We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Last week we reviewed Alex Blackmore’s international thriller Letha Profit. Now Alex tells us just how she goes about the business of getting words onto a page.
Setting is probably the first thing for me. I think locations are important as they can have a lot of influence over the feel of the story. I’ve set the book I’m writing at the moment in Berlin because that city sends shivers down my spine. After the location is the research and then come the main characters and the bare bones of a plot, followed by the flesh of the smaller characters and the different layers of story.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
I’m at my most lucid in the early mornings – at least once I’ve had a coffee! So if I’m writing I tend to get up around six or seven and just start work straight away. Those early hours when the world is still and unrushed have a magical quality to them, creatively speaking. I find if you live in London peace is hard to find so the early mornings are precious in terms of mental space.
I write in one or two hour chunks but I tend to be spinning numerous plates seven days a week, so unless I’m on holiday or it’s an unusually quiet weekend I have to take writing breaks to answer business emails, make phone calls or go to meetings. If I’m lucky enough to have an entire writing day then I just shut out everything other than the dog and immerse myself in what’s going on in my head. When I was a kid and I did that at school I got told off for daydreaming so I’m still adjusting to being ‘allowed’ to do it and not feel guilty about it!
I’m a big fan of Karin Slaughter, Henning Mankell and Robert Ludlum’s earlier books – I mostly like books that have lots of action, aren’t afraid to be a bit political and/or make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I thought Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was interesting – a good, gripping plot with that twist half way through, as well as astute observations on women in society. I found her idea of the ‘Cool Girl’ really resonated with me.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
If you don’t have any discipline then you’ll never finish anything. You need to have a pretty potent imagination as a writer and lots of good ideas, but there also has to be a process through which those ideas get to other people. It took me a while to understand how non-creative the creative process has to be sometimes. I had to force myself to do it initially – rigidly at the same time every day and without distractions. I thought a daily routine (which is something I’ve always hated) would restrict being creative but it was what made it possible to bring it all to life.
How do you deal with feedback?
I’m much better with feedback than I used to be, mainly because I feel like I can tell the difference now between what’s objectively constructive and what’s purely subjective. The thing is that even if something smarts a bit when you first hear it’s actually often really useful for the next piece of writing you take on. Ongoing progress and development are really important to me and you have to listen to criticism to achieve that. Sometimes people just don’t get your writing though and that’s fine – they’ve just picked up the wrong book. You can’t please all the people all the time…
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
I used to work in the City and I used to live in Paris so they have been pretty instrumental in terms of the Book 1 setting! The way I think and see the world has seeped in to some of the characters I’m sure, although I think it’s more interesting to challenge yourself to produce characters that aren’t just versions of you or people you know. I’ve been careful not to include anything that is too close to real life too – there are elements of things I’ve done or seen, people I’ve come across in there but no whole transitions from the real world.
Give me some advice about writing…
I’m not sure I’ve hit such dizzy heights of success to be giving advice but here goes…I think discipline is the big one – getting yourself into a good routine and then sticking to it. Follow your instinct in terms of your plot and your characters and avoid copying other writers. Most important of all, ignore the doubters and the people who raise their eyebrows and suck their teeth when you say you want to be a writer. ‘Oh doesn’t everyone’ is often the reply, especially if someone has tried to publish their own work but failed. You have to be a bit arrogant, a bit blinkered and be convinced of your own opinions if you’re going to get your work heard (I have these character traits and I’m sure it drives the people I work with slightly mad…).
What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…
Be a bit creative about it. Unfortunately now it’s not just about being a great writer you need to market yourself too from the word go. There are many more routes to getting published now than there used to be. You don’t have to be with a big publisher to be a best seller and there could be all sorts of reasons why an agent or reader for a publisher passes over your work when many others would like to read it. If you really believe in it then just be relentless.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently trying to finish book 2 and it’s proving challenging with everything else going on and the inevitable fear of trying to produce something that follows on well from the first book. However, I’ve just got back from an inspiring trip to Berlin so I can feel the ideas starting to accelerate…
Alex Blackmore trained and practiced as a finance lawyer in the City before leaving to pursue a writing career. As well as penning Lethal Profit she works as a freelance copywriter and runs an online fashion business championing new designers. Alex lives in north London, loves hot yoga and is a big fan of a perfectly made margarita.
You can find Alex on Twitter: @AlexPBlackmore
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlexPBlackmore
And she’s got a website: http://www.alexblackmore.com