First Drafts With… Joel Hames

Afternoon folks, and I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Joel Hames to the First Draft series.

Read on for Joel’s answers to my questions on plotting, research and the all important first draft.

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

I begin by jotting down ideas – characters, plot, key developments and themes – onto my phone and then transferring them piecemeal onto a Microsoft OneNote file. I’ve messed with Scrivener and sadly, I didn’t get on with it at all, so it’s good old-fashioned MS Office for me.
Once I’ve got my key ingredients together, I’ll summarise the plot into a thousand words or so, barely intelligible to anyone but me. When this is in place, I’ll usually create an excruciatingly detailed, chapter by chapter outline, a good 10-15000 words long, so you can imagine how much is in there – snippets of conversations, phrases, absolutely everything I need to just sit down and write the thing.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before? 

For every book so far – eight and counting – yes, but for my WIP I’ve skipped the detailed outline and am working straight from the brief plot summary. No idea how that’s going to work out for me.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

Key point: never rely on the internet. For locations, I supplement maps, streetview and satellite images with visits if convenient, or conversations with people who know the place like the back of their hands.

For police procedural stuff, I speak to the police – there’s no substitute for the real thing there, and I’m fortunate enough to know half a dozen serving or former officers who’ve always been happy to help. As a former lawyer, I’ll read through cases and things like PACE to make sure everything works properly. For medical stuff, I have doctor friends; for tech stuff I’ve got people who can speak to computers the way I speak to my dog. And for anything literary, I like to think my own knowledge and experience will serve me well enough.

So what it comes down to, in the end, is people. Speak to the experts. Don’t be afraid to push them, but don’t back them into a corner: if your brilliant idea just won’t work in reality, come up with another one rather than dismissing the views of the people who actually know. I’ve had to change plots before when I found that what I’d hoped made sense just didn’t in reality, and it’s always been for the best.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write? 

Well, that whole planning process I mentioned above can take a good three months, sometimes longer. Which is annoying, but is mitigated by the answer I’m about to give below.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

From start to finish, in the right order, and fast. If I’m on form and happy with the detailed chapter by chapter outline I’m using, I can write a 100k novel in seven weeks. It’ll need some finessing after that, but I’m usually pretty happy with my first drafts.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

For the most part, on my laptop in the study I think I share with my wife but she thinks is her study which I’m allowed a small amount of space in. Over the years I’ve written on trains and planes, at the homes of friends and family, in soft play centres and bowling alleys, and sitting outside my kids various sporting and musical activities waiting for them to finish. But the study is my spiritual home.

Thanks for your visit Joel, finding out about your process has been fascinating.

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