I love finding out about how writers toil at the coal-face. Earlier in the week, we reviewed Chris Allen‘s crash-bang action novel, Defender, and Chris kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing regime.
What’s your writing process? What comes first, plot or character?
Plot always comes first. I plan a lot in my head and scribble ideas in my little brown book. I then like to map out the story on a whiteboard – using sticky notes or a marker – to visualize the important points in the story and I develop the details around that. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Because the agents feature across the series, I make sure the characters interact and in doing so, they help with the natural progression of the plot. I will be introducing my first female Intrepid agent (being the black-ops Intelligence, Recovery, Protection and Infiltration Division of Interpol, naturally) in the next book, Avenger. That means a lot more character development with her and the other agents that’ll weave into another adrenalin-charged story. Once I have a good picture of where it’s all going, I bash the story out as fast as I can and edit later.
Take us through a typical writing day for you.
Book one in the series, Defender, took me a decade to write, while book two, Hunter, took just a few months. I remember being under the pump on Hunter and closing in on a fast-looming deadline, which is, ironically, when I work best. On average I was working on about 2,500 words a day. So to achieve that, I write before breakfast, get another session in before lunch, write through the afternoon and lock myself back into the writing mancave after dinner – after a cup of tea and a couple of rumbles with my boys. When I put the pedal to the metal it gets intense – breaking for meals is pretty much it!
Otherwise, when not on deadline I mean, it’s about carving chunks out in the day to sit and write 1,000 words – in between consulting, wrangling kids, talking with my agent, producer, publisher and my amazing marketing team – time flies pretty quick when you’re having fun.
Who are the authors you love, and why?
There are authors that I continue to enjoy equally as much today as my first read as a teenager in Perth. I read Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work at least once a week. I also love Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth. These are the authors who inspired me to join the military as a young man; giving me the service and experience that formed the basis of the Intrepid series.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever had to learn about writing?
It’s a lesson I’m learning still, which is that while writing compelling action keeps the pages turning, what really leaves people wanting more is good character development and relationships throughout the series. I’m still honing that in my craft.
How do you deal with feedback?
Just as Ian Fleming’s writing developed throughout his career, I have seen first-hand that my style is evolving. I’ve become more confident with some aspects of my stories, such as fight scenes and crafting plots / subplots, but there are other elements that I still want to be challenged on and develop in myself. I welcome good advice and frank discussions with people in my network who know how far I want to take these books. Luckily I have so far had a very strong and encouraging response to this first series.
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
After growing up on the stories of Fleming, Conan Doyle and Maclean, I joined the army aged 18 and my experiences, not only in the field but in life generally gave me the ability to write from what I’ve seen first-hand. They’re the basis of some of the principle characters in the series like Alex Morgan and General Davenport. Some of my experiences post-military with the Australian Protective Service, doing aid work during the Timorese Emergency, operating in a post 9/11 environment with some of Australia’s most public icons and as the Sheriff of New South Wales, have all given me a unique perspective on my writing too. You’ll even find that a chapter in Defender is an amalgamation of a couple of almost-failed parachute jumps I experienced as a paratrooper.
Give me some advice about writing…
OK! I don’t think anyone can really tell you how to write. Write what you want to write and listen to what other people say about writing methods, but find your own way, like anything in life. If you’re really passionate enough to imagine stories or craft a book on a certain topic then that will show when it comes to it being read. Go for it.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, get in there and give it a go. You never know what you might achieve. It is a hard slog and you’ve got to be committed to a sustained level of hard work over a long period of time. That said, my best advice would be to build a good team of advisors who can help point you in the right direction and give you the tools to make the best decisions for you and your individual writing career, and what path to take in order to make your writing aspirations a reality. Mistakes made in publishing can be long-lasting, like if your rights get locked up with one person or you’re not getting good legal advice on contracts, then it can be years before you can control that again yourself. Get good advice as early as possible and do what’s best for you!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently planning and writing the third in the series, Avenger – my aim for it is to be even more hard-hitting – and I’m brainstorming the fourth. I recently said at an event that there will be ten in the Intrepid series, but I also have plans for a new series with new characters and a different style of writing down the track that I’m really excited about. Right now, I’m working on some exciting stuff to get my books onto the small and big screens and I’m continuing to hone my storytelling abilities. That, and wrangling two rowdy boys under four at home.
About the author:
Before penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out end-2013 and a film franchise underway. Chris dreams of one day spending extended periods of time enjoying an English country cottage in Surrey, preferably one in walking distance from the local pub.
Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies from his youth at intrepidallen.com/blog. Or you can say g’day on Facebook at facebook.com/intrepidallen.