Photo: AL (Flickr,
Photo: AL (Flickr,

In much the same way that people start asking you when you’re having kids about six months after you get married, now that Greythorne is out I’m starting to get questions about the next book.  Unlike the kid question, however, the timing is kind of perfect, because I’ve been turning over ideas for my next novel for a while now.

I’ve written before about NaNoWriMo and how taking part gave me the impetus to start (and finish) Greythorne. As luck would have it, NaNoWriMo 2015 is right around the corner – in fact, it starts next week, on 1 November – so I’ve decided to do it again and hope it works as well for the next book as it did for the last.

Truth be told, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve got a very rough idea of the story – it’s going to be another Gothic horror, but this time set in Australia and I’m very excited about the spooky possibilities of the Australian bush as a setting. And I’ve got three main characters, about whom at this stage I don’t know all that much, except that their names are Elizabeth King (the narrator, a squatter’s daughter who isn’t all she appears to be), Frederick Black (leader of a gang of bushrangers) and his sister Sarah. I have a vague beginning and a vague ending, and then a whole lot of blank space in between, which is both exciting and terrifying.

I kept a diary last time I did NaNoWriMo, and looking back at it I realise that I actually felt like this about Greythorne when I started – it’s just I’ve got so used to seeing the final polished version that I’ve forgotten what the bare bones of a book looks like. At least I have a better idea this time around what to expect of the actual process: the first week will be exciting and enjoyable as the story starts to take shape; the second week will be hellish as the novelty wears off and I get sick of having to get up early to write before work (and probably quite demoralising as I fall behind on my writing target); in the third week I’ll start to hit my stride, especially once I crack the all-important 25,000 words – the point at which the number of words left is less than the number you’ve already written; and by the fourth week I’ll hopefully be so engaged in the story that I’ll just want to keep up the routine.

I’m going to blog weekly about the process and how it’s going – partly because I want to share it with you (although books, like laws and sausages, may be something that it’s best not to see getting made) and partly to keep myself honest. I’m aiming for 35,000 words in November rather than the full 50,000 just because I have to squeeze my writing around work and other things, so I’ve decided to take the pressure off and be a bit kinder to myself this time around. Last time I did NaNoWriMo I finished with 32,000, so I think 35,000 is realistic.

As the story develops I also hope to be able to share some of the details with you (as I discover them), so if you’d like to be the first to get access to these exclusive excerpts please subscribe to my newsletter.

In this series of posts, I’m going to be taking you behind the scenes of Greythorne and the process I went through to write it. Click to read Part 1 (The Idea), Part 2 (Plot and Structure) and Part 3 (Setting).

I wrote in my earlier post on plot and structure about ‘architects and gardeners’ – those who like to plan out the whole structure of the book and see where everything is going to go, versus those who just plant a seed and see what grows. As I mentioned, previously I’ve produced in-depth character studies for my books, but this time I just took the four main characters – Nell, the Professor, Sophie and Lucy – and decided to see how they turned out.

The results from the first couple of drafts were mixed. Nell (who is the first-person narrator) had started to develop a strong voice, but was sometimes inconsistent, and the Professor was quite two-dimensional and risked becoming a bit of a caricature villain – what I like to think of as a ‘moustache-twirler’. Both of these things were pointed out by my beta readers, who read the second draft (more on that in Part 6 – Editing), so when I was doing the revisions for draft three, I sat down and did character studies for Nell and the Professor. The template for this came out of James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self-Editing, which is part of the Write Great Fiction series and which I swear by.  These are the questions I asked about Nell.

Personal problem:
Plot problem:
Risk (what she will potentially lose if she doesn’t achieve her objective):
Main positive traits:
Main negative traits:
Moral quandary:
Reasons not to act honourably:
Adhesive between Nell and Professor:

The questions I asked about the Professor were very similar, but I also gave him around 1500 words of backstory, because it was clear that I didn’t really understand who he was or where he came from. Once I’d figured this out, I was able to give him a lot more depth and, hopefully, make him a bit more sympathetic, because a completely blackhearted villain isn’t in fact very interesting. One of the most important things I learned in this process is that characters need to have yin and yang to make them believable – even the most likeable heroine needs the capacity for moral ambiguity, and the worst villain still requires a sympathetic streak. Above all, they need motivation, for if you can’t explain why they’re doing what they’re doing then you’ve got a massive plot hole.

In the (Australian) summer after I wrote the first draft, I spent a week at an artists’ retreat in Tasmania. There, I collaborated with a good friend, Pamela Horsely, who is a talented portrait painter – I gave her a 400-word description of the Professor, and in 24 hours she’d produced a portrait of him. She captured him exactly as I’d envisaged him, and really brought him to life. She very kindly gave me the picture afterwards, and he now hangs on the wall of my study. There’s nothing quite like seeing your character in the ‘flesh’ to bring a book to life.

Professor Nathaniel Greythorne by Pamela Horsely
Professor Nathaniel Greythorne by Pamela Horsely