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The "M" Word

Writing is a strange game.  A contractual hiccough delayed the start of this year’s book until 2ndJanuary.  The Killing Stone will be the third in the D/S Jimmy Suttle series, and explores the onset – and the consequences – of madness.  This happens to be a hot topic just now, not least because the safety net we fondly believe to be in place is, to be polite, fraying.  There are holes through which potentially dangerous folk can easily slip.  Beneath lies the murderous netherworld inhabited by the seriously deranged with untold consequences for the likes of Jimmy Suttle and his esranged wife, Lizzie.


Researching the current state of mental health provision took a while.  As ever, experts in the field were generous with their time and I began to build a frankly alarming picture of the kind of chance encounters that might lie around the corner if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  One clue lay in a conversation with a uniformed Inspector in Pompey.  He spends a great deal of his working day dealing not with the bad but the mad and had come to the conclusion that – in his phrase – coppers had become “the para-military arm of the Social Services”. 


Whatever the truth behind this glum reflection,  I owe it to my advisers to let them have sight of the first draft before it goes off to my editor.  That way, for everyone’s sake, I can at least make sure that the book is factually accurate.  But these are busy people and to be fair I have to budget a month to make sure that they can give the MS a decent read.  Given two more weeks for a re-write, plus a tight delivery deadline, and that left me with a month and a half to sort out the first draft.


100,000 words in six weeks might sound daunting but over the last half dozen books that strike-rate happens to be a comfortable average.  I get up at eight, start work at half-past, take a break mid-morning to knock off some exercises and sort out the food for the evening, return to the PC around midday and then work through to six.  We go rowing every Wednesday morning, which bites into the writing schedule, and I never work at weekends.  But a day at the keyboard normally yields 17 pages, which is around 5,100 words.  Do the maths, allow for hangovers, acts of nature and the odd rogue virus, and six weeks starts sounding more than plausible.


But this year was different.  The key lies in the “M” word:  Momentum.  To date, I must have written over thirty books, and in the process there comes a moment – quite beyond explanation – when that cage of circumstance and event we call the plot closes around the characters and the book surges forward.  From that point on, in my experience, you’re riding the Severn Bore.  Just stay upright on your fictional plank – day after writing day - and the sheer force of what you’ve mysteriously unleashed will power the book to its conclusion.


In some books momentum happens earlier than others.  Once, it never happened at all.  I fell off my fictional surfboard and the book was never seen again. But this time, with The Killing Stone, the “M” word kicked in on day two.  Just twenty something pages from the start, I was up and surfing.  The days sped by.  Seventeen pages by six’o’clock became twenty pages, then twenty three.  My all-time record was twenty seven.  That’s over 8000 words.  I started on 2ndJanuary.  By 17.56 on 28thJanuary, I was done.  101,943 words in three and a half weeks.


The weather undoubtedly helped.  We haven’t done much rowing.  I had flu for a week or so but oddly it made no difference.  Ignore the thumping headache and the runny nose and the words kept coming.  In fact the sheer delight in surfing all those narrative waves became a kind of Ibuprofen-Plus therapy.  Create a world in which no one has flu and you can send the virus packing.


Already, just two weeks later, the writing of The Killing Stone has a strange, almost disembodied feel, as it if never happened.  Was that me at the PC?  Day after day?  Surrounded by tissues and scribbled reminders to re-locate this plot point or that?  And come the third week of that furious month, when I closed on the finishing line, did I really have that genius idea for a wide-screen denouement?  Scored for birds of prey and a killer in a black cassock?  And when my last-minute bid for extra research took me to the very top of the town’s tallest church tower, did I really stumble on a real-life crime scene?  Known to just a handful of locals as…yes…the Killing Stone?


No clues.  No conferring.  God willing, the book should be out in time for Christmas.  Cue for a Lem-Sip.  Or maybe a beer.