Author August: Debbie Howells – On Writing

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

By the time I started writing the Bones of You, I’d self-published three commercial women’s fiction novels.  With each of them, the words had flowed freely, unstoppably, leaving me with a first draft I’d then work through more slowly.

Everything changed with The Bones of You.  Genre, writing style, method… I wrote slowly – painstakingly – each word, each paragraph deliberated over, though bizarrely, it took the least time to write of all my books and after two and a half months I had a first draft which I sent straight out to literary agents.

DH Diary

Debbie-Howells-c-Alicia-Clarke--inside-book-jacket-smallBut… behind the scenes of this meticulously written manuscript was a pile of chaos in the form of about a dozen notebooks.  These are where I collect ideas, where I can ramble to my heart’s content, exploring threads which mercifully for everyone, never go any further.  There are odd sentences scribbled down, which for me, capture the essence of an exact moment.  There are character outlines – the back stories which never see the light of day but enable me to give my characters substance.  There are notes about structure – what happens where and because I write psychological thrillers, there’s the all-important why things happen: in extreme circumstances, what causes people to behave the way they do.

Every now and then you might find song titles and quotes.  And there’s organisation to my chaos in the shape of post-it notes and highlighter pens, marking what I absolutely must not forget.  And even chaos is illusive – after all, the end result is a book…

DH Diary 2DH Diary 3

The problem with ideas is that however sure you are you’ll remember them, almost always you don’t.  I’ve heard many writers say the same thing.  For me, the classic is the idea that appears just as I’m blissfully warm and falling asleep.  I really don’t want to come out from under the duvet and switch the light on to scribble in my notebook, but I know from experience, that if I don’t, that idea will be lost forever.  Hence there’s a notebook by my bed.  They’re in my bag, in my car, everywhere I go in fact, though if I’m desperate, I’ll make notes on my phone.

BEAUTYOFTHEEND JACKETThat saying – ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ – it’s similar with writing.  You can have the most brilliant idea, but after that, it’s down to how you write it, too.  With The Bones of You, I had the ideas, but what took longer was working out exactly how I wanted to tell it.

Ideas are a writer’s lifeblood.  They can come from almost anywhere – real life, the press, the smallest overheard snippet of conversation; that person sitting opposite you on the train, who has no idea you’ve invented their entire life story.  Ideas can be dormant for years, but can suddenly click in a way you’ve only just thought of, and as you find a way to bring them to life, a story is born…

The Beauty of the End is out now and published by Pan, priced £7.99

My personal thanks to Debbie  for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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