

The hotel room, as per the picture on the net had a big desk type table and a fridge for cooling the wine.  Before we left a patient had given me a huge suitcase sixed box of chocolates so that came along as magnesium is good for creativity.   

I had a vision of me swanning around, glass of chilled white wine in one hand, chocolate in the other, gently placing   printed sheets of literary genius, glancing my eye over it and thinking WOW this is brilliant.

That lasted for the first day.

Then I read some of it. Then I got an eye infection from swimming underwater, then work started annoying me about coronavirus, then a planeful of people around from that place south of the border arrived.  I mean England not Mexico.

These were not lovely crime writing fans, they made Neanderthals look like Noel Coward.

They were only there for our last two days but the atmosphere round the hotel went from Scandinavian yoga to how many beers can I get down my neck, and what do you think of my granny’s tattoos. The granny was 34.

                                                              there were just two hotels in the cove

Anyway, one became my personal fascination.  She was very rude, and very rude to some of the elderly disabled.  I started to spot her wherever she was, although I could generally hear her first.

That had two effects

      She’s dead in the book, twice.

2   She sat next to us on the terrace, she was a braying type. So we heard it all as she broadcast her hatred of... well everything; hand sanitisers, the European Union, foreign food, the sun..,

 But the best of all was when she  said, talking about getting off the plane from Manchester to Gran Canaria and arriving at the airport,  ‘Well I didn’t vote for Brexit just to be stuck in another bloody queue.’

As it was a queue for arrivals  from non EU countries, I think  that was exactly what she did vote for.

Caro Ramsay


  1. Fascinating to read your process. My own Singer Sargent is jammed but Coke Zero and some chocolate raisins are hoping to fix that.

    1. And am I right in thinking that you going from five days at the day job to four days at the day job, just gave you more work and less writing time!

  2. Replies
    1. This book has been particularly bad. Written in 30 minute segments here, there and everywhere. It's W/T is 'On an outgoing Tide.' Which is where the plot seems to be.

  3. No wonder I'm always guessing the wrong baddie in your books.

  4. Well, that is the one thing that I do know before I start. I really enjoyed that short story by the way, scary!

  5. I was due to fly down to London at 10AM this morning. Event was cancelled at 8 PM last night. Today, Aye Write has been cancelled...

  6. Well, if there's one thing that makes me happy, it's knowing that you have a rock-solid system that works for you every time...

    1. I like to think that I am flexible in my approach and able to adjust to any eventuality. Or disorganised.

  7. I am so inspired by your technique that I'm going to lock myself (and the Missus) away at the farm and not leave until I've come to grips with a WIP that keeps drifting between Jackson Pollack and Mondrian. At least that's the excuse I'll be offering for escaping NYC to the wide open spaces. Stay safe.