The Crime Readers' Association

Diary of a Debut Author by Fiona Cummins

22nd November 2015

At 2am, when darkness has settled in for the night, I often hear the pit-pat of footsteps on the landing outside our bedroom. The door pushes open, drenching me in light, and a child appears in the weakening grip of a nightmare. A little body climbs into bed, searching for the warmth of human contact to banish the bogeyman. This ritual got me thinking about why, when I could have written any sort of a book, I decided upon a crime thriller. Then I realised that crime chose me.
Writing about the darkest corners of the human condition is a way of coping with my own bleak imaginings. Becoming a parent brings moments of the purest kind of joy, but, for me, this is pitted against a vague but ever-present fear of loss. Weaving my own stories and creating a cast of characters I can manipulate lets me stay in control, something that real life doesn’t allow. It means that I get to decide what happens to these fictional strangers who become almost as close as family.
I have always been preoccupied by death, but my years as a journalist on a national newspaper fed this obsession. I was expected to read almost every newspaper and I did, awful stories reduced to the anonymity of black and white print. These stories stayed with me, and it was years later, when I was mother myself, that it became clear to me I wanted to tell stories of own.

As a début author – RATTLE is my first novel although I did have one or two false starts along the way – I think it’s fair to say, I don’t have a process, as such.The book revealed itself to me, through countless drafts and the brilliant eye of my agent and editor.

I don’t plan, I just write, although I do have a sense of where I’m heading. I write in bed, on the train, in the car, at my favourite café, in my little study, which doesn’t have a door and is often full of drying washing. I don’t need silence or solitude – years of filing copy from busy pubs has taught me that the white noise of background chatter frees up my brain to find the right words. My favourite kind of days are the ones when those words fall onto the page. When there is a sense of momentum, the unfolding of fictional lives.But not all days are like this. Most are not. Sometimes the words twist and slip from view and all that is left is a blank page, a foggy mind. All that is left is a walk along the beach, or the washing up, anything to give my subconscious a chance to reshape the story, to find a way through.
I have learned this.
– This writer needs discipline. Writing every day, even two sentences, keeps me inside my story.
– If I stop my day’s writing mid-sentence it is easier to begin again next time.
– That I write best in the morning, when there a whole day’s worth of opportunity to landscape the flat, white expanse in front of me.

Wanting something does not make it happen. Agents say no. Publishers reject. But every victory should be celebrated. The request for a full manuscript. An offer of representation. That first – thank you, thank you, thank you – book deal. It has been a thrill of a ride since I signed with Pan Macmillan in May this year. There have been auctions, both here and in Europe. Excitement, too, of a different kind, although that’s all I’ll say for the moment.
But also, a sense of vindication. That it was worth trying, even in those bleakest of hours when it felt like publication would never happen, that I should return, full-time, to journalism and the kind of writing I knew best, those ugly 3am doubts that this was a waste of everyone’s time.
So I find myself here again, in that middle-of-the-night darkness, a recurring theme for me. And I wonder if it’s true, if we all have that black seam of fear and self-doubt that runs through us.
More often than not, when that wandering child wakes me up, I’m unable to get back to sleep, and I’m mining the darkness for ideas. Sometimes those glimpses of gold will turn out to be pebbles, dull in colour and content, but sometimes there will be flecks of something precious. Mostly, though, I lay in the still of the night, watching the colours reduce into morning. And it reminds me, again and again, that even when the most terrible things happen to us, we will almost always turn our faces to the light.

Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. RATTLE is her first novel and will be published by Pan Macmillan.  

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