Sometimes I can’t believe my luck that I get to do this unbelievable job and have people read my stories.
- Creating the story world
There are no wizards or warriors in my novels, but I do get to create my own worlds. They are as true to history as I can make them, yet still very much a product of my imagination. Like a bower bird, I pick and choose my favourite pieces to construct the story world. Sometimes the tiniest details tell the story more precisely than pages of description. In The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay, it is middle-aged Rose’s twinset and stockings and child Rose’s enormous collar flapping at her shoulders that tell us when the story is set as much as any date. Plus, I can call my main characters after my grandmothers if I feel like it. After all, I am the boss of my story world.
- Researching the facts
Research is so addictive that it can be difficult knowing when to stop. For The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay, I immersed myself in books about life in the trenches of World War One, the Voluntary Aid Detachment, grand country houses, passenger ships and early twentieth-century Sri Lanka. But not every fact needs to go into the novel. (Actually, readers will be relieved that ninety-nine percent wasn’t included.) Do my readers need to know everything about life in the trenches? Probably not. But knowing that the men were shipped about ‘like livestock in horseboxes labelled “40 hommes, 8 cheveux”’, and spent ‘half their day hunting lice from their clothes and the other half chasing rats’ gives them a pretty good idea.
- Planning the puzzle
Every novel is a puzzle. Somewhere near the beginning, the writer poses a central story question that the reader will want answered. In The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay that question is ‘What happened to Rose?’. So how to create the puzzle the reader must solve to answer that question? It’s all part of the fun.
- Engaging the reader
Speaking of puzzles, I’m not a writer who wants the answer to come as a total shock. Actually, when I read a novel where the person who ‘dunnit’ hardly features in the story I feel cheated. I love that writer and reader go on a journey together where the writer plants the clues and the reader finds them. Maybe they’ll guess the answer then a later clue will leave them doubting that guess, often several times over. It’s the twists that matter.
- Holding the book in my hands
Oh, that moment when the box of author copies arrives and I hold my amazing new book in my hands for the first time. I can’t resist sniffing the pages, running my hands over the jacket and turning the book this way and that so the light catches the pretty colours. And then I think about all the people involved in creating this lovely thing and all the people who will read it and I feel privileged to be a writer.