• Debbie Howells

Apple blossom and blue skies


Having just finished the book that Martin and I have written together, means we’ve hit pause while other people read it. I’ve reached this point many times before. Believe me, it never gets any less nerve racking and we’re not exactly sitting back. I’m working on my next psychological thriller while Martin continues editing his father’s book. In between, we’ve started writing a few songs around an idea Martin has for a musical.

There’s a cycle to writing. It can begin with the smallest of ideas, which you nurture and grow, which then takes you off in unforeseen directions. About two-thirds of the way through, there's the moment you sit at your laptop thinking, is that all I’ve written? But you keep going and as you reach the final pages, a sense of relief settles in, but you boot it away because it's too soon. Now, you need to go back the beginning and start again, rooting out all the gremlins lurking, the repetitions, the bits you’ve told the reader too many times and the bits you haven’t explained at all.

Fingers crossed, this time when you reach the last page, you allow yourself to savour the feeling of relief – just for a while. But at this point, what happens is when you’re just about to fall asleep or driving the car or eating your dinner, you get flashes of inspiration – or maybe desperation – about bits that absolutely have to be changed before anyone else sees it. This can go on for quite a while.

How do you know when your book is ready? Maybe when you've been back through it several times and found the last gremlins, deleted chunks of narrative that you thought were beautifully written but just aren't needed - that can be quite hard. But eventually, you reach the point of writing that carefully worded email to your agent, trying to sum up the essence of your book in a single beautiful paragraph that sounds amazing. Holding your breath, you press send. Then, you wait.

Co-writing a book was a first for me. We think - hope - it’s worked... Two different voices, two different writing styles, each telling their own side of the same story. For Martin, it was very different to the writing he’s done before, which made me acutely aware of my own writing. There was also a continuous editing process going on – two sets of eyes checking a book are invariably better than one.

With a first book, I think there are things to get your head around, which get easier with subsequent books. As well as writing a good story to the best of your ability, you need to create believable characters, engaging with your readers. Imbuing enough emotion but not too much, and dialogue… Dialogue can make or break a book, because if it doesn’t sound natural, it’s hard to buy into the rest of the book. It can be difficult, but if you have any doubts, the easiest test is to read it out loud. If the sentence wouldn’t be spoken the way you’ve written it, it has to go. Imagine your character sitting across the table from you. If he wouldn’t say, ‘I rather think the sky is the most perfect shade of blue,’ change it to, ‘Bloody amazing day, isn’t it.’ You get the drift.

There’s much advice online about writing and getting published, but if there’s anything you want to know, fire it our way and we’ll do our best to answer. Meanwhile, cross your fingers for us. We’ll keep you posted…


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