Today in my series of author interviews, I’m chatting to Rebecca Bradley, best-selling crime writer – virtually and socially distanced, of course!
Tell us something about your books.
Hi Rachel, thanks for having me on your website.
I write a police procedural series with the main character DI Hannah Robbins. A single woman dedicated to the job but events in book one, Shallow Waters, has such a huge effect on her, the ripple effects are still being felt six books later.
I’ve also written two standalone books. Dead Blind which is about a police detective who acquires prosopagnosia (face blindness) on the job and hides this fact from his colleagues. He then goes on to witness a murder. The killer escapes and he’s the only one to have come face to face with him.
The other book, Perfect Murder, is a female crime writer turned serial killer… I’ll leave that to your imagination how much research I put into that one!
What inspires you to write? Who are your favourite writers?
I love the crime genre and there are some great writers. A few of my favourites are Karin Slaughter, David Jackson, Sharon Bolton and Helen Fields. Obviously there are many many more but this would just be a list of authors if I continued.
Just the act of writing is inspiration enough. I love creating new worlds and characters that didn’t exist before I started typing. It excites me. Plus I’m inspired by reading brilliant books and watching the excellent dramas that are now produced on streaming channels. I have a notes app on my phone that is filled with ideas for future books and I counted them the other week. There are eighty ideas on the app. I am never going to write them all!
How do you start writing? Do you have a process or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I’m a plotter. I wrote Shallow Waters as a pantser as I didn’t know anything about writing at that point. I would never write that way again. It was awful. I hated every minute of it, not knowing where I was going. It was terrifying. I did know the beginning and the end, but nothing in between.
Now I complete an outline of the book before I start to write. Some parts of the outline can be quite detailed and other sections quite woolly. That’s fine. I’m happy to work my way through an outline that is mostly there because in the act of writing, the plot problems start to resolve as you go and you can fill the plot holes.
To create my outline I use two processes. The Take off your Pants method – a book by author Libby Hawker and the Snowflake method created by Randy Ingermanson. I mash them together and out of that mashup comes my outline and from that outline comes my story.
How has your writing process changed since you started writing?
As I mentioned above I started out as a pantser. Working by the seat of my pants and not knowing a thing about my own story. Now I know my characters and the plot before I even begin typing. I much prefer working this way. It helps me be more productive.
How long does it normally take you to write, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
I’ll spend a couple of weeks working on the outline first and then I start writing. This time given to the outline is helpful because if I have an outline I can then work faster than if I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t see outlining time as wasting time not writing. It’s as important as the actual writing.
As for the first draft, it varies. I can write a very quick first draft or I can be a bit slower. Anywhere between six weeks and three months now. This is a huge improvement on how long it used to take me.
But bear in mind it’s a first draft. Depending on what state it’s in, instructs how long the next part of the process is. Redrafting and editing. Getting it into some sort of readable shape. The time it takes to write the first draft does in no way dictate what state it’s in.
I’ve written a very fast first draft that needed little work and yet this current work in progress has taken me three months and it’s the messiest first draft I have written in a long time. It’s going to take some time to unravel it.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I prefer editing to first drafting. The scaffolding is already there. You can see the story. It might not be in good shape, but something is there for you to work with. The first draft on the other hand is just a blank page staring at you demanding you put down some words that make sense and that’s not always an easy task!
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
I have a good friend who also writes crime and is a beta reader for me. I also involve editors. I send my book to my beta reader at the same time as I send it to my structural editor. That way the notes come back at about a similar time and I can incorporate both sets of notes into my actions when I go back to work on the manuscript.
I think working with editors is really important. You’re far too close to your work and can’t see the wood for the trees as the saying goes, to make judgements on what really needs doing.
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share with readers?
I write in short bursts because I live with disability. This helps me complete a decent word count a day. If I write in 500 word bursts and then have a break before going back and doing it again then I can achieve 1,500 – 2,000 words a day quite easily. I always pack up when I hit my 500 word goal even if that’s in the middle of a paragraph. It means I can easily pick up and get going again when I sit down at my laptop next. If you’re struggling to write, I’d suggest trying this way of writing.
Anything else I haven’t asked you about?
If you like to keep track of your word count I can highly recommend Pacemaker. An online goal tracker. You can set yourself an overall goal for the book. A time limit for reaching it (six months say) and it will chart a graph of how many words you need to write each day to reach that goal.
It also gives you option on how you want to write. Do you want to do the same amount of words every day or start with a low word count and get higher or start high and get lower? It really is a great piece of online kit.
Thanks Rachel. It was really interesting answering these questions, reflecting back on my process.
Thanks Rebecca for taking the time to tell us about your writing process.