Where do you get your ideas from?
Let’s get the biggie out the way first, shall we? The truthful answer is I don’t have a clue… and as long as those ideas keep coming I don’t really care. For me, ideas fall into two broad categories: “solutions” and “bolts from the blue”. The first category is self-explanatory. You have a problem: Jimmy needs to come up with a wad of cash because there are some nasty guys itching to remodel his kneecaps if he doesn’t. Solution: perhaps he holds up a petrol station; perhaps he’s a conman and he finds himself a wealthy heiress to rip off… whatever. Most writing comes down to problem solving. In other words, your ideas develop out of necessity.
The “bolts from the blue”, however, are a different matter altogether. These are the moments of sublime epiphany writers live for, moments where the planets come into perfect alignment and an idea just seems to appear from nowhere, bathed in golden light and perfectly formed. Generally they come when you least expect them. For example, a lot of the ideas for The Watcher came while I was lying soaking up the sun in the back garden on a gorgeous Summers’ day. I was just chilling out, letting my mind wander, next thing I know I’ve got the bones for my next novel. Did I go running inside to grab a pen and some paper and scribble it down? Did I hell. It was much too nice a day to be working. The way I see it, if the idea is good enough you’ll remember it later.
Does that mean I never write ideas down? Of course not; I’m not stupid. I’ve got an A5 book filled with hieroglyphics an Egyptologist would be hard pressed to decipher: character sketches, plot threads, story ideas. Where these “bolts from the blue” came from, I’ve no idea… and like I said, I don’t really care. I’ve always possessed an overactive imagination – for me, the make-believe has always held more appeal than this thing called reality other people keep going on about. I’ve never really seen the appeal. I’m perfectly happy down here in Wonderland.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I wanted to be a rock star.
How do you go about writing a book?
I write one novel a year. The first draft takes about five months, and this is the hard bit. I aim to be at my desk by eight-thirty, and write till about one. My daily target is 1,500 words (and I’ll admit that there have been occasions where I’ve hit 1,500 words and stopped mid-sentence, shut the computer down and got the hell out). Most days, though, it’s fun and I tend to manage 2,000 words, sometimes 2,500. Writing in the afternoon doesn’t work for me, so I don’t. That said, the first draft is a 24/7 occupation. I’m constantly going through stuff in my head, working out plot lines and playing with the what-ifs. Before starting draft two I sit down with my agent, Veronique Baxter, and we pull the book apart. She’s a fantastic first reader, very sharp; she doesn’t pull any punches. The second draft gets submitted to Wayne Brookes, my editor at HarperCollins, who goes through it with a fine-tooth comb. Generally, there’s another couple of drafts before it gets copy-edited, then it goes into production. Between drafts I keep busy by doing research or working on short stories and novellas. I also use this time to catch up on all the day-to-day life stuff I let slip while writing.
What sort of atmosphere do you write in?
If you’re looking for a “secrets of my success” type answer, then sorry to disappoint. I don’t have a special writing hut in The Himalayas that I retire to when I’m working on a book, nor do I indulge in any rituals that require the sacrificing of virgins to gain favour from the Gods of Inspiration. All I need is a word processor, a stereo and a pile of CDs. Music is a must, and each book has its soundtrack albums. While writing THE WATCHER I played the following albums to death: Twelve Stops And Home by The Feeling (my fave album of 2006); Inside In/Inside Out by The Kooks (great fun); Goodbye Alice in Wonderland by Jewel (gorgeous songs); The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance (absolutely bonkers); and The Beatles Love Album (well, it’s The Beatles, enough said).
What are your interests?
I’m addicted to music, books and films. I also like good food and travelling. One of the bonuses about being a writer is that it gives you a great excuse to travel. After all, how can you write about a place if you’ve never been there? Writers have a duty to their readers to get the facts straight… well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
What are your favourite books?
• The Stand – Stephen King.
• Hannibal – Thomas Harris.
• The Godfather – Mario Puzo.
• The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans.
• The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger.
• The Shawshank Redemption.
• The Usual Suspects.
• Withnail and I.
What about music?
That’s a toughie. My favourite album of all time is Abbey Road by The Beatles (absolute perfection; it doesn’t get much better). My favourite song is Watching The Wheels by John Lennon. After that, it’s difficult to say. There’s so much music out there I love. What I listen to is dependent on mood. If I’m pissed off then Nirvana is a good bet; if I’m feeling mellow then Jack Johnson works; if I’m in a frivolous mood then it’s got to be something like Abba or Queen. U2 and The Beatles are good whatever mood I’m in.