It is with pleasure that I welcome crime author Catherine Gault to talk about her novel and writing process.
1) Can you tell me about yourself? Have you written any books and/or short stories? Are you writing now?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and creating stories and characters but ‘Bones and Whispers’ is my first serious attempt at a novel. I’d had it in my mind to write a crime novel for some time and early retirement provided an excellent opportunity to get on with it. I chose a crime novel partly because I read a lot of crime fiction but also because of the ready-made structure. It gives a sort of skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the story. I added to that by setting the novel over 10 consecutive days and having the murders occur in a somewhat enclosed setting, i.e a sheltered housing complex, the idea being that it provided a framework which I thought might be helpful given it was my first novel. It helped that I knew somewone who had spent some time in a sheltered housing complex, which, I must say, was excellent and not at all like Leapark. I had also worked for the Social Work Department alongside social workers and liked the idea of a social worker as the protagonist and as someone with good investigative skills.
I’m now working on the follow-up to ‘Bones and Whispers”. Lots of readers have asked what happens next for Kate, my protagonist, in relation to her personal life and I want to explore that. Of course, there will also be at least one murder that Kate will decide she has to investigate which may or may not lead her to a sex-trafficking ring.
2) How much research or preparation do you do before you start writing? Do you do chapter plans, character profiles etc? Does any of this change while you are writing?
I tend to research as I go, as the need arises. With ‘Bones and Whispers’ I didn’t do much research in the end. Initially, I read bits about forensics, the police, double-checked with friends about the social work aspects. I now do research if I come up against something I’m not sure of. I think there can be a temptation to try to shoe-horn in information just because you’ve researched it regardless of whether it moves the story.
I don’t do a lot of preparation either. I have the story in my head and make notes in the build-up to writing it. With ‘Bones and Whispers’, I had my protagonist, Kate for some time in that I knew I wanted to have a social worker for my main character. The sheltered housing setting for the murders meant I needed a set of eyes and ears there. As Kate’s aunt, Jean was the ideal candidate and that also gave me the opportunity to explore themes of ageing.
I’m useless at synopses so I don’t even attempt them now. I know roughly where the story is going and build on that. It probably helps that I don’t write in a linear fashion. I tend to write sections or even scenes fitted together, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. For example, the murders in ‘Bones and Whispers’ were written seperately from Kate’s backstory and then were fitted together, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.
3) Do you have a favourite time to write? How do you balance this with other responsibilities such as work or family life?
I’m pretty much in control of my own time now so I have no excuse for not finding time to write other than social commitments and the odd bit of housework, of course! Distraction is the main problem especially in Scotland at the moment with theIndependence debate, though I can write wherever I am and will often write in cafes. I also compose a lot when I’m out and about and make notes as I go. The other thing that I find useful is a camera for taking photos of bits of the city I might want to write about.
4) What part of the writing process do you find most important?
The most difficult part for me is the first draft. Unitil I write that I’m not sure where the story is going to end up. With ‘Bones and Whispers’, I knew roughly whodunnit and why and what Kate’s secret was but the way both were revealed changed considerably in the final draft as did some of my characters. Once I’ve got the first draft, I’m in my element. I’m a tinkerer, I love editing and generally tinkering about, I could have gone on forever with ‘Bones and Whispers’. Publishing it seemed the only way to put it out of my reach.
5) Writing has lots of highs and lows – how do you keep yourself motivated?
I had a fair few lows with ‘Bones and Whiospers’ and still worry about how it’s doing though I have had some very positive feedback from readers. I’m fairly equable about my current novel as I’m really enjoying writing about my characters and the story. It also helps that in this first draft stage I allow myself to write anything as long as it keeps the story moving along.
6) Do you uses social media and/or blog? How useful do you feel this is?
I have mixed feelings about that. I recently joined Twitter but I’m not sure it’s done a great deal for my sales though obviously interviews like this help, thank you, Ruth. On the other hand, I do find it fascinating. I’ve found some interesting articles and made contact with other writers like yourself, but have also got caught up in various debates, especially Scottish Independence, which to an extent raises my profile, I suppose but it also takes up what I think of as ‘social energy’. I tend to think of myself as an introvert in that I have a quite rich ‘inner life’ and enjoy my own company, all of which is invaluable as a writer but it does mean I have a limited amount of ‘social energy’. I enjoy meeting friends and being out and about but find Twitter eats into that time I’d rather spend on my own. So a bit of re-balancing might be needed.
7) If you could pass one piece of advice on to a new writer, what would it be?
The main thing is to write even if it’s rubbish. When I get stuck, which I do frequently, I find an element of the story I think I can do something with and work on that. Sometimes it works and I find I’ve got developments I hadn’t considered. Other times I know it’s mostly rubbish but at least it’s rubbish-in-progress. I think you have to find what works for you, then you develop your own methods and style.
Catherine is on Twitter at @Cath_Gaul