So, you’ve got that perfect opening in your head. The characters you’ve been dreaming up for months are sketched to the finest detail. You’ve got a thrilling opening line and have imbued your story with plenty of detail – both illustrative and meaningful. The scene plays out like a movie in your head, filmed in HD…
You take a sip of tea and start writing…
… and the feedback that comes back from friends, family and the internet is that your scene feels sluggish and bogged down, that it’s too long, that it fails to capture the readers attention.
Congratulations, you have overwritten!
Overwriting means that you’ve included too much description and detail in your writing. It’s a flaw that happens easily. As said above, you have that perfect scene all planned out in your head like a movie. So you want to present it to the readers in every last detail. You want them to experience the magic of your story just like you did when you thought it up.
But, hey, nothing’s more boring than someone recounting a movie scene in every last detail.
The problem is that the theatre of the mind works best with less detail, not more. Leaving things open gives the imagination room to flourish. Witholding information creates mystery.
Take, for example, this sentence:
The man in the corner smiled.
You, as the reader, will instantly have an image in your head. But, there is also a mystery. Why is he smiling? Is it a kind smile or a sly one? Is he observing the scene, or thinking of something else? Whichever it is, you want to know more. You’d keep on reading.
Now, what happens if I add more detail?
The old man sitting in the corner smiled.
Still quite intriguing, despite the extra information. We’ve placed the man in the room and we know he’s old. Your mental image of him will be more defined. But that definition also somewhat constrains the theatre of the mind.
Here’s one more, now verging into overwritten territory:
The old man sitting in the corner took a sip of tea, picked up his newspaper and smiled kindly at me.
This is now getting a bit… stale. There’s a description of two actions (sipping tea and picking up a newspaper), that are perhaps not relevant to the story. Sure, they illustrate the scene, but maybe only one of them would be enough?
Note the addition of the adjective to describe how the man was smiling. Kindly. We get a clear sense of the man’s intentions. But a lot of the mystery is lost.
Now, here’s what fully overwritten looks like:
The man sitting in the corner, who was wearing a green coat and a brown hat, took a sip of his herbal tea, which he had ordered just a few minutes ago, picked up the newspaper with the headline screaming KING RESIGNS, and smiled kindly at me as I took off my jacket and started to peruse the menue in the small cafe down the street from where I lived in Glasgow.
We can all agree that this is far too much. But this might well be how the scene plays out in your mind. The problem is, by providing all this detail, you do not actually improve the reader’s experience, you stifle it.
Creativity is a funny thing. We as writers want to share the perfect fruits of our creativity with as many readers as possible. But often, we are reluctant to let our readers creativity flourish just as well while they read our stories. The kindest thing you can do for a reader is not to present them with the full detail of your own imagination, it’s to help them grow their own.
Not only do I write in a ‘foreign’ language (although my English is better than my German these days), I can also sing in different languages 🙂
I love learning new languages, understanding how they connect and how they have unique expressions that simply will not translate. That’s what is also so wonderful about writing – when you find that perfect word, that phrase that simply nails it… it’s like the best-ever Christmas present.
I wish I could speak every language that my books have been published in, but for now these five will have to do. Still dreaming of a publication deal in Arabic or in Gaelic, how amazing would that be?
Thanks to everyone who has supported my writing and my publication journey this year. Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year.
Yay, I’ve been interviewed by Suffolk Libraries for their amazing Meet the Author series. Have a read here.
I really like this kind of interview, where it’s more about the details of the book, the plot and the characters, and not so much the generic questions.
You want to know a secret? I hate the question: What inspired you to write the book?
I don’t know why. I just never know what to answer. All my books have been inspired by so many different things. Newspaper articles, conversations… sometimes even a single image. I saw a picture once in an old mail order catalogue of a woman looking out at the rain:
It’s the tiniest image, supposed to illustrate the convenience of not having to leave the house when doing your catalogue shopping. But somehow, it caught my eye. To me, it looks like this woman is yearning for something outside the home. She’s not relieved, she’s anxious. Mabe she is waiting for someone, or longing to go somewhere.
So, inspiration can strike anywhere, at any time and be based on anything. That’s my only answer.
It’s heeeere! Book baby number two is finally, officially born into this world. From today, This Wild, Wild Countryis for sale in all good book stores and online, and will slowly make it’s way into libraries.
But there isn’t just the physical book. The e-book is out as well, as is the Audiobook, read by the fabulous Nan McNamara.
