Time to Write: Magnus I


Back to London, and time to write the book.  I was looking forward to it, but I was also scared. I’m always nervous when starting a new book. Nobody wants to write a dud, but my first Magnus novel was really important. After the slow demise of the financial thrillers and the failure of the spy novel, this was Plan C. There was as yet no Plan D, and I didn’t fancy drawing one up. Plan C had to work.

For encouragement and perhaps a few tips, I read the novels of two British crime writers who had successfully set detective series in foreign countries: Craig Russell and his Fabel series in Hamburg, and David Hewson and his Nic Costa novels in Rome. They were convincing, well plotted with believable characters and, most importantly, authentic settings. They were extremely well written. On the one hand that was encouraging. On the other hand, could I write that well? Welcome to author paranoia. We all have it. It may even be a prerequisite for success; at least that’s what I tell myself.

I am a little slow. Publishers like to publish a book a year; I write a book every fifteen months. It breaks down into five months planning and research, five months writing the first draft and five months rewriting and faffing around. The faffing around seems to be an indispensable part of the process.

Planners and Pantsters

I had done the research. Writers break down into planners and ‘pantsters’; those who like to plan the book in advance and those who write by the seat of their pants, starting with a good idea and seeing where it takes them. Obviously, pantsters are cooler than planners. Stephen King is a pantster. He’s also a genius, which is cheating. I am a planner.

I plan the plot and I plan the characters. I like to know where I am going and who is going there before I start writing. I do allow myself to deviate from the plan as I write. That’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the process: when you are immersed in writing the story and it suddenly occurs to you that a character might not be exactly who you think he is, or a plot might take an unexpected twist. I usually let it, even though it screws up my plan.

I nearly always come up with a better ending just as I am approaching it. My brain cannot seem to conjure up a brilliant idea out of nothing. It needs an existing story structure that works, and then sometimes, just sometimes, something a little better, a little different, will occur to me. I’m not a genius. Pity, that.

Still, I had some good ingredients. I had Magnus. I had Iceland. I had a lost saga about a ring. I had a university professor found dead by the lake at Thingvellir. I could make a story out of that. At this stage I didn’t have a title: "Magnus I" would have to do.

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