End Of Year Q&A

Reading & Writing

IMG_0704It feels like I did a million Q&As this year, but I realised I hadn’t done one for you.

So today you’re the guest editor. You can ask me anything you ever wanted to ask about writers and writing, or any aspect of the arts, and I’ll try to give you some concise answers.

Imagine this is a virtual author tour and I’ve finished my talk, and have thrown open the floor to you for questions. First person to ask ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ gets a kicking.

I’ll give answers later today. Take it away.

45 comments on “End Of Year Q&A”

  1. JeffreyP says:

    Do you think that central London is now a sterile theme park for the rich, young and smug, or are there still pleasures to be had in Zones 1 and 2 that are unique to London alone?

  2. Stephen says:

    Do you think that there will ever be a Bryant and May television series?

  3. Ford says:

    How do you “store” your ideas (once you got them! ; and how do you “retrieve” those ideas for books?

  4. Brooke says:

    Following on Ford’s question, what digital apps (if any) do you use for generating, storing ideas and research? Any voice applications?

    And, do you talk aloud as you write? Dialogue in your writing is so aligned with character –do you have different voices in your head and do they speak aloud?

  5. Brooke says:

    In an joint interview, Mosely and Akunin say they don’t bother with introductory scene setting or much imagery; they jump to the action. They rely on media immersed readers to do this background work. Do you agree with their approach? (Interesting that neither comes from a media background.)

  6. Jan says:

    Are you ever going to send me the Forgotten Authors book?

    (Happy New Year to yourself and Peter. Sorry not been about much working a fair bit.
    Best wishes for 2018. Hope the Eye problems r sorted.)

  7. Jan says:

    Bet that was not the sort of ? You expected.

    Big mistake to ask for questions of any sort …… I must admit I don’t properly understand most of the other questions so I thought would ask an easy one.

    You be thinking the easy answer is “Bog off” ……..

  8. Helen Turnage says:

    Does a novel with a prepondeance of dialogue or one with detailed description tell a better story?

  9. Matt says:

    Does it bother you that B&M seem to be the most talked about books you have written?

    What is your most cherished character that you have created in your writing career?

    May I also take this opportunity to say how wonderful your Blog is. How thought provoking some of your entries are and how informative they are. I would also like to wish you a very happy, healthy and successful 2018.

  10. Martin Tolley says:

    What would you choose for your last meal on earth?

  11. Martin Tolley says:

    Ooops.. question’s supposed to be about writing. Ignore previous nonsense. (I’m just hungry).

  12. Colin says:

    Would you ever consider a spin off book from the series about Colin and Meera? That are great characters and I think would make a brilliant book

  13. Richard Burton says:

    You could end up with a lot of questions to answer tonight. I’d be curious to know if you always do all the planning and research for a novel before starting the writing. Or are some ideas so exciting you plunge straight in, then go back and tidy it up later?

  14. admin says:

    1. I hope so, but not for a while. The problem to my mind is that the scripts developed so far have been prosaic and rather procedural, whereas I think they should take bigger chances and be far whackier. I’d love to write one myself but at the moment it’s a matter of time!

  15. admin says:

    Right, I can’t number the answers; get it now! The above was to Stephen.

    To Richard Burton:
    They say writers are planners or gardeners; I’m a gardener, chucking seed around and waiting for plants of plots to grow. I do some research in advance but conduct most of it as the end of the first draft. So once I know the themes and locations in the book, I research them for colour and detail.

  16. admin says:

    Colin, I’d love to do a spin-off featuring Colin and Meera. I’m doing another collection of missing cases, and they’ll both get their own stories.

  17. admin says:

    Martin – last meal on earth, beluga caviar and foie gras, thank you.

  18. admin says:

    Matt –

    That’s very kind of you! No, it doesn’t bother me but I’m surprised how few readers know my other work. I loved the character of Kay in ‘Calabash’, and I love the character of April in ‘Psychoville’ because she’s damaged and innocent but quite insane sometimes.

  19. admin says:

    Helen Turnage – good question!
    Let’s take two extremes. Charles Webb’s ‘The Graduate’ is wall-to-wall dialogue. Mervyn Peake’s ‘Titus Graone is almost entirely descriptive. Which is better? They’re both great.
    Personally though, I think there’s a current tendency to over-describe in novels. Editors are always telling me to describe more.

  20. admin says:

    Yes Jan, I have the book here for you, it’s not been easy getting about lately! Typical copper…

  21. admin says:

    Steve, I ‘store’ and ‘retrieve’ things from a useful device obtained by my mother and father. It’s a brain.
    Seriously, I have a research file but to be honest by the time I’ve done my research it’s in my head until I finish the book – then I forget everything and start afresh, so it’s like wiping a file.

  22. admin says:

    Brooke, I don’t use any digital apps. I tried one called Scribe, I think, and hated it. I don’t like anything that gets in the way of me and the page (screen).
    When I wrote ‘Paperboy’ I read virtually all of it out in carefully rearranged chunks before audiences, so I knew it would work before I wrote it down. I do read out the scenes with the PCU characters, just because it’s so much fun.
    The worst thing about ‘Paperboy’ was that I didn’t get to do the audiobook; they cast a rather posh-sounding actor to play me, which was very strange.

