The Write Way? By David Hodges
Since the age of 11, when I started writing, I always envisaged myself living in a garret at the top of some old Victorian house in Covent Garden, surrounded by books and with the smell of coffee from the cafes and restaurants downstairs stealing into the room as I typed out my ‘blockbuster’. Didn’t happen, of course! Neither the garret or the blockbuster. Instead, I ended up first, in a boring job with the Post Office and then a thirty year career in the police, during which time I got married, had children, became a grandfather and lived in a succession of modern houses all over the Thames Valley area and the South West.
Today I live with my wife, Elizabeth, on the edge of the misty, hauntingly beautiful Somerset Levels, where my crime thriller novels are set. No garret here, just a modern bungalow, with a nice garden, and not even a dedicated study with shelves of books to retire to – just an airy sunny conservatory with a bureau and a laptop. The point is, does a writer really need a study anyway? I think not, for the great thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere and I frequently have; on a train, in bed, even in the toilet with a board on my knees. Yes, I know – ugh – but this is a man thing, isn’t it?
So where does the discipline come in that many writers so often talk about? What is my daily strategy? Well, the truth is, I don’t really have one. Writing for me is practically all-consuming – my wife even thinks I am a bit of a fanatic and frequently tells me so – but I don’t get up at the crack of dawn, put pen to paper immediately, then look at the clock five hours later and say, ‘Right, two-thousand words – that’s it for today.’ In fact, although I write almost every day, I do it as the mood takes me and, like most married people with a family, I have to fit it in around mundane tasks like gardening, shopping, child-minding etcetera etcetera. As I get older, falling asleep in the chair is an essential part of things too!
Having said all that, I usually try to satisfy the insatiable beast that drives me to distraction most of the time by sitting down at my computer in the evenings, although if I am on a ‘roll’ with a novel, I will continue writing until either I run out of ideas or exhaustion claims me in the small hours. I am also blessed with a sports-minded wife who particularly loves the tennis on television. For me the thwack of rubber on racket strings is a god-send, for it enables me to slide away to my own private space, whatever that may be – though usually it’s the conservatory or a comfortable armchair in the living room with my headphones firmly on.
In the main, my writing takes up approximately four to five hours a day, six to seven days a week. I ‘write’ directly on to my laptop and have no minimum daily word target, which I would not want to aim for anyway, as I feel this inhibits natural creativity and leads to a concentration of effort on quantity rather than quality. Nevertheless, I obviously have an overall goal regarding the proposed length of my novel, which necessarily has to conform to the requirements of my publisher. In this respect, it can be intensely frustrating to have a completed manuscript returned from a publisher for amendment because it is too long or too short, as this can lead to a substantial amount of rewriting in order to meet the publisher’s demands, whilst still maintaining the integrity of a tightly woven plot.
So what of the plot? How does that come about? I often hear of writers who plan their novels with meticulous care, detailing every step in the process, right to the bitter end. Me? I see or hear about something and think, that would make a good story. Then I spend a couple of hours drafting a rough synopsis, but that’s as far as my preparation goes. After that, my imagination takes over and my next efforts are devoted to the creation of what I hope will be an eye-catching opening sentence. Then it’s all systems go and, though I have a rough idea of how the novel is going to progress, I let the writing, fuelled by my imagination, take over. Often, when I start out, I have no more idea what the ending will be than the reader and tweaks, and sometimes major alterations, have to be made as the story begins to develop. Obviously this takes up a lot of my writing time, but by adopting a flexible approach to the construction of the plot, I avoid constraining my imagination and maintain the stimulus to keep going.
As well as immensely enjoyable, writing can be an agonising soul-destroying pursuit and I cannot help but smile when I hear the airy rather dismissive comment from a relative or friend, ‘Oh, I intend writing a novel one day,’ as if this is such an easy accomplishment with success a foregone conclusion. In such circumstances I always have to bite my tongue before I tactlessly blurt out, ‘Well, what’s stopping you then?’
David Hodges: A retired superintendent, with Thames Valley Police and now a professional novelist with London publishers, Robert Hale, David Hodges is the author of six crime novels and one autobiography on his police career, with his latest crime novel, ‘Sandman’, due to be published in December. A member of the Society of Authors, the Crime Writer’s Association and the International Thriller Writers Inc., he lives with his wife, Elizabeth, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, where his recent series of crime novels, featuring feisty Detective Sergeant Kate Lewis and her easy-going partner, Hayden, are set.