My writing process: the art of premeditation

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I am about to start a brand new notebook. It’s a historic event, not only because the notebook is strikingly pretty and it lay in my drawer in a virginal state for about five years, but also because that means I have to tear myself away from my old notebooks – and that’s just like taking out my own tonsils with a butcher’s knife.

My notebooks are the mirror of my soul. They are the first tangible step in my writing process. They help me capture those rare moments of creative genius and commit them to paper before they elope from my mind with all those dirty thoughts and unrealised desires that never quite stay long enough to come true.

Planning is every writer’s secret weapon. It can only be equated with solid and thorough premeditation in the near-perfect crime to be committed. It requires a clear purpose, means and an opportunity. When you write crime thrillers like I do, you can’t allow your reader the slightest glimpse into your planning. So it must be cunning and subversive. It has to play with the reader’s mind.

Did I mention that it was my husband who introduced me to methodical planning? I captured his professionalism in the planning department in this cartoon, which I named The Art of Strategic Planning:

art of strategic planningBut going back to my planning. And MY beloved notebooks. They come in all shapes and sizes and they kept me company through many drafts and re-writes, serving mP1060007e faithfully as the mental and emotional dumping ground for all that has been littering my poor head while I was trying to focus on writing.

I wonder how other writers record their research and keep track of their planning, but I can be meticulous in taking down every detail and plotting the storyline in endless bullet points. I relish the moment when I can tick them off. Done! Next one, please: number four! Except that, despite all that diligent planning, the storyline has a habit of running away from me and taking strange turns, at which point my old planning gets the sack and my new planning goes to a new page where it is recorded in numbered points with every confidence of this being the final version of events. Only to be hijacked once again by some unruly character. So I have pages and pages of plotting the same storyline. Sometimes those pages become so crowded that I can’t read my own writing, but because we are on the same version, I simply cannot allow myself to move to a brand new page. So some pages become a little bit schizophrenic with many voices arguing for supremacy.

P1060008And sometimes (I hate to admit this) sometimes I lose focus and my planning notebooks turn into a graffiti wall with bizarre creatures turning up from nowhere and claiming some sort of executive-planner status. Take a look at these. Don’t ask me who they are and where they came from. I don’t know, but they are in my notebooks. They came to me when I could think of nothing, when I couldn’t write or plan – I just sat there with my pen in my hand. And they came along… They are my imps and my muses and that makes them an integral part of my planning process.

Jane Risdon – her life through books

It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome to my blog Jane Risdon, a novelist with a colourful past – someone who once upon a time rubbed shoulders with spies and diplomats at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; someone who acted as an impresario for entertainers and musicians. This is her life through the prism of books that made her into the writer she is today.

Jane

I think I was born with a book in my hand. I can’t recall a time when I couldn’t read and giving this some thought, Janet and John and Dick and Dora come to mind. Both books we read in class at my very first school and I was hooked.

I adored The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Little Women too.

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Little Women.

Oh, and The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. I am convinced her stories about ballet and the theatre had a huge impact on my future. I didn’t become a dancer or actress but my life has been spent mostly in the entertainment business.

I went on to Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Kidnapped.

I adored adventure stories and when other girls were reading Anne of Green Gables and Black Beauty, I had my nose in Kidnapped, the Biggles series, The Mask of Zoro or The Man in the Iron mask.

However, I do recall having caused a melt-down at school by choosing Return to Peyton Place as one of my English Language and English Literature one year.

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We had been reading To Sir with Love, A Taste of Honey, The Girl with Green Eyes and Cider with Rosie, so I didn’t see the problem.

Later I persevered reading a wide range of books, the usual Classics you are encouraged to read at school, but I can’t say I ever enjoyed them; even Thomas Hardy didn’t really do it for me.

I loved books about spies, espionage, murder and intrigue. Anything which made me think and puzzle over. Graham Green, Frederick Forsythe, Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler with The Saint, – another of my school prizes which raised eyebrows, along with Dashiell Hammett – I adored The Thin Man, and Ed McBain, Mickey Spillaine, and similar authors; Pulp fiction I guess, but for me as a young teenager they were wonderfully exciting.

