The Crime Readers' Association

My Writing History – Charlie Garratt

28th April 2015

I’ve written throughout my working life. For many years it was non-fiction; scripts for training videos, committee papers, research reports and community development guides.

Then I emigrated to Ireland, joined a writers’ group, more as a social activity than with aspirations to be published, and soon found I was hooked. Short stories based on ‘triggers’ were my first forays, followed by a short course telling me all about the steps of rising conflict, voice, characterisation and the writers’ journey. The members of the course, including the tutor, transformed into a writer’s group when the funding ran out and each week a thought was thrown out to focus the ‘homework’ for the next week.

One night I took in a piece set, in my head, in the 18th century where the protagonist was a coroner’s clerk. It was well received so I wrote a second chapter for the next session. However, I was trapped. I had the bare bones of an idea but no idea of where it might go. I was rowing confidently away from the safe harbour without a chart and only the boundless ocean in front of me. Then I was given a rudder. I visited a house and was told a story which happened in its neighbourhood seventy five years earlier, and I asked ‘what if it wasn’t that way?’. ‘What if’ is one of the most powerful springboards in fiction, in my opinion, allowing us to take a mundane, or macabre, situation and convert it into a flight of fancy, where killings multiply, or fairies exist, or librarians become competent detectives.

So my coroner’s clerk moved to the twentieth century, became a police inspector, and set about solving a murder or two. I planned and I plotted, I researched and I wrote. I made a big mistake and started writing the scenes and chapters which motivated me, little realising that if there were sections I didn’t enjoy writing then my intended reader certainly wouldn’t enjoy reading them. One of the pitfalls of writing a novel out of sequence is the potential loss of narrative strands.

When I passed an early draft to my daughter to read she asked how we knew a particular point. I found I’d written the background to it in a later chapter! Eventually, my final draft was completed, or so I thought, and I began the process of submitting it to publishers. I was just getting used to rejections dropping through the letterbox when Robert Peett, of Grey Cells Press, came back to me. He was interested but said there was a lot of work to do. How right he was. When I think back to how much work has actually been done, both by me and the editors, I find it hard to believe Robert saw any potential in the draft he received. One lesson for me has been to trust your publisher. It’s a hard market out there and he/she won’t pick up a project unless they think it is viable.

The other lesson I learned is not to write the first draft out of order. In the sequel, I’m slogging through the bits I don’t fancy writing that day, content in the knowledge that, inevitably, I’ll need to edit them later.

I’m happy to say we got to the end and ‘A Shadowed Livery’ was released on 24th April and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

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