  23. admin says:

    Brooke, I agree with the idea of jumping into the action, particularly in unexpected ways. For example, the strange chat with Boadicea at the start of one B&M novel set the scene very nicely for me. You can also try throwing away the first page of your finished novel – an old trick.

  24. admin says:

    Jeffrey P –
    Oh, there are plenty of wonderful pleasures to be had in London still. In December I went to half a dozen quirky social events involving all kinds of strange venues, pop-up arts and cafes – it’s all there but it doesn’t come to you…you have to go and find it.

  25. Stephen Morris says:

    Hi Chris,will there be another Bryant and May novel set in a past time?

  26. admin says:

    Yes – the very next one is set in 1969.

  27. Unhappy says:

    THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS – comment from a reader.

    Hi Chris,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your non-fiction work on forgotten authors and was surprised at how well researched and summarised the content was and that you could edit your opinion on authors lost and forgotten within a few pages.

    But i have a MAJOR PROBLEM with a line on page 308 – so much so that i searched you out to make contact and let you know of my disapproval.

    Your words : “Shiel’s private life was, it seems, as decadent as his early writing. He served sixteen months’ hard labour in prison for molesting his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and showed a penchant for underage girls throughout his life and his fiction.”

    How is the word ‘decadent’ at all applicable to being found guilty of molesting children?

    Highly inappriate that it warrants a public apology (in these times of the Twittersphere) and even more alarming is that you recognise the politically incorrect language of authors gone past, but you cannot recognise your own.

    Would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    I would have posted this comment on your blog posts on writing and publishing ‘forgotten authors’ but the comments section closed.

    Disappointed reader

  28. Bruce Rockwood says:

    My daughter and grandchildren are in Edinburgh. I wonder if they are better off in the UK post the idiocy of Brexit than we are in the US in the idiocy of trump? A story that addresses this strange era is in order! Bruce

  29. Vivienne says:

    I wonder how much back story you feel you need for each character. Do you have a sort of graphic timeline for each book so you keep track of characters even when the are ‘off stage’ and so remember what they are supposed to know?

    I always, for example, seen Bleak House as represented by a spiral pattern, drawing you in to a conclusion.

  30. Denise Treadwell says:

    How long do you write each day? How many hours does one novel take to write?

  31. Denise Treadwell says:

    Hope there isn’t a cut off. I am in pacific time zone, we haven’t rung in the New Year yet!

  32. Helen Martin says:

    Right on, Denise. It’s 10:42 PST on New Year’s Eve, but I haven’t any good questions up my sleeve, only one a friend wants me to ask Chris and that is whether he is familiar with David Plante and his book “Becoming a Londoner”. I think my friend Dale may have a connection with Mr. Plante

  33. Matt says:

    Thanks Chris. You probably won’t believe this but Calabash is one of my Favourite books. I identified with the reality that was Kay’s world and wished I too could escape like he did. Its almost as if you had written it about me.

  34. admin says:

    Bruce, the problem with political missteps and tragedies is that satire is never as jaw-dropping as reality. When Charlie Brooker wrote the Black Mirror episode about the PM having sex with a pig, it was barely a parody. However, a story about Nigel Farage deserves to be written because he’s such a paradoxical little man.

  35. admin says:

    Vivienne, Bleak House and the spiral is a good analogy. I tend to think of a plot as an inverted pyramid that narrows to only one conclusion. Ideally it shouldn’t even need explanation.
    I keep backstories on everyone but not in too much detail because I need some flexibility. I’m prepared to change details to fit stories because what readers remember most is character, not plot.

  36. admin says:

    Denise, I write for a normal-is working day, although I start early. I suppose each book takes about 3-4 months to write, but almost every book I’ve ever written is exactly 50 chapters long because that gives me the right length. Writers love rules!

  37. admin says:

    Helen, I hadn’t heard of ‘Becoming A Londoner’, but checked it out. It looks intriguing, even with the inclusion of the irritating Spender. I’ll pick it up on Kindle. For a US version try ‘The February House’, when Isherwood, Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee all shared a house in New York!

  38. admin says:

    Matt, that’s the comment I get most and most love about ‘Calabash’!

  39. Denise Treadwell says:

    I wonder how long your first novel took to write?

  40. Jan says:

    I reckon there’s probably a good story re Bimsley Senior’s influence persuading Colin (Bimsley junior ) to join the job. Memories of B+ M at important times in their lives where things changed for them, memories of different cases etc.

    This could hinge a book of short stories together or even be a device for a new Novel.

  41. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you for the suggestion. Apparently The February House has been made into a musical and is available on CD. It was described to me as “a quirky little thing.”

  42. admin says:

    I think you have conflated two sentences where I did not intend them to be joined. Shiel’s early life was indeed decadent, but this has nothing to do with his conviction, which of course cannot be covered by such a term. Shiel’s crime occurred when he was 49 years old.

  43. Richard Burton says:

    Thanks for the answer Admin! And impressed by the Q&A work rate.

  44. Noel Donelon says:

    Any chance of the Lads wandering out of London? The countryside and involving a Thomas B Costain Plantagenet tie in sounds intriguing.
    Thank you for keeping my sanity.

  45. Helen Martin says:

    Noel, just remember what happened the last time. White Corridor could easily have been the end of them, to say nothing of the problems with the home office.

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