Welcome to another wonderful #damppebblesTakeOver post (I’m rather glad my wrist surgery was cancelled allowing me to host these wonderful posts!).
I am delighted to have Mary-Jane Riley join me today. Mary-Jane is the very talented writer of the Alex Devlin crime series. Book one, The Bad Things, was released last year with book two, After She Fell, released in April this year in eBook format. The paperback will be published tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow! To whet your appetite here is the blurb:
“A darkly compelling psychological thriller, full of twists and turns, perfect for fans of AFTER ANNA and THE GOOD GIRL.
There are so many ways to fall…
Catriona needs help. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.
When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest.
Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall…”
Wow, another excellent series to add to my wishlist. If only I could read faster and didn’t need a good 8 hours sleep every night!
So without further ado, here is Mary-Jane’s guest post exclusively for #damppebblesTakeOver:
I had a text from one of my brothers the other day (he’s one of three to whom I dedicated AFTER SHE FELL) asking me what practical steps I take after I get the germ of an idea. Do I use post-it notes, a notebook? Do I write chapter headings, use mind maps, the Snowflake method (eh?). The question made me stop and think. What do I do?
Okay, so let’s look at AFTER SHE FELL. I remember thinking I wanted to write ‘something’ set in a boarding school, and I wanted a pupil to fall over a cliff. (Where’s the body? is my agent’s mantra). I’d recently been to Happisburgh (pronounced Hazeborough if you’re interested) on the North Norfolk coast. Erosion has caused village houses and roads to fall into the sea over the years, and one road certainly comes to an abrupt end. That, I thought at the time, was from where Elena was going to fall.
Elena? The name just popped into my head.
My agent had already suggested I send Alex Devlin (my journalist protagonist from my first novel, THE BAD THINGS) somewhere else so that ‘Sole Bay didn’t get like Midsomer’. Right. Alex would look into Elena’s death.
Naturally I bought a new notebook, a new pen, and lots of different-coloured post-it notes. And index cards. And a pad of ‘To Do’ lists. Oh, and a beautiful cream-with-gold-spots pencil case (complete with ruler and pencil sharpener). And some notecards with envelopes.
I had to answer various questions before I could begin writing. The main one being, why would Alex be going to investigate a death at a school? There had to be a pressing reason. Cue me writing in my notebook over and over and over again: ‘Why is Alex in Hallow’s Edge (my new name for Happisburgh)? I literally filled a page with the question.
Still didn’t know.
So I went for long walks and bored my dog and my husband with the question until I eventually worked it out, and began to write in earnest. First two or three pages in my notebook, before transferring them to computer and carrying on. I wrote some of Alex’s story, and when I got stuck, wrote Elena’s story. (Great tip – have two timelines at the same time… I’m now thinking about having two books on the go at once…hmmm..). About 20,000 words in I had to stop and take stock. Look at the characters, see where they were, how they related to each other. Whether the plot hung together. Whether there was any plot.
No chapter headings, no post-it notes. Did try writing about each character on an index card. Didn’t work. Just more rambling in the notebook. I tried a mind map – you know, writing down a significant word and making connections with others. I ran out of ideas after a dozen. Resolved to look up the Snowflake method.
So I wrote more of Elena’s story and thought I would put it in the present tense to make her sound more immediate (more difficult than you think!). I also decided to head the chapters with a countdown towards her death to add more tension. (Chapter headings, yesss!).
After more ups and downs, writing the same sentence over and over in my notebook again and going on lots of long walks, I finally wrote ‘The End” and took it to my local place to print (have you ever tried to print out a manuscript with the last post looming? Oh man, that was stressful. Thank goodness it’s mostly done by email these days, but I like to edit on a hard copy). And then, POST-IT NOTES!!!! Okay, okay, so not in any deep way, like different colours for characters and emotions and plotlines and scenes and locations, but I did use pink ones to stick at the beginning of the Elena chapters, and yellow for Alex chapters to see if they were at the right points in the book.
So. There we have it. Meanderings in a notebook, chapter headings, a minor mind map and post-it notes. That’s how I rock.
And I still have to look up the Snowflake method.
Thank you so much Mary-Jane. It’s always fascinating to discover how an author discovers their story. I particularly like your confession of a stationery addiction (and the mention of post it notes gave me small palpitations, I LOVE post it notes!). Thank you.
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. AFTER SHE FELL is her second crime thriller. Her first, THE BAD THINGS, was an Amazon Kindle top 40 seller in the UK and US.