Raymond Chandler.

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My favourite Du Maurier books include Frenchman’s Creek, I adore it even now. It is a romance, a period adventure, and it has Pirates. I love pirates and I love history. I also love Jamaica Inn – dark, brooding and tense. And Rebecca which I think is a one of the most brilliant books I have ever read, like Frenchman’s Creek it has everything I love about a story and entertains as well as enthrals. These transported me, making a huge impression upon me, and still do. I just cannot get into ‘heavy, serious books.’ For me reading is sheer pleasure. I don’t want to be weighed down by ‘literature.’ Call me pedestrian if you wish.

Agatha Christie, anything by her. I can’t say I have a favourite. I adore the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories because they tease and mislead and are so cleverly written. I understand that a University once ran her sentences through a computer to try and work out what it is about her way with words which makes her the best-selling author of all time. It was decided she wrote perfect sentences crafted to entice and hold the reader. She has succeeded with me. I would love to be able to write like her.

As I got older, at the height of The Cold War, I found myself drawn to John Le Carre, Robert Ludlam, Ken Follett, devouring anything in this genre. Smiley’s People is an amazing piece of writing and story-telling. I began to dream of writing, but I knew that advice to writers was always ‘write about what you know.’ What did I know worth telling?

I am an avid fan of Kathy Reichs and her career in Forensic Anthropology, so much so I have taken two Forensic courses recently. I love her writing. I want to write with the same authenticity about crime scenes and detection.

Patricia Cornwell introduced me to this genre and I am a big fan of Tess Gerritsen too – they’ve really opened my eyes. Peter James is another fantastic writer who has researched police procedures so intensely you can be assured what he writes has a solid basis in fact.

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Michael Connolly, David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille, Stella Rimington, Karin Slaughter and James Patterson are all favourites of mine and I have learned so much from reading their work. Keeping sentences and chapters short and to the point, keeping a good pace throughout and above all keeping writing simple.

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I’ve spent most of my life in the international music business, creating artists and their product (music), mentoring and shaping their careers and building their success. Now, as a writer, I have to try and do this for myself. Quite a challenge. I love crime writing, and I nearly always have some music or espionage in my stories somewhere. I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when younger and became fascinated with the murky world of spies. Write about what you know…

In addition to writing several short stories and pieces of flash fiction which I enjoy a great deal, I have been working on a series of novels – Ms Birdsong Investigates – featuring a fortyish former MI5 Officer who was ‘voluntarily’ retired following a disastrous mission, who finds herself in rural Oxfordshire bored silly and missing the excitement of her former life.

She can’t help keeping surveillance on those round her, and soon finds herself involved in the search for a missing woman which leads her into some very familiar territory; Russian Mafia and Oligarchs, Ukrainian gun-runners and drug dealers, all under her nose in Ampney Parva, proving irresistible to her. I have been working on this for quite a while and hope to have the series ready for publication by the end of this year.

There are several other WIP on the go, mostly crime and a couple of what I call ‘Observational’ comedies. Enough to keep me busy for ages to come.

Sometime this summer my co-written novel, Only One Woman’ with Christina Jones, is due to be published by Accent Press with whom I signed in 2014. It is the story of two girls in love with the same musician; not my usual genre.

Christina and I go way back to when she was Fan-Club secretary for my husband’s band and a Rock journalist, and our story is based in 1968/69 and full of music, fashion and the vibe there was around those days.

It is a love triangle but so much more, influenced by the world events which shaped our lives back then, and what it was like being a teenager in love with a musician in the heady  of the late 1960s.

I am published in several anthologies including:

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Margot Kinberg Pub.                                         FCN Pub.

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Accent Press                                            Accent Press    

Anna, thanks so much for inviting me to share my favourite books with you and for letting me ramble on about my writing too. I really appreciate it.

For information about me, my books and where to buy them, take a look at my author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00I3GJ2Y8

Accent Press: http://www.accentpress.co.uk/jane-risdon

Blog: https://janerisdon.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jane_Risdon

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JaneRisdon2