I didn’t really pre-plan the plot at all, beyond the idea for the opening chapters. Now that probably makes it sound like I was going in for a sort of free jazz affair, when in fact FLOWERS AT MIDNIGHT is a crime novel which adheres very closely to the plot structure that underpins and drives it. For me, you see, if you’re writing a genre novel—in fact any novel, really—then plot is of great importance. By that, I mean that every scene needs to be there for a reason. And by that, I mean that something needs to happen in every scene that develops the plot, or is at least closely related to it in some way.
Not long once I got that second wind, once I’d reached that point where it started to feel real. I mean, I felt as though I knew the characters. They’d ceased to be characters and become people, you could say—so far as I was concerned, anyway. I was teaching every day and writing in the evenings and at weekends, but even so I think the whole thing was probably finished in about six months.
I was living in a small room, a sort of caretaker’s hut on a rooftop in central Seville, when I wrote the book. I’d left my family back in London to go over to test the water first. So I took this small room above a hotel, and I remember I’d sit out on the flat roof and look across and see the Giralda glowing away in the distance. It was one hell of a view. It was on Calle Alhondiga, in the Campana district, which is to say the Old Quarter or casco antiguo.
Most of it was written in the evenings, although I would have worked on a morning sometimes during holidays and at weekends. I love music, but never listen to it when I write.
I wrote it on a laptop, then printed out the first draft and edited it using a pen. Basically, I’m trying to think like a surgeon who’s cutting away flab from a body. For flab think padding, scenes that don’t seem to be going anywhere, any sentences, paragraphs, dialogues, scenes etc. which are too wordy, or that just don’t work or sound right.
No, absolutely not. My writing is never autobiographical. I remember reading Professor Bradbury (author of The History Man, to name just one of his works) writing somewhere that the narrator in a novel is never the writer, not even in the case of someone like Proust, in Remembrance Of Things Past, where he’s written this enormous book, or sequence of books, that appear to be presented as sort of extended and rather intellectual trip down Memory Lane, and which feature a first person narrator whose name is Marcel…even then, Bradbury argues, Proust’s ‘I’, his ‘Marcel’, should never be confused with Marcel Proust himself; and for my money Bradbury was dead right.
No, not at all. I really don’t know where my characters come from. They just seem to come to life. It comes back, I think, to what I was saying in answer to the first question, that whoosh feeling… I mean, you can spend a lot of time filling up paper and feeling like your characters aren’t real and your story’s going nowhere, that you’ve got nothing to say and no characters of any interest to say it with. You can reach the point where you have all but managed to convince yourself that you really ought to do yourself a favour and pack up writing and buy that trumpet you’ve had your eye on (even though you secretly know that you’ll probably turn out to have no talent as a trumpet player, and even if you did, well, it’s too late now; and besides, you don’t get good at anything without going the extra mile, and going the extra mile always hurts, even if the thing you’re doing, whether it’s playing the trumpet or writing or whatever, started out as fun…)…and then, just when you’re in this state of mind, suddenly, sometimes, if you’re in luck, things can start to take off… But before you get to that point, you probably have to put in a fair bit of time just filling up paper with words that you’ll end up cutting out later, and while you’re doing that you’ll probably feel like you’re useless…
Politician’s blackmailed by an exotic dancer and her boyfriend who work the door where she dances. Then the MP’s brother, who works for MI5, gets involved and basically manages to track down the blackmailers and then scares the shit out of them…and then there’s the subplot.
I don’t really think in that way. I mean, I don’t think in terms of liking or not liking my characters. I think in terms of making them come to life.
Basically everything that happened in the novel after I’d developed the initial idea to do with blackmail through the first four or five chapters came as a big surprise. I mean that whole feeling I had, which I’ve described in response to earlier questions, when the story and the characters suddenly just started to feel real and kind of flow…all of that, everything I wrote after I had that feeling, surprised me…
Yes, absolutely. I’ve said in answer to one of the previous questions that I believe in cutting away the flab, as it were…so yes, I cut quite a bit. Sorry, I can’t share the bits I’ve deleted with you for the simple reason that there’re in an old draft that’s stored away somewhere so that I don’t currently have access to it. But anyway, I didn’t cut things out because of their content—I mean, I didn’t cut where the subject matter was too shocking or anything like that…no, I only cut where I felt the writing was weak, flabby…that is, where I felt I could improve it. Of course there may be lots of places where somebody else may feel they could improve it, but that’s a different matter. We see what we are capable of seeing, and we do what we are capable of doing. A different writer would probably have made cuts in different places, kept in bits that I took out, and therefore ended up with a different book. Writers are individuals, and every individual is different. No two of us think alike, and that’s a good thing I would say.
Smooth. I sent off the opening thirty pages or so to Moonshine Cove (http://moonshinecovepublishing.com). They responded about a week later asking for the rest of the manuscript. I duly sent it on, and they replied, again about a week later, and said they would like to publish it. I agreed and was duly sent a contract to sign; then the editor sent me a proof. He made only minimal changes himself…in fact, if my memory serves me right, I think he only changed two sentences in the entire book. I made a number of further changes myself however, and, fortunately, the editor agreed with me that the changes I made all helped to improve the book. I flatter myself that I am a fairly sharp editor of my own work.
I’m a teacher by profession. I went to a comprehensive school in Bristol and somehow went from the age of 11 to 16 without reading anything…and I mean anything…
A difficult question, one that there are several answers to. At the age of seven, my teacher realized I enjoyed writing and so, in order to encourage me, as a sort of experiment I guess, she allowed me to spend an entire week writing a story. So while the other kids were having to do math exercises and whatever, I was working on my story. I spent the week in a kind of ecstasy.
I try to express my own personality when I write, so I really don’t want to be too influenced by anyone. Having said that, if you’re a crime writer then you’re working in a tradition and so you need to become familiar with the tradition first and get to know its codes and rules, as it were. And of course you learn to write, or try to, by first reading others and working out what you think good writing is.