Now it’s fingers crossed that it’ll all go well. But I am not worried. The fact that my little book is out there, for all the world to see, read and enjoy, already means more to me than I could ever describe. And I am a writer, so describing is kinda my job 🙂
It’s been a very long journey. I remember first pitching the book to my phantastic editor Sophie Orme in Summer 2020, and sending the first draft to her that Christmas. The book went through several drafts as the plot thickened, the characters grew and the pace of the story settled. The beautiful cover was revealed to me as a late Christmas present, and the physical copies arrived just a few days after I returned from the Harrogate literature festival – perhaps my first big event as a ‘proper’, published author.
I cannot express my gratitude to everyone who has helped me on this journey – my editor Sophie, my agent Giles, the amazing team at Bonnier/Manilla Press. And of course my loyal readers.
With all the excitement over the proof copies, I didn’t even have time to write about my trip to Harrogate for the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime writing festival.
At first I was a bit suspicious. As a baby author, I wasn’t on any of the panels. I also didn’t know a lot of authors – my first book, The Long, Long Afternoon, was launched in lockdown, so I never had much opportunity to schmooze with other authors. And there’s a financial aspect too, the tickets, the travel, the accommodation…
But I am so glad I went. Harrogate is one of the mainstays of the crime writing calendar and an absolute icon on the festival circuit. For good reason. This is one of the few festivals where authors, bloggers, editors, agents and readers get to mix freely. It is an incredibly friendly event where everyone is happy to chat.
My highlight was a talk with Lucy Foley and CL Taylor, two absolute legends of the crime writing world. I learned so much from their approach to writing and creativity, and I was delighted that CL Taylor switches in between pantsing and planning her books just like I do. Both authors were so open and chatty that you got a real insight into their creative process, rather than just standard phrases about inspiration and perseverance.
I also got to meet a bunch of stars in publishing. Book bloggers Dan from the Cribbs Causeway Waterstones in Bristol and Jules Swain, the tweeting paramedic, were so incredibly kind and supportive during my lockdown launch that I couldn’t wait to say Hi and a big Thank You. And I got my book signed by Denise Mina, an absolute faint-moment for this fangirl 😀
More impressions below, with Mick Herron, Stu Cummins, Charlotte Vas, Denise Mina, Jules Swain and TM Logan.
Copies have arrived. Finally, there is confirmation that This Wild, Wild Country isn’t just a fever dream – it’s real!
The colours of this cover are just stunning. The whole book looks absolutely striking, the pictures don’t really do it justice. I love how the oranges and blues complement each other… and then there’s that big, bold title!
This Wild, Wild Country is launching on 4 August and is already available for pre-order. So, if hippies, murder and historic mysteries are your thing, putting an order in would help me hugely. Just go to the Books page on this website or get in touch with your local book dealer.
Meanwhile, I raise a glass of bubbly to this beauty. This being Glasgow, the only bubbly I had in the house was Irn Bru (24 cans no less). So here goes: to my latest book baby. May it be a success!!!
Isn’t that just so enticing? You just want to know more!
Proof copies are an incredibly exciting part of the writing process. This is when the hard work is done. You have a book in your hand. An actual book, with a cover and an acknowledgements section and a dedication…
Of course, this is not the final product. The reason why it’s called a proof copy is that it’s, well, for proofing. So I am going to have to read This Wild, Wild Country again (I’ve only read it about 367 times before) and highlight any remaining typos, mistakes or odd layout issues.
The proof copies play another important role. They will be sent to buyers and reviewers, who will then hopefully put in lots of preorders and line up reviews in time for the book launch on 4 August.
Is this the right moment to say it? This Wild, Wild Country is now available for preorder in your favourite book shop. Do it. You know you want to…
PS: This is not the final cover. Cover reveal coming soon… watch this space!
Voilà, The Long, Long Afternoon is out in French, as Un long, si long après-midi. I could not be prouder. Just look at it, right there on the table.
Launching in a different country is so exciting because it all feels a bit wild. My French is not that great, so I have to translate the reviews and guess at some of their meanings. I cannot follow the social media in the same way. Doing readings and signing books in France is adventurous. Will I understand? Can I get my points across? And how amazing is it that people care about my book, when there is so much incredible writing in France?
I wanted to give a few, quick book recommendations from French authors. There’s Leila Slimani’s Le pays des autres (The country of others), a haunting story of a French woman who moves to 1940s Morocco. For cozy mystery fans, there’s fellow L’Edition Martiniere author Frédéric Lenormand’s lovely series about Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Au Service Secret de Marie Antoinette (In Marie Antoinette’s secret service). And we need something for the true crime fans too. I highly recommend Sarah Maza’s Violette Noziere: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris.
Maza, strictly speaking, is not French. But I, strictly speaking, am also writing in and about a place I wasn’t born and… je ne regrette rien!