The Library is the new venue for First Monday and kicking off proceedings was Antonia Hodgson, Stuart Neville, William Ryan and SJ Watson. Karen Robinson, editor of the Times/Sunday Times Crime Club asked the questions.
First up – how important is research and authenticity, especially if you’re writing historical novels?
William Ryan said how important it is to get the period right and make it believable for the reader. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in too much detail so you almost have to forget it all but it leaves you with the confidence to write in that time period.
Antonia Hodgson gave us, perhaps, the best quote ever at First Monday Crime. She said that she likes to have a well of research but only draw up a thimbleful.
Stuart Neville likes to write first and then research later, otherwise too much information can kill a book. Better to write and then check back. All writers are procrastinators and would probably rather Google than write (I know I do that!).
SJ Watson is glad that he writes contemporary novels as he thinks he’s too lazy to write historical! But it’s the little details that help to make it feel real, even in fantasy.
What about characters? How are they created?
DCI Serena Flanagan was originally a minor character in another one of Stuart Neville’s books. He originally wrote her as a hardnosed, single officer but after watching The Fall and seeing Gillian Anderson’s character, he knew he had to change her. Now, Flanagan is married with two children and diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tom Hawkins is in his mid twenties and lives during the Georgian period. Antonia Hodgson deliberately wanted him to be young. He’s rejected the life that was planned for him (the priesthood) and doesn’t really know where he’s going. But he does have a habit of getting into trouble!
William Ryan originally thought that another character would be the main protagonist in The Constant Soldier [Neumann perhaps?] but realised it needed to be told by a different voice, someone much more conflicted and at the point of no return. Ryan also said that you may have an idea of where a novel is going but characters will often take it another way.
SJ Watson likes to find characters to live in his created world but they sometimes refuse to do what they’re told. He likened it to riding a horse that wants to go in a different direction from you.
Finally, the last ingredient for a story – the plot!
SJ Watson doesn’t really like plotting. He likes to be amused by his plot and not bored by it. He thinks a lot about what ifs? And then, how do you make it work? His answer – sit down and make it up!
For Stuart Neville, characters are plot and plot are characters. The choices that they make are the motivation. However, he does have to know the ending. What happens in between doesn’t matter too much. If things get changed, then that’s ok.
It’s all about the characters too, for Antonia Hodgson, and she’ll write copious notes about them. Until she starts writing, they don’t come alive. She allows space for changes, particularly for new characters.
William Ryan likes to force his characters to make choices. He did try to plan his second novel but it didn’t really work. Like Neville, he needs to know the ending and know which direction he’s going in but even that might change. But it’s important that something happens in each scene, it must have a purpose. Earlier, William Ryan had mentioned that he’s always watching the movie of his book in his head, so he sees it as a series of scenes. He always tries to write the book he wants to read and the film he wants to see.
Of course, for SJ Watson, author of Before I Go To Sleep, he’s already had the experience of seeing his book made into a film, with Nicole Kidman as the lead. But he doesn’t go in for fantasy casting. He prefers to allow the readers to make up their own minds.
First Monday Crime will be back on Monday 7th November but as yet, the panel remains a mystery!
To buy Antonia Hodgson’s latest book, A Death at Fountains Abbey, then click here
And finally, to buy Second Life by SJ Watson click here